Rare Opportunity Worth Pursuing

City Council is expected to authorize negotiations to purchase 311 acres of parkland on the North Side

When cities expand, their sanctuaries seem to shrink. Housing developments and shopping malls dominate the landscape, and parks seem scarcer and more crowded.

In San Antonio, there are 14.4 acres of park per 1,000 residents, compared to the national average of 16 acres, the Express-News reported.

Yet, as cities grow, the availability of parks becomes more important.

These green spaces, according to therapists and child-rearing experts, are havens, natural environments in which people can address their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

It is a quality-of-life issue.

Today, the City Council is expected to authorize the staff to launch negotiations to purchase 311 acres of parkland on the North Side, with the cost estimated to be about $45 million.

About $15 million, earmarked for 107 acres of the land, will come from certificates of obligation, with the rest of the property to be financed as part of a $550 million bond issue that will go to voters in 2007, Mayor Phil Hardberger told the Express-News Editorial Board.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley said the bond proposal would not require a tax rate increase.

Hardberger, who plans to stage a "national contest" to come up with a development proposal, said he also will seek funding from local businesses to finance the project.

Trustees of the Maxine and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund, managers of the property, will funnel the purchase price back into the community to benefit medical research and charity organizations.

City officials called it a "win-win" situation, an overused phrase but one that is appropriate in this case.

"Brackenridge Park was given to the city in 1890," the mayor said. "The town has continued to grow, but the thing that hasn't grown is parks. My main interest is quality of life."

But he also is interested in seizing an opportunity.

"We have to move, and I think we have to move quickly on it," he told the Editorial Board. "This is the chance of a lifetime. It won't come again."

Parks are too important to the well-being of a community for the city to botch this. The council should authorize city staff to move forward on this big and exciting project.