by Shari Biediger
Photo courtesy/ MP Studios

County commissioners on Tuesday approved funding for San Antonio’s first arboretum, granting $7.3 million for the project on the site of a former golf course.

The funding will go toward acquiring 18 acres of land at 4226 S.E. Military Drive in southeastern Bexar County and for master planning, design and construction of the tree-themed park. The Brooks Development Authority also plans to purchase another 170 acres located in the floodplain for $1 million.

The commissioners’ vote was 4-1 with Commissioner Grant Moody (Pct. 3) voting no, saying, “I think there are other higher priorities that we’re trying to deal with at the county.”

Both land deals are expected to close in mid-November, said Tom Corser, CEO of Arboretum San Antonio. The seller is Dan Pedrotti, president of Republic Golf Club Ltd.

The group behind plans for the arboretum announced plans to buy the former golf course property in late 2022.

Proponents say a formal arboretum makes sense for San Antonio despite already having the San Antonio Botanical Garden, several major parks including Brackenridge, and an extensive linear parks and trails system.

An arboretum focuses on trees. Former Mayor Henry Cisneros, who first championed the idea, has said: “And if there ever was a city that owed its history to trees, it’s San Antonio.”

While the arboretum likely won’t be completed until 2026 or 2027, Corser said the fences could come down early next year so the public can begin to enjoy the park-like space and its four miles of existing golf cart paths, even before the arboretum is created.

“Basically, it’ll be the ability to go out and walk on those cart paths … through the woods,” Corser said.

The area is already becoming a growth center, with developers planning and building new neighborhoods, including an apartment complex.

Plans call for Arboretum San Antonio to feature open space where native trees, and other trees that thrive in the area, grow in a natural setting to be enjoyed by visitors and studied by botanists and others.

A nursery offering trees for sale would be built with $400,000 in funding from the City of San Antonio.

Until now, operations to get the arboretum going have been funded through donations from groups that include Holt Cat, the Mays Family Foundation and H-E-B, and from individuals like Cisneros and others.

Next up is selecting a landscape designer. Two dozen landscape architecture firms responded to a request for qualifications, Corser said, calling them “fantastic responses.” Those proposals are being reviewed and will be narrowed later this month to a “short list” of vendors that will then be invited to submit proposals for the project.

Corser said the nonprofit also is looking to hire a full-time master planner for the project and a development director to help raise additional funds.

The remainder of the county funding is being used to develop the master plan and to build roads to gain access to the land.

The group working to establish the arboretum had initially focused on land adjacent to the T.J. Maxx distribution warehouse in South San Antonio. That effort eventually failed.

“Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the creator’s plan is better than our plan, that roadblocks are not always the worst thing in the world,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert at an Arboretum event in May. “But sometimes they are your stepping stone to a much better future, and I think there couldn’t be a better location than the Old Republic.”

Reporter Andrea Drusch contributed to this article.