Morgan’s Wonderland receives $15M in ARPA dollars

City Council approved the money as part of a $212.5M spending “framework” on Thursday

Morgan's Wonderland will be expanding its vision with the help of public dollars.

San Antonio – Built on the dream of inclusion, Morgan’s Wonderland is including more and more into its vision these days, and San Antonio leaders were happy Thursday to help them pay for it.

Morgan’s Wonderland, which began as an amusement park for people with disabilities, received $15 million after a San Antonio City Council vote. The allocation was part of a larger framework for how the city will spend $212.5 million in mostly federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Council members voted 9-1 on the framework.

“I will jump at the chance, in a balanced and equitable manner to support that mission,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said of Morgan’s Wonderland, ahead of Thursday’s vote.” And that’s what we’re doing today - because it is an impactful investment that we are going to continue to need to invest in - we’re going to continue to invest in. And we need to invest in.”

According to briefing documents from city staff, the money is for:

  • $6.5M for a new pediatric care center, Morgan’s Butterfly Landing, serving children with complex disabilities and needs
  • $4M to finish a Multi-Assistance Center (MAC) already under construction, which will serve as a “one-stop shop” for medical and non-medical services for people with special needs
  • $2.5M for a 4D roller coaster simulation experience
  • $2M for park enhancements

“I think this continues to add to checking off more boxes and being able to basically show that this is a city that is ‘Military City, USA.’ But is also ‘Inclusion City, USA,’” Morgan’s Wonderland founder, Gordon Hartman, told KSAT on Friday.

Hartman said they still have “a lot” of money to raise, particularly in regards to the MAC, but “the understanding of working with the city and these ARPA funds is going to allow us to advance considerably towards reaching our goal.”

City staff had originally suggested giving Morgan’s Wonderland $10.5 million, but raised it to the full $15 million the park was seeking after council members expressed broad support during a discussion session the previous week.

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez praised Morgan’s Wonderland on Thursday, singling out the MAC as a “moonshot” project, worthy of funding.

“This $200-plus million is not going to boil the ocean. We can’t boil the ocean; we have to pick and choose. Somebody is going to be disappointed. Somebody is not. But in this instance, I think that the community is going to benefit immensely from what we’re doing over at Morgan’s,” Pelaez said.

Although there has been a surge of interest from community organizations to get a part of the federal dollars, City Manager Erik Walsh said the city had already received “about $350 million in unsolicited proposals.” Most will have to wait until later to apply.

Only three entities - Morgan’s Wonderland, Texas Biomedical Research Institute, and Educare - were singled out for funding in the framework passed on Thursday, which several people questioned during the public comment ahead of the vote.

“How did they jump to the front of the line when City Council and staff never offered the rest of the residents of this town the same opportunity to negotiate such sweetheart deals?” Graciela Sanchez, director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, asked from the podium on Thursday.

Hartman says Morgan’s Wonderland followed the process and made a point to attend every district meeting about ARPA to lay out their plans.

“So I don’t think we by any means skipped to the front. If anything, we started just very early to ensure that we gave every bit of information that was necessary in an effort to explain what we do and why we do it and how it is going to benefit individuals with special needs,” Hartman said.

Hartman said the MAC is expected to open this summer, and they hope to be able to help 10,000 people with special needs by the end of 2025.

The pediatric care center will probably break ground in early 2023, he said.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.