Fate of $62M Sunken Garden Theater makeover still unclear

Backers of the ambitious plan to revive and restore the aging venue could learn soon if their vision still has life.

File: Sunken Garden Theater renderings. Initial plans for the $62 million Sunken Garden Theater makeover included covered seating and new concessions and merchandising spaces.

SAN ANTONIO – Nearly two and a half years after the Brackenridge Park Conservancy first unveiled plans for a major renovation of the aging Sunken Garden Theater, the fate of that landmark project remains uncertain.

But backers could finally learn in a few months whether there is the public support needed to advance their vision for the more than 90-year-old venue.

The scope of the project initially shared by the conservancy in fall 2021 featured a layout that would include 5,900 reserved fixed seats and more than 1,100 lawn seats. Most of the new seating would be situated under a new mass timber-frame roof. The plan also called for improvements to existing infrastructure and the build-out of new concessions, merchandising and box office spaces.

“I want to see the plan succeed,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told me before the theater plan was put on hold per City Hall’s request in fall 2022. “Sunken Garden Theater is an underutilized, deteriorating jewel, a public asset that deserves to be brought back to life.”

City officials wanted more time for additional public discussion about the future of Brackenridge Park, including the timeworn theater, in relation to 2017 municipal bond package allocations. Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said in fall 2022 that those conversations were expected to begin by early 2023.

In May 2023, San Antonio’s City Council approved funding from the Midtown Tax Increment and Reinvestment Zone to support new planning for Brackenridge Park. The following month, City Manager Erik Walsh reconstituted the Brackenridge Park Stakeholder Advisory Committee to consider and evaluate future development opportunities within Brackenridge Park.

“Sunken Gardens Theater is on hold until that work is completed,” said Terry Brechtel, the conservancy’s interim CEO.

The conservancy has gone through multiple leadership changes since revealing its plans for the theater. In fall 2022, Talli Dolge was named CEO of the organization. In early 2023, Brechtel stepped in. Her agreement runs through May and a search for a new CEO will begin soon.

Brechtel, who was San Antonio’s city manager two decades ago, said she is hopeful the evaluation committee’s findings will be shared with council members before they break for summer.

Read the full story in the San Antonio Business Journal.

Editor’s note: This story was published through a partnership between KSAT and the San Antonio Business Journal.

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