Notes on Hemisfair

The Tower of the Americas (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
Controversy still surrounds the Tower

Jerry Roane has an idea that the HemisFair master plan contingent should examine for its plans to upgrade the city's underused downtown park.

Roane has invented the Tri-Track (, a four-passenger vehicle that moves via an elevated monorail system. After all, the monorail was one of HemisFair Park's most distinctive rides during and after the World's Fair in 1968.

The Tri-Track can run 40mph along a rail that would be plugged into the existing electrical power grid; it could also be powered by fuel cells or a battery. The car resembles a torpedo, wide at the front and narrow in back; it could reach speeds as high as 300mph, which means a trip from San Antonio to Roane's hometown, Austin would take about 30 minutes. It could climb up the side of an apartment building, drop off its passengers, and park on its tail - a vertical position that could save parking space and the need to pave more green space.

Roane, an electrical engineer by training, said he has tested the vehicle in a wind tunnel at the University of Texas at Austin, and is planning a test track in Comfort.

The city's proposed HemisFair Park master plan calls for linking the western end of the property at Alamo Street to Sunset Station and St. Paul's Square, with a tram system to move park visitors from end-to-end.

"You could set up a track to transport passengers from the Alamo to El Mercado," says Roane, who adds that a rail line for the Tri-Track cars could connect the Alamo City with Schlitterbahn, Natural Bridge Caverns, and other area tourist attractions.

A Tri-Track car would cost about $6,000, and the rail line would cost approximately $125,000 per mile. Since the Tri-Track would pollute less, it could be a perfect alternative to the proposed, unexciting tram system the City is considering.

In other business relating to HemisFair and the Tower of the Americas, David Arévalo, president of Residents Organized for a Safer Environment, said last week that he had plans to speak before City Council during Citizens to be Heard on March 25.

He plans to urge the city to reconsider awarding a contract to operate the Tower to Landry's Restaurants Inc., which plans a $9 million upgrade of the facility.

"We need to look at environmental issues," says Arévalo. "My concern with Landry's contract is, when they put out the request for proposals, nobody talked about the environment, what can and what cannot be moved."

Arévalo contends that when the Tower was built in 1968, there were no restrictions on using asbestos insulation, or lead-based paint. The Environmental Protection Agency did not become a government agency until 1972, which has since set contamination standards on lead and asbestos.

"There is no current environmental assessment," says Arévalos. "The contract is still in negotiation."

The City could not be reached for comment by deadline.

"If there are environmental issues, who is going to pay for the work? Will Landry's sue the City over a loss of projected revenues? If it takes a year to clean the Tower up, and it is shut down for an extra six months, will we be liable for the additional work?"

Good questions. Too bad Citizens to be Heard is not televised on local access cable for a wider audience.

"Roger `Flores` is limited on time and wants to get this thing done, but don't move so fast," says Arévalo. "My question to the City Council is, why haven't they done a study, the environmental assessment - and why wait for me to tell them?" •


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