ULI Releases Report For “Activating The San Marcos Riverfront”

by Terra Rivers | Managing Editor

The Urban Land Institute released a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) report regarding land use along the San Marcos River in August.

The City of San Marcos, the Greater San Marcos Partnership and Texas State University partnered with the Austin District Council of Urban Land Institute in Fall 2018 to examine land use along the San Marcos River.

According to the report, “the Technical Assistance Panel offers recommendations for ways to unlock economic potential by making the river more connected to Downtown and creating pedestrian-focused places that are more accessible to residents and visitors.”

The panel’s three goals were to:

  • Recommend strategies to activate the San Marcos River and adjacent land, making it more connected to downtown and creating pedestrian-focused places that are easily accessible to residents and visitors.
  • Identify best practices and recommend innovative, sustainable and economically viable land-use solutions to leverage the river parks system for the economic benefit to the City.
  • Identify best practices and recommend sustainable funding strategies for the maintenance and operation of the river parks system.

The panel was created using the expertise of five local industry experts, who explored and addressed issues related to activating the San Marcos riverfront responsibly.

The panelists were Allen Wise, IBC Bank, Chris Crawford, RVi Planning and Landscape Architecture, Nick Dornak, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Mark Shields, Primus Real Estate, and Rick Rosenberg, Development Planning and Financing Group, Inc.

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) is a nonpartisan research and education organization focused on providing leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.

The ULI Austin District Council strives to advance the mission of the ULI on a local level and has over 900 members.

The Technical Assistance Panels (TAP) provide comprehensive and strategic advice in response to a specific land use or development challenge.

The Advisory Services Program draws on the knowledge and expertise of its members, which include land developers and owners, public officials, academicians, representatives of financial institutions, and others.

ULI TAP REPORT Sketch illustrating possible transition zones | By Chris Crawford of RVi Landscape & Architecture Planning

According to the report, “Activating the riverfront does not imply more people in the river.” The TAP report was written to guide officials into opening pathways for residents and visitors to move freely between downtown and the riverfront and manage the current and growing number of river users.

By activating the riverfront, San Marcos can moderate overuse of the river and protect the environment; the open pathways aim to encourage river users to visit downtown and patron the local businesses downtown.

Members of the panel conducted interviews with riverfront stakeholders to hear their goals and ideas for the land around the San Marcos River and identify the best practices for establishing recommendations.

Allen Wise, local citizen and TAP Chair for Activating the San Marcos Riverfront, said the panel wasn’t intended to serve as a master plan for the San Marcos Riverfront.

“This is kind of our best recommendations what the city and the groups need to think about,” Wise said. “Whether it gets done now or in the future, it at least provides them with a roadmap of how to proceed.”

The panel identified the four goals the recommendations aimed to achieve.

  • Manage the current and growing number of river users by creating downtown alternatives and new uses adjacent to the river.
  • Encourage river tubers to patronize downtown businesses before and after tubing.
  • Enable current and prospective downtown visitors to appreciate and experience the riverfront, even if only from viewing points that overlook the river.
  • Make the river and downtown a unified San Marcos experience greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Each of the recommendations were designed to overcome the challenges that the city faces.
  • There is no single leadership champion or visionary for the river and riverfront.
  • Funding resources are limited, even for basic maintenance and safety.
  • Intense use of the river jeopardizes economic and ecosystem health, even as the riverfront is a largely hidden resource from a downtown perspective.

Panelists recommended the establishment of a single non-profit comprised of stakeholders to coordinate decisions and actions and a single, unified brand to coordinate marketing between river, parks and downtown San Marcos.

Wise said it became evident in the panel’s discussions with all the stakeholders that there were a lot of different ideas and interests where the river was concerned.

“You’ve got multiple non-profit or governmental entity ownership and then you have stakeholders with various interests,” Wise said. “It appeared to us that there needed to be a single point leadership that pulls all those groups together and all the interest together so that you have one voice and one plan to do whatever, to do improvements, to maintain and protect.”

The non-profit would be comprised of members from local and state groups involved with or affected by the river such as A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery, the City of San Marcos, Council of Neighborhood Associations, Downtown Association of San Marcos, Edward Aquifer, Greater San Marcos Partnership and more.

The report says a unified brand would “create a unified image that encompasses downtown, the river and the parkland connecting them; communicating a vision of the complete package encourages seasonal users to enjoy the Greater San Marcos experience and helps to distribute concentrated usage over time.”

Aside from managing the usage on the river and connecting the riverfront and parks to downtown, the TAP report provides numerous other recommendations regarding other concerns such as parking and amenities, conservation and environment, land and water usage, safety and maintenance and funding.

Wise said he thought some groups, in the beginning, had a preconceived notion of what the panel was coming in to do, but the panel’s objective wasn’t to develop a plan to turn the San Marcos River into an urban Riverwalk or develop and build out all around it and ruin the natural aspects of the river.

“I do believe the recommendations and what the panel recommended are locked up with what all the stakeholders were asking for and their concerns,” Wise said. “And it all turned out to really protect what we have, make sure it doesn’t get overused. I think it’s a good recommendation plan; whether it gets acted on or not is up to the stakeholders.”

Corridor News reached out to the City of San Marcos Assistant City Manager Steve Parker regarding the TAP Report but did not receive a response. Greater San Marcos Partnership President, Adriana Cruz, was out of the country. 

Urban Land Institute released a Technical Assistance Panel report


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One Comment

  1. How about starting with something simple like freaking sidewalks along CM Allen between Cheatham and Hopkins? Or, I don’t know, finishing a stupid road project that should have been finished months ago (CM Allen on the other side of Hopkins) Don’t care about excuses. It is inexcusable that it was gone on as long as it has.

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