The venture, which had an announced cost of $156 million, was financed by a combination of public and private funds. Public funding included $12.2 million from the U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency for acquiring and clearing the site, $11 million in publicly approved city bonds for construction of the convention center and arena, $5.5 million in general revenues from the City of San Antonio for construction of the Tower of the Americas, $10 million from the State of Texas primarily for the construction of the Texas State Pavilion, and $7.5 million from the United States Congress for the construction of the United States pavilion.
Although HemisFair '68 attracted 6.3 million visitors and brought international attention to San Antonio and Texas, attendance never matched predictions, and the fair lost $7.5 million.
The fair was built on a 96.2-acre (389,000 m²) site on the southeastern edge of Downtown San Antonio. The site was acquired mainly through eminent domain. Many structures in what was considered a blighted area were demolished and moved to make room for the fair. The project was partially developed with federal urban renewal funds. The San Antonio Conservation Society recommended that 129 structures on the site be preserved; however, on August 9, 1966, an agreement was made to save only 20 existing structures that would be incorporated into the fair site. Overall, only 24 structures were saved.
In addition, as a part of the overall HemisFair project, the city extended its River Walk (Paseo del Rio) one-quarter of a mile into the site in order to link the River Walk and the HemisFair grounds in 1968. In 2001, the River Walk was extended again under the new Convention Center Expansion and is now connected to a small lagoon inside HemisFair Park.
HemisFair began on April 6, 1968, with the gates opening at 9:00am and official ceremonies beginning at 10:00am in the new Convention Center Arena. However, with the opening just two days after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, VIPs including U.S. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson and Texas Governor John Connally, both of whom received death threats, were escorted around the site under heavy security.
National pavilions at the fair included: Canada, Mexico, Italy, Spain, France, Japan, Belgium, Bolivia, Republic of China, Colombia, West Germany, Korea, Panama, Portugal, Switzerland, Thailand and Venezuela. There were also shared pavilions such as a five-nation Central American pavilion, representing Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica and the special pavilions of the Organization of American States, which represented eleven more Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.
Just like the United States the year before at Expo 67 in Montreal, Japan had the unique privilege of promoting the next BIE sanctioned event Expo 70 held in Osaka, Japan during 1970.
Corporate pavilions at the fair included: Eastman Kodak, Ford Motor Company, General Electric, General Motors, Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil), IBM, RCA, Southwestern Bell (now AT&T, Inc.), Frito Lay, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, American Express, Chrysler, and 3M.
Other pavilions at the fair included: the LDS Church, the Southern Baptist pavilion, the Women's Pavilion and Project Y (Youth Pavilion).
A monorail, named Mini-Monorail, connected pavilions together. The monorail was manufactured by Universal Design Limited and constructed by H.C.P. Enterprises.
After HemisFair, much of the land ownership was transferred to the State of Texas and the U.S. Federal Government. Today, the City of San Antonio owns approximately 50 acres (200,000 m2) of the site, 30 of which the Convention Center occupies.
In 1986, many unused remaining structures built for the fair were removed and in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of HemisFair '68, approximately 15 acres (61,000 m2) of the site were redeveloped with cascading waterfalls, fountains, playgrounds and lush landscaping. Many of the improvements were concentrated near the base of the Tower of the Americas. At the site's re-dedication in April 1988, the site was re-christened "HemisFair Park". This urban park is a lasting legacy of the fair and is a gift from the city to its citizens.
In 2008 Hyatt Hotels completed construction of the Grand Hyatt San Antonio on the north and eastern sides of the convention center theater originally built for HemisFair '68. It features guest rooms on the first 24 floors and condos on the last 10, all rooms on the south side have an unobstructed view of HemisFair Park and the Tower of the Americas.
As of spring 2013, only a handful of structures built/renovated for the HemisFair remain on the former fairgrounds and are still open to the public.
Convention Center Theater - The theater (now Lila Cockrell Theater) was built as one of a three-building complex (along with the Convention Center and Arena) during the buildup for HemisFair '68 and leased to San Antonio Fair, Inc. for use during the fair. Sometime after the fair it was renamed in honor of the city's former three-term mayor Lila Cockrell. After decades of limited upgrades, the building received a 26 million dollar renovation in 2010.
Above the windows on the exterior is a mural titled "Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas," created by Mexican artist Juan O'Gorman for HemisFair '68.
Eastman Kodak Pavilion - Built next to the Women's Pavilion, this venue has seen little to no use since the fair. It is projected that this building will be demolished to provide room for the eventual expansion of the Women's Pavilion.
Gulf Insurance Pavilion - Built near the Tower of the Americas as a rest area, today it is closed to the public and serves as storage and support for the tower.
Humble Oil Pavilion - Originally built in the 19th century, this building was renovated for HemisFair '68, and housed the exhibit and theater for Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil). In recent years the building was renovated again and now serves as additional banquet and ballroom facilities for the Hilton Palacio del Rio Hotel (also built for HemisFair) across the street.
Mexico Pavilion - This, now the Mexican Cultural Institute, is the only national pavilion still in its original location, although the original structure was modified and expanded during the expansion of the adjacent convention center and was re-opened in 2002.
Southern Baptist Pavilion- Originally built in the late 19th century by Sam Edgar as a wedding gift to his daughter, for HemisFair '68 it was renovated and housed the Southern Baptist exhibit. In 2012 the house was renovated again and now serves as offices for the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation.
State of Texas Pavilion- The fair's largest pavilion belonged to the state of Texas. This pavilion also remained after the fair closed and became the Institute of Texan Cultures, which is now a museum and the third campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Tower of the Americas - The fair's theme structure is this 750-foot-tall (228 m) tower, which remains today as San Antonio's tallest structure. The top of the tower houses a revolving restaurant, lounge, and outdoor observation deck. It was designed by architect O'Neil Ford.
United States of America Pavilion - The United States Confluence Theater (now the John H. Wood, Jr. United States District Court for the Western District of Texas) remains today as well as the Confluence Exhibit Hall (now the Adrian Spears Judicial Training Center). Part of the pavilion was a fountain called "Migration." Although the bird sculptures have been replaced with bushes, the outline of the fountain is still in place.
Women's Pavilion - The theme of this venue was to showcase the contributions that women have made to society, past, present and future. It was built as a permanent structure to help meet the requirements of urban renewal, as well as to be part of the re-use plan after the fair. One idea was for it to be re-used as a student union building, as one proposal was to locate the new University of Texas at San Antonio campus on the site. After decades of use as a storage facility by the Institute of Texan Cultures, several ladies who were originally involved with the pavilion are working to restore and reopen it.
In 2009 the San Antonio City Council under the leadership of Mayor Julian Castro created a non-profit organization, HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation, to generate ideas and oversee the redevelopment of the former fairgrounds, which had seen little development since 1988.
In 2012 HPARC completed the renovation of three indigenous structures on the site which now serve as offices (Eagar House), conference center (Carriage House), and support services (Eagar Dependency) for HPARC. Along with the renovations, the San Antonio City Council voted on and approved HPARC's master plan for the redevelopment of the former site.