More dockless vehicle companies may be on their way, joining Lime and Bird in the downtown market. Ofo, Razor USA, Spin, Zagster and Skip have contacted the city about operating in the area, city officials said at a public meeting Tuesday night. These new companies bring the potential for dockless bikes, as well as electric scooters, which made their debut a month ago. Blue Duck, a San Antonio company, quietly rolled out about a dozen of its dockless e-scooters recently in the Pearl area and has plans to expand in the fall.
The meeting at the Central Library gave advocates and concerned citizens a chance to offer feedback as city officials continue to craft regulations on dockless vehicles — mainly, they’ve talked about putting a cap on the number of companies allowed to operate in San Antonio, and a cap on the total number of vehicles allowed on the streets.
The potential for even more companies to descend on San Antonio streets left one attendee feeling a little nervous.
“It’s only been a month and there are so many issues already,” Christi Fillhart said. “There’s the clutter issue and the maintenance issue.”
Fillhart is a big advocate of dockless vehicles and the opportunities they provide commuters. However, she feels the large number of companies and their potentially large fleets will be overwhelming.
She has already seen quality issues with Bird scooters — which have been on the streets a month versus Lime, which launched on Friday. Wear and tear on some of the scooters, a broken or missing front light, could potentially be hazardous to nighttime rider, she said.
The majority of those in attendance supported dockless vehicles.
For retiree Steve Arnold, the rides have been a helpful addition to the city. He's seen a difference in how locals use them versus tourists.
"The biggest thing I’ve seen is the tourists that are using them," Arnold said, "they’re paying less attention than the business people who use them everyday."
The scooters had some haters in the crowd.
“They’re thrown everywhere like trash,” retiree Richard Sharer said. “I’m opposed to them totally.”
Sharer said scooters are bringing nothing but danger. While he understands the “cuteness” and novelty of the scooters, the lack of regulations is a problem, he said. Sharer said he would be less opposed to the scooters if they were held to the same standards as bikes and were forced to be ridden on bike lanes instead of sidewalks.
At the meeting, which was standing-room only, attendees were asked to fill out comment cards and were given red stickers with which to vote on four large poster boards that were placed around the room. The boards tackled different issues such as parking, safety, areas the dockless vehicles should be used and people’s general feelings on the dockless vehicles.
The meeting came a month after Bird deployed 150 scooters. Two hundred Lime scooters have been on the street for less than a week.
If you weren't able to attend the meeting, you can still give your feedback in this city survey.
Photos by Ben Olivo | San Antonio Heron. Top photo: E-scooters line up at the Central Library, the location for Tuesday night's public meeting. Second photo: Downtown worker Andrew Velis (wearing the helmet) describes his personal scooter. Third photo: Michael Vu sells electric unicycles across Texas for S.A.-based company Electric Glider.
Armadillo Boulders, a rock climbing gym in the Tobin Hill area, opened this past weekend, and also gives people a place to do yoga and sip cold brew from tap.
"We wanted to break down the barriers or the obstacles of the sport to people,” co-owner Michael Cano said. “It’s not an alternative fitness thing. It’s a lifestyle fitness. So it’s just like going to the movies or going (to play) putt-putt.”
There are no ropes, harnesses, certifications or 50-foot climbing walls at Armadillo Boulders, 1119 Camden St. Instead, all of the walls are under 30 feet, and after a five-minute safety course, anyone can scale them.
The facility is the result of a three-year endeavour by Cano and his longtime friend Joe Kreidel. Both men are San Antonio natives and graduates of Clark High School.
Kreidel was living in Tucson, Arizona, when he came home to visit family and realized there were hardly any indoor climbing facilities in San Antonio. He emailed Cano, who was living in Brooklyn at the time, to gauge is interest in opening a climbing gym.
“I was surprised at how quickly Michael was on board,” Kreidel said. “I think it was quickly apparent to both of us that it was a pretty clear path forward.”
The two men made the move back to the city with their families about two years ago and spent much of that time driving around the city, eating barbecue, drinking coffee and searching for the perfect location for their business. Finding a building with 50-foot ceilings, however, proved nearly impossible and they narrowed their original plans for a rock climbing gym to be solely about bouldering.
“We want to be a fantastic bouldering gym," Cano said. "We didn’t want to be mediocre at ropes and mediocre at bouldering."
A former industrial building at Camden Street fit the bill. They nearly doubled the size of the original ceiling and had the walls built by Vertical Solutions, a Salt Lake City-based company which Kreidel and Cano deem the best climbing wall builders in the industry.
From there, every aspect of Armadillo Boulders was created to give people a curated experience.
They left the natural birch walls unpainted so the colored climbing holds, which indicate difficulty levels, readily stand out. Kreidel resets a portion of the wall routes twice a week, giving people new bouldering problems to solve. Within a month, every wall at the facility will have been changed.
“So if you climb in July and you climb in August, it’s going to be a new gym,” Cano said.
There are also homages to San Antonio throughout the facility. All of the walls are named, including the "dancer" wall, because it resembles a folklorico dancer’s swaying dress, and "Wall-ito," a smaller, 16-foot kid’s wall adorned with a hula hoop and pool noodles. It was used by a group of 15 kids who attended a 9-year-old boy’s birthday party at the facility on opening day.
In a more secluded part of the gym, the only paint on the walls depicts the Virgin Mary.
“It’s nine feet tall and I think the craftsmanship is incredible,” Cano said.
They also paid close attention to other details in the gym, as well.
For instance, guests can sip on Element Kombucha and Pulp coffee on tap. And parts of the wood cutting tables, marked with saw burns, were repurposed to border the front desk.
Kreidel and Cano also teamed up with the Southtown Yoga Loft to offer yoga classes, and has a fitness area.
"There’s also a lot of people who are going to be members who aren’t going to climb much," Kreidel said.
They hope that with multiple fitness options, Wi-Fi and tables on which to enjoy coffee, Armadillo Boulders can become a community oriented space for people.
Armadillo Boulders is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. every day with additional members-only hours. Day passes are available. For more information, visit the website here.
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron
For roughly 150 people who protested in front of the Alamo Cenotaph Saturday morning, they are modern-day defenders of Texas history.
“This ground was bought and paid for by the blood of Texans, and we will fight until the bitter end to protect it,” said Brandon Burkhart, president of This is Texas Freedom Force (TTFF), which opposes a plan that would relocate the Cenotaph to another location on the plaza. “Come and take it.”
In front of him, people who embody Texas in cowboy boots and hats waved picket signs and cheered. They, like Burkhart, say they have been left out of the public input process.
The Alamo interpretive plan — a joint effort by the city, the Texas General Land Office and the Alamo Endowment — suggests moving the Cenotaph about 500 feet south to a spot in front of the Menger Hotel. Planners say the move is necessary to enable clear views of the Alamo as people approach the plaza, and is part of an effort to recreate most of the compound’s circa-1836 footprint.
Last week, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said that while moving the Cenotaph was not an option, planners could compromise on other issues presented in the plan, such as re-routing the Battle of Flowers Parade. During a public meeting in August, a modified plan will be presented to the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee, a 28-member group that weighs in on the proposal.
Critics say Treviño’s statement is proof the city did not intend to consider people’s concerns about moving the Cenotaph.
“This is our headstone,” said Lee Spencer White, president of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, whose fourth-great-grandfather died at the famous battle. “This is our cemetery. So you're going to tell me that you don’t like the view anymore?”
Tim Anderson, a descendant of defender Andrew Kent, added, “If you went to a cemetery and moved someone’s headstone, whether their body was there, would their family be upset? Absolutely. So why shouldn't we be?”
In a city-endorsed online market research survey, 2,068 people were asked about their preference to “Repair/restore The Alamo Cenotaph, add names of missing Defenders, relocate the Cenotaph to a prominent location outside the historic mission footprint, visible from the Church.”
Results show 63 percent of respondents strongly agreed with the statement, 31 percent were neutral, and 6 percent disagreed. About 77 percent were Texans.
The Alamo Defenders Descendants Association conducted its own survey of 2,569 Texans via email and robocall. In that survey, 60 percent of people were in favor of keeping the Cenotaph at its current location, 6 percent favored moving it, and 34 percent didn’t have enough information or had no opinion.
State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, also spoke at the rally, saying he supports leaving the Cenotaph alone.
“We’re getting other legislators together so that we can put pressure on the GLO and George P. Bush (GLO commissioner) to be able to keep the Cenotaph right here, where it belongs,” Biedermann said.
After the rally, Biedermann explained the Texas Legislature appropriates money to the General Land Office, and Bush is one of two people who has the power to veto the Alamo Plan. The other person is Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
“We’re going to put the pressure on Commissioner Bush because that’s who we work with,” he said.
Correction: The Alamo Defenders Descendants Association conducted the survey via robocall and email about Texans' perspectives regarding moving the Cenotaph. A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the survey.
The battle of the e-scooters is official.
On Friday, California-based company Lime released 200 electric scooters throughout downtown, the Pearl and Southtown, joining another e-scooter company, Bird, which unloaded about 150 of its own dockless rides in late June. Around lunchtime, men and women in business attire and families on vacation zipped around on Lime and Bird e-scooters, some taking the rides to their max of 15 mph.
Like Bird, Lime riders can download the company’s app and ride for $1 to start and 15 cents for every minute after, said Joe Deshotel, Lime’s government relations and community affairs rep.
Unlike Bird, which dropped its scooters unannounced, and overnight, Lime has been in constant contact with city officials about their launch, said John Jacks, director of Center City Development and Operations department.
Since Bird released its flock on June 22, city officials have been crafting regulations in response to concerns about e-scooters impeding pedestrians rights-of-way.
Safety is the primary concern for the city. Riders who leave scooters in the middle of walkways or in traffic lanes create a potential hazards for pedestrians or those with disabilities, Jacks said.
One technology the city is currently reviewing is geo-fencing. It would create markers around large, heavy-pedestrian areas. In such places, the clock would continue on the ride until the scooter is parked in an appropriate area, Jacks said. And riders would have to pay for the time that the scooter is not appropriately parked.
“That might be one of the regulations where they would have to have that technology to come here,” Jacks said.
The city has been in talks with other dockless companies on input and is looking at other cities with regulations that are already in place. Blue Duck, an e-scooter startup in San Antonio, said in late June that it was "incredibly close" to deploying its own flock in downtown and on college campuses, but so far, no sign.
Another potential regulation is capping the number of scooters allowed on the streets, a concern of Lime’s. The company hopes to expand to other neighborhoods, and creating a cap would prevent the company from understanding the needs of the city, Deshotel said.
"About 30 percent of our trips begin or end at a transit stop, so we’re seeing this being used by commuters as an important tool," Deshotel said. "We want to make sure we’re able to serve everyone and that we can determine what the demand is for them and ensure that we are able to meet that demand."
The city will host a public meeting on dockless vehicles 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, at the Central Library auditorium, 600 Soledad St.. The public and dockless companies are invited to give feedback on possible regulations.
The first draft of regulations is scheduled to be presented to City Council in August, and possibly be adopted in September.
Photos by Ben Olivo | San Antonio Heron
Scooters are here to stay, but they will be regulated
An informational campaign and protest, by groups who oppose relocating the Cenotaph, began at Alamo Plaza on Monday and will culminate in a rally on Saturday.
“The Cenotaph is kind of a community headstone for anyone who is an Alamo defender descendent,” said Paul Gescheidle (above), a member of This is Texas Freedom Force (TTFF), the most vocal group opposed to the monument’s relocation.
Squire Damon (also spelled Daymon) is Gescheidle’s ancestor, who died at the Battle of the Alamo. Damon was among the “Immortal 32,” a group of 32 men from Gonzales who responded to Lt. Col. William Barret Travis’ plea for reinforcements at the Alamo.
On Monday, Gescheidle talked about his connection to the Alamo and Cenotaph, while wearing a red, white and blue cowboy hat and handing out flyers to passersby about the proposed move of the monument. About half-a-dozen TTFF members, also decked out in patriotic attire, did the same.
For Gescheidle and others in the 15,000-member statewide group, suggestions to move the monument are disrespectful.
The Alamo interpretive plan proposes moving the Cenotaph about 500 feet south to a place in front of the Menger Hotel. Planners have said the move is necessary to recreate most of the original footprint of the compound and enable clear views of the Alamo as people approach the plaza.
Last Wednesday, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said several aspects of the plan can be modified, but moving the Cenotaph is “not an option.”
The TTFF members aren’t backing down.
TTFF members have talked to about 1,000 people about the Cenotaph since Monday, said Keri Hillyer, the group’s director of research. They’re encouraging people to contact Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s office, the Texas General Land Office, and their City Council member about the issue.
“This isn’t just about the city of San Antonio … the Alamo represents people from all over the country,” Hillyer said.
TTFF member Lupe Rivera kept a Texas flag, emblazoned with a rattlesnake and the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me,” propped on his shoulder as he spoke to people in front of the Cenotaph this week. He said TTFF members have also talked to people from as far away as Germany and Australia about the monument move.
“What they’re trying to do to us here is a travesty,” he said.
“These politicians have come around, they want to change everything. It’s a travesty. That’s the only word I can use.”
In an online market research survey about the Alamo, in which 2,068 visitors responded, about 77 percent were Texans and the rest resided in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver and Phoenix.
People were asked if their preference was to “Repair/restore The Alamo Cenotaph, add names of missing Defenders, relocate the Cenotaph to a prominent location outside the historic mission footprint, visible from the Church.” Read the survey here.
The results show 63 percent of respondents strongly agreed with the statement, 31 percent were neutral, and 6 percent disagreed.
Respondents were not asked if they agreed with keeping the Cenotaph in place, and no focus group studies have been conducted throughout the Alamo planning process, Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald said.
Focus groups provide more qualitative research and allow people more options to respond to questions in a nuanced way.
The Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, another organization opposed to moving the Cenotaph, conducted its own survey of 2,569 people via email and robocall. In that survey, 60 percent of people were in favor of keeping the Cenotaph at its current location, 6 percent favored moving it, and 34 percent didn’t have enough information or had no opinion.
The survey, however, began by setting up the options with the description, “The Cenotaph is an impressive structure commissioned in 1936 to honor the Alamo Defenders on the ground where they died.”
The $2,000 survey was paid for by Lee Spencer White, president of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association. White’s survey was only conducted among Texas residents and she calls the city-endorsed research a “tourist survey.”
She asked, “Do you want the tourist input or do you want the Texans’ input?”
The TTFF members continued their protest Friday on Alamo Plaza. On Saturday, a larger event called, “Save the Alamo Cenotaph Protest” is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Alamo Plaza. It’s being co-hosted TTFF is co-hosting the rally with members from the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association.
Correction: The Alamo Defenders Descendants Association conducted the survey via robocall and email about Texans' perspectives regarding moving the Cenotaph. A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the survey.
Treviño: Keeping the Alamo Cenotaph in place is ‘not an option’
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron
Losoya Street serves as the River Walk’s alley. It’s where delivery drivers park to unload goods and where restaurants line-up trash cans and run grease trap pumps. Over the years, a few bars have popped up along it. For many who work on the street or drive down it everyday, it’s not viable to think the roadway could be turned into a two-way street — two current southbound lanes joined by another lane going north. But that is what the Alamo interpretive plan calls for, along with other roadway alterations and closures.
“You have to come down here at night or on a Friday afternoon, and there is traffic backed up on Losoya … that’s two lanes working,” said Bill Lyons, owner of restaurants Casa Rio and Schilo's.
He also owns the River Walk property that is home to restaurants Lone Star Cafe, Cafe Ole, and Michelino's, whose backs are to Losoya near East Commerce Street.
Planners suggest converting Losoya to two-way traffic to make up for the loss of the northbound land on Alamo Street that would be lost if the plaza is closed to traffic. The plan also recommends closing two blocks of East Houston Street and a part of East Crockett Street near the plaza.
Making Losoya a two-way street has drawn the most criticism.
Nearly 20 businesses operate on the two-block Losoya — from Houston to Commerce streets — all of which receive deliveries throughout the week.
“There are two components of Losoya,” said Gene Dawson, president of Pape-Dawson Engineers, the company behind the traffic study that supports the plan. “One, is, it's carrying traffic. And, two, is its function as a delivery point for lots of areas downtown.”
If Losoya is made a two-way, and vehicles are funneled onto the roadway in both directions, Ticket Sports Pub owner Todd Koym predicts traffic will get worse.
“Do they (planners) realize what’s going on now … that people get stuck in a traffic jam that goes nowhere?” said Koym asked, who sees the traffic clot during peak times from his bar on the corner of Losoya and Houston.
Koym said he thinks people unfamiliar with the area wind up getting stuck on Losoya because they think it will take them into an area where they can park.
“If they close Alamo Street in front of the Alamo, they’re going to have to make (Losoya) two way. There’s no choice,” he said. “I don’t really agree with it, but, on the other hand, there’s no way to go north if you close Alamo.”
Dawson said a two-way Losoya would result in about the same or improved travel times for drivers who use Losoya in both directions to traverse downtown .
“On a pure traffic sense—because we are improving the level of service at the intersections at Houston (and) Broadway/Losoya, and improving the intersections at Commerce—in theory, from a traffic standpoint, that would be the same or better,” he said about northbound and southbound travel time on Losoya.
“You know, traffic is like water. It finds its path of least resistance,” Dawson said.
The traffic study shows Losoya is the only north-south street in that part of downtown that’s near capacity.
Lyons and Koym see traffic snarl on Losoya throughout the day, in part because deliveries need to be made throughout downtown and parking is limited for the large trucks or vans carrying merchandise. Drivers park their vehicles on three bump-outs — or indentations in the sidewalk for temporary parking — on Losoya. They then make deliveries all over downtown from their Losoya spot, Dawson said.
Without solving the delivery and traffic congestion issues, Lyons said he can’t support making Losoya a two-way.
“Everybody I’ve talked to just wonders how it could possibly work. It makes good sense if you don’t add all these complications to it,” Lyons said. “It looks good on paper, let’s put it that way.”
But Dawson said the key to rerouting downtown traffic is to find an equilibrium between businesses’ needs and commuter needs.
One of the ways he envisions finding that balance is through designated delivery times during non-peak hours throughout downtown. He said, there’s very little traffic before 7 a.m. downtown, and traffic dies down around around 9:30 a.m., after the morning rush. Afternoon peak hours are about 3:30-7 p.m. Delivery drivers could work around those times, he said, and drivers could potentially park their trucks on one of the two southbound lanes to make deliveries.
Since the plans are still conceptual, Dawson said he doesn’t know exactly how many delivery vehicles use Losoya each day. After that data is collected, he said, during a later phase of planning, an entire lane on Losoya could accommodate delivery drivers because it would provide more space than drivers currently use with the bump-outs.
Or, delivery drivers could use a designated space on Losoya across from the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk and on the backside of the proposed Alamo museum. And on East Crockett Street, which will become a designated pedestrian area, it may be possible to move traffic bollards during specified times to make way for deliveries, he said.
If no changes are made to Losoya, and Alamo were to close, Dawson said people’s travel times using alternate north-south streets would increase by about two minutes. The surrounding streets most likely to be impacted by such a detour — Pecan, McCullough, Broadway, 3rd, North Alamo, and Navarro — all have capacity to absorb more vehicles, even with an estimated 3 percent growth in downtown traffic per year, according to the study.
“Right now, today, we could build 16 Frost (Bank) Towers with the arterial capacity leading into downtown and with our streets as they exist today,” Dawson said.
The traffic study Pape-Dawson conducted is not a done deal in the Alamo interpretive plan.
Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said the Planning Commission and eventually the City Council will have to approve any street changes. This means Losoya could still remain unchanged.
“And maybe that will be the solution because maybe everyone will say Losoya is too sacred to change from the delivery standpoint because deliveries are the backbone of the River Walk industry and the hotels," Dawson said. "So we have a lot of work to do."
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron
Other Losoya photos courtesy Bill Lyons
Maintaining green space at Fox Tech is among the top priorities for parents and students as San Antonio ISD officials continue to plan its new headquarters slated for the campus’ football field.
On Wednesday night at Fox Tech, SAISD superintendent Pedro Martinez (above) presented two options to the public that show multi-purpose green space encircled by a walking track— half the size of the current field — on two locations along West Quincy Street, between North Flores and Jackson streets, where a baseball diamond is currently located. (See below.)
Those recreational areas could potentially be closed to the public, unlike the current field, which is used by people who live in and around downtown.
The options were in response to parents and students who voiced concerns earlier this month about an office plan that would wipe out nearly all of the football field, which students still use for their physical education classes.
The football field and the main campus are divided by North Flores Street; and the total campus abuts the newly-opened San Pedro Creek Culture Park to the north.
The renderings didn’t show where on the football field the administration buildings would go or what they would look like or how much space they would consume. While the district is looking to build a 150,000-square-foot building with a parking garage, estimated to cost between $30 and $35 million, Martinez said the district is still working out the details. He added the district wants to move quickly on construction — that could begin in early 2019 — because it has to move 500 administrators before the lease on its Lavaca property ends in 2020.
The Fox Tech campus houses the district's Advanced Learning Academy (ALA) and The Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST Tech) schools.
After the first meeting with parents and teachers on July 11, Martinez said the district learned a lot about what the community wanted and what the district was ignoring.
Some parents were still frustrated.
"We keep talking about green space generically," Fox Tech parent Corina Maeder said. "We need to differentiate it between just a park with a bench or a space where kids can run around and play."
YonHui Bell, a mother of a ninth grader at Fox Tech, said the first meeting was vague and caught her and other parents off guard. Ever since the district made Stuart Elementary into a charter school in a partnership with New York-based operator Democracy Prep Public Schools, Bell has been weary of the district and its decisions. Other concerns were about whether the district would try to profit off the field.
Steve Lecholop, SAISD board member for District 1, denied accusations that the project was an investment opportunity for the district.
“We are not building this to sell it in 10 years to the highest bidder,” Lecholop said. “It’s a fallacy that we have an overabundance of properties. Our properties are our schools.”
Administrators are currently scattered across several properties — the Lavaca location, but also schools — taking up more space than needed, Martinez said. Some administrative offices are taking up classroom space.
“I feel a little bit more like I understand what they’re doing now after the meeting, but I’m still not 100 percent supportive of what is happening,” Bell said.
The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 22 at Fox Tech, 637 N. Main Ave.
At the meeting Wednesday, by a show of hands, the majority of parents supported the revised plan — adding green space to make up for the loss of the field. Community members who use the space in the evenings, for walks on the track or general exercise, have been completely left out of the conversation.
Lynette Crawford, 26, and her mother and sister use the track twice a week to walk their three dogs.
"I don't think they should do that," Crawford said of the district's plans. "I was super excited when I found this place. We tell everybody about it."
Natalie Garcia, 22, lives near San Pedro Park and often visits the track with her family to run and enjoy the view of the city. She had finally convinced her dad to come out and walk. Garcia said she never minded the overgrown grass and the worn down track. She had just thought the district would eventually fix it.
“That’s disappointing,” Garcia said. “I’m not happy about that at all.”
Martinez said he would be willing to open the future green space and walking track to the public, but would first have to consider safety issues.
“In terms of the field on the school, once we build it, it would be accessible, we would just want to make sure there was enough safety precautions around it,” Martinez said. “We would want to think about how we would do fencing and those kinds of things.”
SAISD plans to build new headquarters on Fox Tech field
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron
USAA doubled its downtown workforce Monday by adding more than 270 tech employees into One Riverwalk Place, 700 N. St. Mary's St. The employees join 200 USAA employees already working at the building, which the company purchased in 2013.
Currently, USAA is renovating four floors of the adjacent 28-story building at 300 Convent, formerly known as Bank of America Plaza, to make room for another 380 or so workers that will relocate by early 2019. USAA Real Estate Company purchased 300 Convent last August.
In all, more than 650 employees will be making the transition from the company's University Park Center location. It's part of nearly $70 million in investment, the city of San Antonio estimates, in what the company is calling its "downtown campus."
"When the move from University Park is complete, USAA will have approximately 850 employees at the downtown campus," USAA spokesman Matthew Hartwig said of the pair of buildings just west of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
The company wants to eventually move 2,000 employees to the campus, but there's no timetable, Hartwig said.
The shuffle coincides with the 200-space expansion of the six-level parking garage connected to One Riverwalk Place, which will bring its total to more than 500 spaces. The project, which will erase Hangar Arc, an obscure street that makes a T with Navarro Street at Hotel Havana, will be completed by mid-2019, Hartwig said.
The garage will be open to the public after 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, after 6 p.m. on Friday, and all day on weekends.
In December, the City Council approved an incentives deal in which USAA receives a $4 million Chapter 380 economic development loan and a tax rebate capped at $2 million, or over 10 years, whichever comes first. For its part, USAA agreed to bring in 1,500 more jobs to San Antonio, add more public parking and increase its downtown presence, which it's doing with these moves.
» USAA expansion means more public parking
Featured photo by Ben Olivo
On Hays Street on a late Saturday morning, we find Dwayne White emerge from a friend's worn, off-kilter house. White also lives on Hays, but down closer to the Hays Street Bridge and a 1.7-acre lot where a developer wants to put a five-story apartment building.
"They call themselves community developers and planners, but they're basically just opportunists," White says of the project's partners Mitch Meyer of Loopy Limited and Eugene Simor, owner of the Alamo Beer Company on the other side of the bridge, who has said he wants to restore this once prominent neighborhood.
The Dignowity Hill Historic District on the near East Side is perhaps San Antonio's hottest real estate submarket where the median home value has skyrocketed 210 percent in the last five years.
"My taxes have increased, but I'm blessed to be able to cover it," he says.
White inherited the home from his mom, and has a good-paying job at the Texas Department of Transportation in Austin.
Ten minutes into the sidewalk interview, the sun begins to oppress. White's bald head glistens more by the second — we all sweat profusely — but the 59-year-old, longtime Dignowity Hill resident keeps going.
"There's nothing wrong with progress, but still they come in and they dominate," White says of some of the community's newcomers. "It's like the OGs of the neighborhood — our opinion doesn't count."
Every person quoted in this article we met while going door to door in Dignowity Hill. Specifically, we wanted to talk with folks who live near the bridge — we being myself and V. Finster, Heron photographer.
What do those residents think of the imminent Bridge Apartments, the name of the incoming Meyer-Simor development at 803 N. Cherry St., just north of the bridge?
For years, now, the local media has covered this story about attempts to develop land around the Hays Street Bridge, and we've heard the arguments.
On one hand, this project represents gentrification on a mass scale, compared with the gradual and slower changes that have entered the community one household at a time — modern homes built on vacant lots or rehabbed left-for-dead structures — in recent years. It's big, it's market-rate, and it's located in an industrial patch between the neighborhood and downtown. It's become an exemplar of San Antonio's urban neighborhood growing pains. It's sure to assist in raising property values and, therefore, taxes, critics say. So how can some of the poorer residents afford such change? What about rising rents?
It's also visual. The monolithic for-rent structure will block views of the bridge and the downtown skyline from the corner of Cherry and Lamar streets, says the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, the project's most vocal opponent.
On the other hand are the project's supporters, those people who welcome private investment into this long-neglected neighborhood. Those who welcome urban density and walkability and bike lanes and a rise in property values because that means building up one's equity.
So we went into Dignowity Hill to spend time there, not to look for a quote. We found that, for many, this issue isn't black and white. The opinions on the Bridge Apartments vary and are complicated and each stem from a perspective as unique as the home it lives in.
On Lamar Street, we walk up to a newly-built home that's more suburban sprawl in style than some of the ultra modern-looking houses you'd hire a personal architect to design.
We ring the doorbell, which looks like the controls on the bridge of a spaceship. No answer.
I begin a note that I'll leave for the homeowner when the doorbell begins to talk. It's a woman's voice. She's the homeowner, and she wants to know if she can help us.
We give her the CliffsNotes version of the above paragraphs, and she proceeds to unload hot opinions about how the neighborhood needs more gentrification. Anna Salinas and her fiancée built the house on what was an empty lot about nine months ago.
"I like the potential that it's bringing to the neighborhood," Salinas says of the Bridge Apartments, through the doorbell.
I ask if she could come out and chat face to face. She can't, she explains, because she's talking to us on her cellphone via SkyBell. Oh wow, I thought. It wouldn't be the last SkyBell we saw, or pushed.
Every fence we approach is a decision. At the Casias household, next to the Skybell home, we do a quick scan and decide to keep walking after reading a sign that informs us that the home's occupants are packing heat.
But then one of the occupants walks out, and we start chatting.
"This is the most peaceful, quiet neighborhood on the East Side," said Ricky Casias, standing in the front yard that's decorated with potted plants and a Virgin de Guadalupe statue. "If that goes up, there goes the peace."
Ricky, 49, and his brother, Ray, grew up in this house on Lamar, where construction crews are putting in a new street and curbs. It's still their 72-year-old mother's house. The brothers don't worry about property taxes going up for their mom, because she gets the senior exemption — though they do worry about the neighborhood's less fortunate residents.
What they're really concerned about is the congestion and noise they say will seep into the neighborhood as a result of the apartments.
On the corner of Lamar and Cherry, there's an Airbnb four-plex they say clogs up the curbs with cars that sometimes block their fenced driveway.
The family owned the two plots of land on either side of the home. But recently, Ray, 55, sold the empty lot to Salinas and her fiancee, and a rundown historic home on the other side to an Airbnb flipper.
Most people don't answer the door. Most who do are ambivalent on the Bridge Apartments. Like Kenny Jones, 34, who's new to the neighborhood, "It has to take away from something that people have known for so long."
Everyone we interview seem to be doing well financially. It's not like we ask to see people's pay stub, or anything. But we also start to notice that the homes closest to the bridge — and, therefore, closest to Alamo Beer Co., downtown, and the Pearl — are where the newcomers are flocking to. The signs of poverty are evident the farther east you go into Dignowity Hill.
We also discovered a few Airbnbs.
Michelle McKenna is refurbishing the historic home the Casias' recently sold to her that she's converting into an Airbnb. She has another short-term rental property on Sherman Street.
"It be kind of sad to not be able to see the bridge and the skyline," she says. On the other hand, "It's kind of nice that San Antonio is revitalizing these neighborhoods, because, before, you didn't want to come here."
Around the corner on North Mesquite Street, we find one of those homes you'd hire a personal architect to design. Except an architect actually lives in this rust colored, asymmetrical, ultra-modern abode. The neighborhood has quite a few architects, we're told from several of the people we interview.
"I'm for development, but not for the current design, and I'm not for the way the current developers are communicating with the community," said Michael Britt, 35, an architect at Lake Flato who built his house four years ago.
He wants the apartments to interact better with the single-family homes the building will loom over.
We hear this sentiment again from the Bartholomews, empty-nesters from Alamo Heights who had no intention of gentrifying anything when they rehabbed a bungalow on Lamar in late 2016.
"This (neighborhood) has the highest return for real estate," said Tom Bartholomew, 74. "And also it's close to downtown, where we could walk to the Pearl, the river, the library, to the Tobin Center and the Majestic."
They welcome us in and we immediately meet Layla, a Dignowity Hill pooch they took in. They wanted to reduce their carbon footprint, and that's the main reason they support housing density. They even have a carport on the side of the home with a recharge station for their electric vehicle. But in the case of the Bridge Apartments, they don't support it because of the design.
"It turns its back to the East Side," said Lauren Bartholomew, 62. "There could be better design with the open areas like the dog park and the swimming pool facing east — being included in the neighborhood — instead of just the big mass facing the neighborhood."
They say most of their neighbors either oppose the design or the prospect of so many multifamily units so close to this community. But they also point to a newer couple who supports the development, who lives two doors down in a house that looks like it belongs on the shore of a beach. We knocked, but they weren't home.
Activists who oppose a plan to move the Cenotaph from its original location in front of the Alamo are pressing forward, despite a clear message from District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño on Wednesday that keeping the tomb in place is “not an option.”
“It goes to show that the city of San Antonio, including (Mayor) Ron Nirenberg and Treviño, don’t care what the majority of Texans are saying when it comes to the Alamo,” said Brandon Burkhart, president of This is Texas Freedom Force, which is gathering at the Cenotaph every morning next week to raise awareness about the proposed move. “We’ll continue to fight this until they either put a jackhammer in the ground or start moving it.”
Although Treviño alone is not making the decision, he has served as the face of the Alamo interpretive plan during five public meetings so far. The councilman is one of two mayoral-appointed chairs of the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee, a 28-person group that was tasked in 2014 with updating plans to redevelop Alamo Plaza and the surrounding area.
In an interview, Treviño said compromises on other aspects of the plan, such as rerouting the historic Fiesta parade routes and how to build an Alamo museum, are still on the table.
Ultimately, the City Council will vote on the plan.
District 9 Councilman John Courage has supported keeping the Cenotaph in place, a position he still supports, a staff member said Thursday.
District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse said he could support a compromise regarding the Cenotaph. He’s equally concerned about how officials have treated public criticism.
“How we take feedback, how we listen to the will of the community is something we all need to get better at,” he said. “These aren’t fringe groups, these aren't crazies or whackos coming down and voicing their opinions.”
How Brockhouse votes on the plan, he said, will depend on how well he feels the public’s concerns have been heard.
Moving the Cenotaph about 500 feet south to a location in front of the Menger Hotel has drawn the loudest opposition since the plan was released to the public in June.
Treviño and other city officials have said that the Alamo interpretive plan is not finished and that the public’s concerns would be taken into consideration by planners.
However, at an Alamo public meeting Wednesday night, Treviño said new renderings will show the Cenotaph in its location in front of the Long Barrack.
Some attendees thought this meant Treviño and other city officials were considering leaving the Cenotaph in place as a possibility. After the meeting, the councilman clarified his statement: The renderings are intended to show that the interpretive plan cannot be executed with the Cenotaph in its current location.
The monument blocks the views of the Alamo from many angles and doesn’t fit with the planners’ goal to recreate the original compound footprint with an open feel.
Charisma Villarreal, a descendant of Alamo defender Gregorio Esparza, said Thursday she was not surprised by what many people feel was sleight of hand in the way Trevño answered the question.
“I would be lying if I didn't say I was 1 percent hopeful, but I knew as soon as he said it that it was not true,” Villarreal said.
Thursday morning, Treviño contends he never said keeping the Cenotaph in place was an possibility, only that renderings would be made available in August. Attendees heard what they wanted to hear, he said.
On Thursday, Brockhouse criticized Nirenberg and Treviño for public comments they’ve made about how a decision to move the Cenotaph has already been made, despite outcries coming from the public.
“That’s not leadership. That’s basically you’re not paying attention to what the citizens want and what they're calling for,” Brockhouse said.
District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca J. Viagran, who is a descendant of Alamo defender José Toribio Losoya, said through Communications Coordinator Susy Romero she supports moving the Cenotaph because the spot in front of the Menger Hotel is also prominent.
District 2 Councilman William "Cruz" Shaw’s Director of Communications, Celeste Brown, said he and his staff are still learning where District 2 residents stand on the issue. District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry declined to comment, and other members of City Council did not return a request for comment.
Moving forward, the activists, many of whom are descendants of Alamo defenders, want more public discussion about the Cenotaph, a point that Burkhart is helping to spearhead.
Members of This is Texas Freedom Force (TTFF) will be at Alamo Plaza from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, spreading the word about plans to move the Cenotaph. He wants to get people talking and involved in the issue.
“Everybody that hears it (for the first time) is just appalled that the city is trying to pull this,” he said.
Also, Burkhart and the TTFF are teaming up with the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association for a rally at 10 a.m. July 28 on Alamo Plaza.
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron
Setting It Straight: Celeste Brown is communications director for District 2 City Councilman William "Cruz" Shaw. An earlier version of this article misspelled her name.
» Previously published: Treviño: Keeping the Alamo Cenotaph in place is 'not an option'