Opinion: Sunken Garden Theater Not for Sale 

The River Road Neighborhood Association firmly opposes a controversial  and secretive proposal to use city bond funds to demolish San Antonio’s historic Sunken  Garden Theater and convert it into an event space that will overwhelm the infrastructure of the  entire area. 

“This is the people’s park. It is not for sale,” says River Road Neighborhood Association Chair  Lucy Wilson. “The Brackenridge Park Conservancy has put forward a proposal to use public  funds in a private development scheme.”  

River Road board member Blanquita Sullivan notes that the Conservancy disclosed this project  just weeks before it was listed in the city’s bond package,” Sullivan said. “This was all  intentionally planned in stealth mode, taking advantage of a pandemic to avoid, and to control  the message to the public as much as possible. Most people won’t know about this until it’s too  late.” City council members are set to vote on bond projects on January 20th, 2022. 

The Brackenridge Park Conservancy wants to expand the historic Sunken Garden Theater at  Brackenridge Park from an 879-seat venue to a concert stadium to hold upward of 7,000 visitors  per event. Park Conservancy has provided plans for at least two concerts per week, with a  minimum of 60 events per year. Such plan could unleash 7,000 people – along with their  vehicles – into the park two to three times per week for months of every year. 

Wilson says the developers sought no public input in the planning of the project. Further, she  says, despite River Road neighborhood requests, developers have failed to provide critical data  regarding congestion, traffic, environmental impacts on the neighboring areas and the zoo  animals. 

Sullivan points to another of the neighborhood’ concerns that the proposal will deter city  residents from visiting the park. “The limited parking and traffic will prioritize thousands of ticket  holders above those who for generations have visited and used the park for free, creating deep  inequality in our most treasured centrally located park.” 

Sullivan notes that the Real Life Amphitheater opening this Spring in Selma (17 miles from  Brackenridge Park) would negate the developer’s argument that the city needs a large  amphitheater.  

“This leads to questions of financial viability. There are similar venues including the Real Life  Amphitheater in Selma and Fiesta Texas. Can the city sustain so many large amphitheaters?” she asks. 

Rather than the proposed overhaul, Wilson and Sullivan say, the neighborhood along with  current Brackenridge Park master plan, would like to see a thoughtful amphitheater restoration

plan. Most importantly, the park should continue to provide greenspace for all San Antonians  including low to moderate income park visitors.  

The Brackenridge Park Conservancy has engaged in a project that directly runs counter to its  mission of safeguarding the park’s “natural, historic, educational and recreational resources for  the enjoyment of current and future generations.” 

Issues with the plan: 

• No traffic, parking, or sound impact studies have been shared with the public • No business plan or feasibility study has been shared 

• There has been no public input in the planning 

• Amplification will also destroy quality of life for residents in the surrounding area,  including universities and historic neighborhoods 

• The San Antonio Zoo is next door, and such constant amplification creates concern for  animal welfare 

• There would be no limit to the number of events or types of events at the venue because a private company would be in control 

• Facing traffic and limited parking, regular park visitors will be forced out • Traffic along 281, North St. Mary’s, Broadway, Hildebrand, and Mulberry would create a  public safety emergency for the surrounding area 

The River Road Neighborhood Association was founded in 1975, and its members are  dedicated to the protection, maintenance and enhancement of the ecological, historical, social  and cultural elements which formed the Neighborhood and endowed the area with its present  character.

Disclosure: Several members of the River Road Neighborhood Association are financial supporters of NOWCastSA. 

For more information check out this Texas Public Radio story.