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San Antonio’s Transformation During the “Decade of Downtown”

June 25, 2021

Photo credit goes to https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pearl_Brewing_Company,_San_Antonio,_Texas,_September_2017.jpg

The Decade of Downtown

In the year 2010, Mayor Julian Castro declared San Antonio was entering “The Decade of Downtown,” declaring that “Great Cities have Great downtowns”.  We were coming out of the recession that followed the 2008 Financial Crisis and he felt our city needed a new goal.  Correctly believing that the new paradigm is that ‘jobs follow housing,’ he set a goal of 7,500 new housing units for the city center and this would spur employment growth and new businesses.  Downtown San Antonio had languished for years, other than the River Walk.  Federated Realty’s attempt to revitalize Houston Street ended up with The Palm and Bohannan’s Restaurants and not much else.   But for the previous two decades, New Urbanization had been sweeping the country with many major cities seeing extensive inner urban revitalization.  Maybe now it will be San Antonio’s turn.

Projects That Transformed Downtown San Antonio

In 2010, Kit Goldsbury’s redevelopment of the derelict Pearl Brewery property was beginning to take shape. Phil Hardberger, mayor before Castro, did his part by getting funding for the $58-million 4-mile Museum Reach of the San Antonio River, dredging the overgrown channel, and adding locks and a turning basin at The Pearl. Then, the Tobin Performing Arts Center, also on the River Walk, was just being completed. Together, Goldbury’s and Hardberger’s efforts provided the Decade of Downtown with a running start.

Ten-Year Span Accomplishments

What was accomplished in this ten-year span that ended with the Covid Pandemic?  By 2019, we added 7,000 new downtown housing units with an additional 1,600 in the works.  Crime declined by 1/3. Employment increased by 57% with moves by USAA, Credit Human, Frost Bank’s new 23-story tower, and CPS’s full rehab of the old Valero Towers. The creation of Geekdom in The Commerce building, the private equity hub at The Savoy and CodeUp tech school in The Vogue became the nucleus of the Tech Center, with the east end of Houston Street anchored by Texas Research Park’s Velocity Texas in the vastly rehabbed Merchant’s Ice Plant, and the west end anchored by the UTSA $90 million School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center.  To this, add the $325-million renovation and expansion of the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center and the reimagining of Hemisfair Park into the Yanaguana Garden, Civic and Tower Parks, and “The ‘68 Apartments”; a new hotel is yet to come.  Other achievements include the $50-million renovation of the Alamodome, now home to the UTSA football team, and the creation of San Pedro Creek Park. Many other office buildings and hotels round out the roster.

San Antonio’s Continued Success

In conclusion, we have to say The Decade of Downtown was a big success story for San Antonio.  Will the next ten years, after the Pandemic, be the decade of down turn?  I don’t think so.  This positive momentum will follow through for many years to come.  We have yet to see how the themes of social distancing play out, but based on my recent personal experience on the Riverwalk and at The Pearl, distancing and masks are gone, along with the Days of Covid.  What about the trend to own your own home with a yard in the suburbs rather than living in densified apartments in the city center?  How about hybrid work schedules with 3 days in the office and 2 days in your new home office?  Life is always throwing us curve balls, but we are mightily resilient; we will adapt to each new day and adopt what works.