Connecting a City’s Activity Anchors: San Antonio

October 5, 2015 / Michael Lockwood

Our work does more than create an experience inside one singular building; we embrace the opportunity to create an integrated destination for an entire city. We know that when a city’s civic, sports and entertainment activity anchors are conceived of as a comprehensive destination experience, it produces a framework for the broader city to dynamically grow.

Every city has a story to tell – looking beyond the walls of a building or physical confines of a space to find the opportunities for connection and development allows our design teams to tap into this story, creating deeper meaning in the design of our facilities that will ultimately promote collateral economic development.  This broader vision sometimes takes years to see come to fruition and requires collaboration with other stakeholders and building owners, but the result is remarkable. This kind of design thinking is central to Populous’ approach; we not only understand the facilities themselves and intricacies of the complex projects we design, but more importantly, we understand the value of a destination experience.

San Antonio is a perfect example of this type of visionary thinking. We designed the extensive renovations and expansion of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, currently under construction, and we are responsible for the renovations to the Alamodome (which Populous originally designed back in 1993.) What is most important in the case of both projects is that our client in San Antonio understands and promotes a broader destination vision – one that isn’t about the Alamodome, or the convention center, but is rooted in hospitality. It’s an approach that understands the dynamics, possibilities and opportunities of the growing metropolis. The City of San Antonio has a vision for the future –  a walkable, connected, pedestrian- friendly downtown that provides visitors a diverse, multi-day experience. The Alamodome and Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center are critical pieces of this complex, multi-faceted vision.

The $43 million Alamodome renovation, approved in January, will transform the building into a modern facility with clear connectivity to downtown, making it suitable to host the NCAA Final Four in 2018 and other future events. Creating a cohesive destination experience for the city’s activity anchor facilities and events, (like we did in Phoenix for Super Bowl XLIX earlier this year at the University of Phoenix Stadium and the Convention Center downtown), is a fantastic opportunity for San Antonio, making the Alamodome an important component in the city’s ability to host large, multi-facility events that are becoming more common in cities around the world.

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The Alamodome, which is undergoing renovation.

As part of this multi-facility events strategy, the convention center expansion design team carved out 12 acres of open space to provide the city with a much- needed civic amenity to connect the building to the city fabric and allow the public to use the space. This new 12-acre segment of Hemisfair Park will become an epicenter for outdoor events – a large civic space San Antonio residents and guests have needed for years.  The challenge now rests in connecting the expanded convention center  to the reimagined Alamodome, which Highway 37 runs between. Our designers took this challenge as an opportunity to develop out-of-the-box concepts and provide the city with numerous options that physically and gesturally connect the stadium to the convention center, Hemisfair Park and River Walk to the east. While the images are purely conceptual, this kind of visionary thinking aims to capture and celebrate what makes San Antonio such a unique destination while giving city leaders options for how to shape the future.

It is so important that cities understand the potential to capitalize on multi-facility and multi-day events like the NCAA Final Four or the Super Bowl. At Populous, it is our passion that drives us to conceive of and weave together these facilities and how they will function best to provide flexibility and opportunities for connectivity. Visitors and residents might only enter the convention center or the Alamodome for events, but the buildings will feel more connected within the urban fabric of San Antonio because of their relationship to one another and other civic landmarks, allowing better opportunities for retail integration, mixed-use development and incorporation of public gathering spaces like the new park adjacent to the convention center. These facilities serve as visual anchors for the city and eventual iconic experiences within a given destination. For example, we suggested using the Tower of Americas in Hemisfair Park, the site of the 1968 World Fair, as a civic way- finding tool for visitors in San Antonio who are moving between the convention center and Alamodome. The Tower is representative of the city’s rich history and serves as a visual connection to the city’s heritage, story and the buildings, like the Alamodome and convention center, that are now as much a part of visiting and living in San Antonio as the River Walk and the Alamo. Finding opportunities like this that stitch together the iconic elements of a city, whether old or new, provide an interconnected experience patrons will savor for its authenticity and ease of use.

This is the beauty of the experiences we design…. We are creating icons and anchors whose experiences will meld with one another, complementing and enhancing the experience in a city and flourishing into places that define a city’s fabric. With a well-thought out approach to the destination experience, we create stronger, more connected cities that continue to grow and transform long after our facilities are built.

Meet the author

Michael Lockwood

Senior Principal / San Francisco


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