In just over a year, work on the World Heritage Center, a visitor center serving San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions, has surpassed the halfway point and is on schedule to open Sept. 1.
The World Heritage Center will serve as a gateway to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site along with the Alamo in 2015.
Construction began in late 2023. The shell on the 6,000-square-foot building next to Mission Marquee Plaza at 3100 Roosevelt Ave. is nearly complete, and the veranda screen designed by San Antonio artist Adriana Garcia has been fabricated.
The project has grown to include surface parking, a roadway and a landscaped bioswale encircling the development, with a drum circle and a pavilion, walking trails and signage planned for later phases.
The $15.8 million project was funded by the 2017 and 2022 bonds, the Mission Drive-In Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and the Tricentennial Commission.
Though the steel archways are up and hardscape and other materials are on site, ready for installation, the center is not just about the buildings, said Colleen Swain, director of the city’s World Heritage office.
Behind-the-scenes work by the Witte Museum to create the center’s exhibits that help tell the stories of the people who have lived in the area is also underway, she said.
“We don’t have a lot of space” in the building, Swain said. “Everything is going to be brief [but] it’s meant to engage people so they become curious and they go visit the real missions.”
Designed by Alta Architects, the San Antonio firm behind the Mission Branch Library, the World Heritage Center is intended to showcase for visitors the history of the missions and provide residents with a community gathering space.
“The center is not huge,” said Geof Edwards, CEO at Alta (formerly known as Munoz). “It’s going to be like a little jewel box. It’s going to be nice and multifunctional [and] punch above its weight class.”
San Jose neighborhood resident Theresa Ybanez said she hoped it would be bigger. But she’s satisfied that there’s a conference room space for demonstrations and lectures built into it.
“You can’t look a gift horse in the mouth — you’ve got to appreciate what was gifted to us,” Ybanez said. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful addition to the South Side because it’s going to be the first real heritage or cultural heritage space in the South Side.”
Edwards said the building is designed with spacious verandas that lead to amenities already on the campus. In addition to the plaza, the center is situated within steps of the Harvey E. Najim Family YMCA and the Mission Branch Library.
Dunaway Associates, a structural engineering and planning and landscape architecture firm with offices throughout the state, developed the landscaping plan and a bioswale that will filter runoff stormwater from the site.
The general contractor is Sabinal Group of San Antonio.
The planned drum circle, where percussionists and dancers will gather informally, is being built at the base of the old drive-in marquee, within view of passersby on Roosevelt Avenue. The space was a special request made during public input meetings.
“Drum circles usually aren’t a physical space that you have,” Swain said. “It’s normally where two people come together that makes it a drum circle. But they wanted a spot to be able to talk about what a drum circle means.” An interpretive panel is planned for the space.
Mission Marquee Plaza is already the site of numerous year-round cultural and community events. Last year, the World Heritage office oversaw 72 events there, including movie nights, farmer’s markets and the World Heritage Festival.
This year’s festival, an annual event to celebrate the missions, is Sept. 4 and will coincide with the World Heritage Center’s grand opening.