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Raub Report: Downtown San Antonio Transformed

October 29, 2019

Downtown San Antonio is undergoing an amazing transformation.  Mayor Castro, in January 2009, declared this to be the “Decade of Downtown” and so it has been, and we are just getting started.

There are three elements that came together to start this in 2005:

1. Kit Goldsbury sold Pace Picante Sauce to Campbell Soup and then bought the vacant 22 acre industrial site, Pearl Brewery, over the negative recommendations of the best minds in real estate.  But since he was using his own money and not beholden to banks or investors, he could take his time and do it right.

2. Mayor Hardberger got $71-million in funding for the extension of the River Walk from US 281 and The Pearl to Mission Espada.

3. New Urbanism, which had been buzzing around the U.S. for decades, finally found its way to San Antonio. Its principles are “place-making” through walkable streets, mixing residences with shopping areas and offices, reducing traffic congestion, and making downtown an inviting place, as it had been before the advent of the car and the suburbs.

Then, the City of San Antonio sought to accelerate this growth with tax incentives and streamlining the approval process for new development.  Downtown had not seen any growth since the mid-1980’s so one goal was to create 7,500 new residential units in the central district. It was anticipated that this would then draw new businesses and office jobs to the center of the city. Well, we now near the end of the Decade of Downtown, so how have we done?  Residences have increased from 3,000 to over 10,000, with dozens of new apartment projects from The Pearl area, along the Riverwalk and all the way to South Town. Check mark.

Offices? In The Pearl itself there is substantial office space, and if you are driving along US 281, you can’t miss the new two office buildings under construction – Credit Human’s new HQ co-located with Bank of America and The Oxbow, both substantially leased.  Across Broadway, Jefferson Bank is just starting their new 200,000 square foot HQ on Broadway at Josephine; GrayStreet Partners has assembled a very sizeable tract, which will begin with a 20 story hotel-office tower. At the former Cavender Cadillac 8-acre site, there is The Soto, a 6-story massed wood office building, and a little farther south is the total reconstruction of the San Antonio Light building. Then, everyone has seen the beautiful new Frost Plaza with its modern design and attractive evening lighting.

Renovations? The old Valero Towers are being completely revamped into the headquarters for CPS Energy. CPS’ old River Walk buildings are being sold and will certainly be extensively remodeled, as will The Nix which is closing as a hospital and who knows what it will become from here.  Weston Urban is totally renewing The Milam and they have already beautifully re-done The Rand and the Savoy on Houston Street. A little further east, GrayStreet Partners has renewed The Kress Building and the old Children’s Museum, which moved up Broadway and is now the Do-Seum.

Speaking of Arts?  Look at the Tobin’s transformation from Municipal Auditorium and The Mays Family Center expansion at the Witte. Texas Public Radio is remodeling the Alameda Theater. Parks? The Zoo is upgrading, and so is Brackenridge Park. How about the new San Pedro Creek linear park? Then, there is Hemisfair Park, with apartments, shops, new hotels planned and a beautiful outdoor performance theater planned.

Education? The amazing plans for a new UTSA campus at the west end of Houston St. plus UIW’s acquisition of the old AT&T offices. Eastside?  Texas Research & Technology Foundation’s redevelopment of the Merchant’s Ice House into a military / biotech incubator.  And then Reata is taking a shot at yet another redevelopment of the charming but under-appreciated St. Paul’s Square.  And don’t forget about a half dozen hotel developments under construction now and more planned.

So, The Decade of Downtown is just the beginning and will go on for more new decades to come.                                                                 Viva San Antonio!