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Flood channel comes to life

Extravagastic. Fantabulous. Make up your own adjectives, but make time to see the flurry of construction in the San Antonio River’s downtown flood channel.

It’s history in the making as hotelier Rick Drury and Co. work furiously to build an 800-foot walkway to connect the western ends of the River Walk.

Tourists and locals lined up on the Commerce and Market bridges and other vantage points as construction crews operated cranes and forklifts to unload 8-foot culverts, tree wells, prefabricated concrete blocks, landscape rocks, and other materials from 18-wheeler trucks into the channel, then lined them along its east wall.

“We’ve got nine days to get out of the water,” says Drury of the River Walk extension, part of his plan to convert the old Alamo National Building into a 375-room flagship hotel, the Drury Plaza River Walk. The $60 million project was partially funded with $40 million in empowerment zone bonds the City authorized last year. The River Walk portion will cost approximately $3 million, but Drury says “the calculator is still ticking.” Drury also directed the reconstruction/rebirth of the old Aztec Theater, which is set to open this month.

Drury says the new walkway will feature five landscape scenes, complete with native trees, shrubbery, flagstones, waterfalls, and other niceties — all according to architect Robert H.H. Hugman’s vision when he invented the River Walk concept in the late 1920s.

It’s the first time in decades

anyone has demonstrated any vision

concerning the downtown business district.

Spectators who have watched and wondered will be able to enjoy this new walkway in September as two Drury crews, a concrete contractor, and a landscape architect complete the project. “I got everyone I could muster from all across the country,” Drury says. “It is a great logistical engineering feat to do this in the time frame we have. But I feel confident we can pull this off. We have great crews and a good plan.”

The design began on a napkin and includes work by Sprinkle Robey Architects of San Antonio and Coyle Engineering in Boerne, with L.K. Travis doing the landscape architecture.

Rick and his wife, ReBeca, led a Saturday tour through the Alamo National Building to show off what soon will be one of the San Antonio skyline’s crown jewels. Inside the building, designed in the 1920s by Chicago architects Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, the bank lobby and office spaces will be converted into a premier hotel (current tenant Chase Bank will move to the St. Mary’s Street side of the building), with an outdoor pool on the 22nd floor overlooking the Esquire Tavern and the River Walk off Commerce Street. Four stories will be added to the parking garage, including an indoor pool.

Drury also plans to knock out the flood-channel wall between the Commerce and Market street bridges to make room for more river-level retail and restaurant space. The hotelier says he hopes to negotiate with local restaurant operators to occupy the new section of the River Walk.

The fourth floor of the hotel will contain a banquet room, a ballroom, several meeting rooms, and a kitchen to serve as a staging area for event caterers. Drury plans to restore many of the building’s original features, including chandeliers that were located in a monastery in Boerne, and antique doors and transoms. An old rooftop barometer, originally illuminated at night to attract attention to the building, will be restored.

The entire project is overseen by construction superintendent George Ryan, who will earn a civil-engineering degree from UTSA in the spring.

Why all the gushing for this project? It’s the first time in decades anyone has demonstrated any vision concerning the downtown business district. District 1 Councilman Roger Flores appears to be merely concerned with lining the River Walk with national restaurant chains and a monster convention-center hotel project — that’s not much of a vision.

When Drury’s project is complete and locals and tourists are able to walk a complete loop along the River Walk, there will be new life in the western sector of downtown, where the scenery has been bleak for quite some time.

By Michael Cary

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