I'm beginning research for a story that details efforts, from 26 years ago, aimed at creating a San Antonio-styled riverwalk and downtown area here in Victoria.
Those efforts started in the mid-1980s with private investors, who worked to develop artists studios, boutiques, a farmer’s market, Mexican bakery, restaurant and gift shops all within an historic, seven-building compound on Water Street between Bridge and Glass streets.
Developers called it La Estrellita, Spanish for "little star." A rendering from June 1985:
About the same time, private investors also pushed for the commercial development of the Guadalupe River. The investors even hired Al Groves, the man responsible for the development of the San Antonio Riverwalk as it's known today. Groves is seen pictured below next to a massive blueprint of how he envisioned a Victoria riverwalk.
That photo comes from the Jan. 16, 1986, version of the Advocate.
Plans to develop the river included the building of a dam just west of Southern Pacific Railroad bridge near the Central Power and Light Co. generating plant. The dam would stabilize the water level for activities upstream.
A canal upstream from the dam would have channeled water north to the turning basin near Nazareth Academy. It would have formed a hub, including a shrine, performing arts center, a multistory hotel and marina.
The idea was to link this river development to the work on Water Street, and eventually reach through the Main Street area and to Riverside Park -- complete with hike and bike trails, shops and restaurants.
The full plan was never realized, however (one area of La Estrellita was renovated and turned into a restaurant and shop). The Crossroads economy tanked when the oil and gas industry suffered. Momentum was lost, if there ever was enough to propel such a monumental project to fruition.
The story I'm working on will look back at what was envisioned, what kept it from happening then and what it would take to resurrect the idea now.
Of course, money plays a critical role in all this and the City of Victoria's funds are tied up in capital improvement projects -- namely roads -- for the next several years. If -- and that's a big if -- a project like this were to again gain steam, it would need grant money, private money and plenty of it.
Groves, who I interviewed by phone, said he's a big believer in the idea that cities must reinvent the areas around their primary water features. Without the Guadalupe River, after all, there would be no Victoria, he said.
Many others suggest the river is the city's most underutilized asset.
So, what do you think about such a project?
Thanks for your input,
Gabe Semenza, Advocate public service editor
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