An arboretum will be coming to the South Side of San Antonio in the near future. At a Nov. 15 Brooks Development Authority meeting, directors voted to authorize its leadership to negotiate the purchase of the former 170-acre Republic Golf Course at 4226 Southeast Military Drive for $1 million. The sale is expected to close in the first half of 2023.

The project is the earliest realization of a call from former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros to build an arboretum in the area using 2022 bond funds. After a year of searching for sites and taking inspiration from arboretums around the country, a group of civic and business leaders formed Arboretum San Antonio to put those words into action. When the land purchase is complete, stewardship of the property will be turned over to the nonprofit via a lease agreement or conveyance.

Spearheading the effort is Arboretum San Antonio and vice chair CEO Tom Corser, a local executive who told the Business Journal that the project is still in its earliest phases. In the first quarter of 2023, master planning will begin. The organization has applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

Cisneros is on the organization’s board of directors, a group that also includes entrepreneur and former Tobin Foundation leader Evangelina Flores as Chair, Southside Craft Soda CEO Andrew Anguiano, local attorney Fred Jones, former city attorney Jane Macon, Brooks President & CEO Leo Gomez, Texas State Director of the Nature Conservancy Suzanne Scott, former city councilman and banker Juan Solis and San Antonio Parks Foundation CEO Mary Jane Verette.

Corser said that after a lifetime of being an outdoorsman, whether exploring the wilds of his native Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or the Western United States, he jumped at the opportunity to help shape a natural landscape in San Antonio.

“My career was in technology, but I’ve always paid quite a bit of attention to and had quite a bit of reverence for natural landscapes,” he explained. “This opportunity came along to help further the arboretum and it just made a great fit for me.”

Corser said the property has a number of native trees that lends itself to the group’s goal, like heritage oak, pecan and cedar elm. In the year leading up to this point, he’s visited and taken inspiration from a number of arboretums around the country, primarily the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.. and The Morton Arboretum in the Chicago area. He cited the diversity of tree species and art at the National Arboretum and Morton for its position as a “thought leader” in human-nature interaction, tree care and tree growth.

Jim Campbell, Brooks Board Chairman, thinks that the project is the perfect fit for the public-private partnership, though not directly under the group’s 1,300-acre purview.

“This is clearly not on our community footprint, but we do think it aligns very well with our mission of being a catalyst for regional prosperity and economic development,” Campbell said in an interview with the Business Journal.

Campbell said that it’s too early to tell whether Brooks will invest additional funds as the project begins to take shape, but noted that a section of Salado Creek runs through the site, which means that the San Antonio River Authority — where he serves as chairman — could also become involved.

Eventually, Arboretum San Antonio hopes to develop educational programs, have the capacity to hold corporate and public events and be explorable for research purposes.

In his visits to arboretums over the last year, Corser has picked up various through-lines that he hopes to convey to visitors of San Antonio’s future arboretum: education, research, historical storytelling and bringing awareness to the effects of climate change. Those initiatives appeal to a lot of people, though the overarching draw that can bring the most people in, according to him, is a sense of peace.

“But most of these people resonate with just going to a very peaceful place, walking through the woods that’s safe, pretty and can be kind of a meditative place.”

Local firm MP Studio Landscape Architecture, LLC has provided initial concept renderings in partnership with the organization. Formal hiring of an architect will take place during the master plan phase.