For the much-anticipated and much-discussed Broadway Jones apartments, developer NRP Group has agreed to an incentive deal that will provide 10 percent of the project's 283 units to households making between 50 and 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), or between $33,400 and $40,800, respectively.
The discount only applies to one-bedroom apartments.
For example, a household making $33,400 would pay $835 a month for a one-bedroom apartment at Broadway Jones, based on the agreement. Under the deal, a tenant would be charged 30 percent of their income, a rent restriction intended to make these units truly affordable. However, NRP Group—which is the developer, the builder and the management company for Broadway Jones—has the ability to charge up to 35 percent of a tenant's income.
On Wednesday, the deal was solidified between NRP Group and the San Antonio Housing Trust Public Facility Corp. (PFC), a city-created nonprofit run by the City Council members who represent Districts 1-5. NRP Group, the PFC and an undisclosed equity provider, are partnering with an undisclosed bank to make Broadway Jones happen.
Here's roughly how it works:
The development partnership is exempt from paying all property taxes because the PFC also owns the property and everything built on it. In exchange for the tax exemption, NRP Group must offer half of the 283 units at Broadway Jones to people making 80 percent AMI, according to state law. NRP Group will rent the other half at market-rate prices.
But many observers, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, have recently questioned whether a typical San Antonio household making 80 percent AMI—or, $53,440—should be described as low income. Others on the City Council agree. And it was from Council discussions in the past month that NRP Group decided to take its agreement with the PFC a step further and add 10 percent of the units, or 28 apartments (taken from the half that's offered at 80 percent AMI) and offer them to people in the 50 to 60 percent AMI bracket.
So what does NRP Group get in return?
By offering rents to people making between 50 and 60 percent AMI, NRP Group doesn't pay the PFC's closing fee of $250,000. Instead, those funds will be used to create a reserve that will "buy down" rents, i.e. make up the cost of making the apartments affordable.
For example, a one-bedroom rented to someone making 80 percent AMI would cost $1,065 (based on the 30 percent rent restriction). For the person making 50 percent AMI, it would cost $835. The difference—or, $230—will be subsidized using the $250,000 reserve fund.
In an interview a few weeks ago, Veronica Soto, director of the city's Neighborhood and Housing Services Department, described the practice of "buying down" rents as an incentive.
The agreement comes after much discussion among City Council members about the city's role in incentivizing housing, especially in the downtown area. In light of San Antonio's economic segregation, a handful on the Council said they must be able to convince their constituents that the public is receiving a worthwhile benefit in return for doling out tax breaks to developers. Cheaper apartments, especially in the downtown area, do that, they said.
On Nov. 1, before voting on a reimbursement grant worth up to $680,000 from the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, the Council entered a candid discussion about what some members called a lack of affordability at Broadway Jones. At the time, the agreement between the PFC and NRP Group did not include 60 percent AMI rents—just half at 80 percent AMI, half at market rate.
During the discussion, District 9 Councilman John Courage voted against the incentive for Broadway Jones because it didn't offer apartments to people making below 80 percent AMI.
On Wednesday, via text, Courage said he was encouraged to hear that the PFC and NRP Group found the means to incentivize more affordable units at Broadway Jones.
"We need to keep our inner city and downtown neighborhoods affordable for all San Antonio working families," Courage said.
The $55.9 million, five-story, Broadway Jones apartments will add 283 mixed-income units to what is arguably San Antonio's hottest real estate submarket—River North. It will also add roughly 15,000-square-feet of retail on two floors. Restaurants, most likely.
This type of agreement between the PFC and NRP Group produced the Cevallos Lofts in Southtown, and the newer Baldwin apartments on the near East Side, to name a few. The PFC partners with other affordable housing builders, and most are built outside downtown. For example, for the Friedrich Lofts project on the East Side, the PFC is partnering with Dallas developer Provident Realty Advisors, Inc.
It's the same type of agreement that's resulting in The '68 at Hemisfair, but that agreement is between AREA Real Estate and the Hemisfair Park Public Facility Corp.
The San Antonio Housing Trust PFC's board is composed of Council members representing Districts 1-5, who are, in district order: Roberto Treviño, William "Cruz" Shaw, Rebecca Viagran (chairwoman), Rey Saldaña and Shirley Gonzales.
The PFC purchases the land and owns everything built on the land.
The PFC forms a partnership with an apartment developer, and typically a third equity partner, and the partnership finds a lender, a bank, which then backs the project. The partnership leases the property from the PFC for 75 years, and it also constructs the building. At the end of the 75 years, the PFC owns the development outright.
» $680,000—Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone reimbursement grant
» $1.5 million—Center City Housing Incentive Policy (a combination of city and SAWS fee waivers, and a mixed-use loan)
» ?—fully property tax exemption
In October, the San Antonio Express-News analyzed Broadway Jones and concluded the project will deprive public agencies of an estimated $1.6 million a year. Reporter Richard Webner, who recently left the Express-News, told me he used the estimated tax figures from the Bexar County Appraisal District records, from the properties involved, in his calculations. His article did not give an estimated total value of the tax exemption over the 75-year lease. (The Heron is currently working on its own calculation.)
The PFC, in the case of Broadway Jones, owns 15 percent of the partnership without putting in any equity. It's bringing to the table the tax exemption (the total value of which the PFC has not shared after requests from the Heron). However, for its 15 percent ownership, the PFC receives 15 percent of the rent revenue stream. It also receives an annual administrative fee from the developer, which is $20,000 a year for Broadway Jones, according to Soto.
If NRP Group decided to charge full market-rate prices, or sell its partnership stake to another developer who then charged full market-rate, the development would lose its tax exemption. If this were to happen, the PFC would still have the right to own its 15 percent.
In Broadway Jones, NRP Group is also an equity partner, though Travis Sheffield, NRP Group’s vice president of development, declined to say how much money the developer was putting into the project.
When asked who the other equity partner was, and which bank was lending the rest of the funds, Sheffield said he would disclose those other players once NRP Group closes on the deal, which it's scheduled to do on Dec. 14.
When asked about the development's projected rate of return on investment, Sheffield deferred to PFC attorney Jim Plummer with the law firm Bracewell LLP. Plummer told me he didn't remember.
"If I knew it, I'd tell ya," Plummer said. "I don't know it off the top of my head."
The 2.6 acres is currently owned by developer James Lifshutz, which is selling the three combined properties for an unknown price to the PFC. Under the partnership agreement, Lifshutz will own and lease the retail portion of the building, and pay sales taxes. The three properties are valued at $5.7 million by the Bexar County Appraisal District.
NRP Group hopes to break ground on Broadway Jones the first week of January, Sheffield said.
[ Editor's note: The Mayor's Housing Task Force uses an AMI of $49,000 (just San Antonio)—a 2016 figure from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 1-year estimate—because it's more representative of San Antonio's workforce. Broadway Jones, and all other city incentives programs, uses the HUD definition of $66,800 for the greater San Antonio area, which includes New Braunfels. ]
At the Nov. 1 Council meeting, Sheffield and Assistant Manager Lori Houston told Council members that the full tax exemption offered by the PFC was necessary because the property, even though the land is arguable the most prime real estate in the downtown area, possesses a set of challenges unique to the location.
PFC projects such as the Friedrich Lofts, which are replacing the decades-long vacant former Friedrich refrigerator factory, are said to be economic boosters of long-neglected neighborhoods.
But the Broadway corridor is far from being ignored. It has seen a flurry of multifamily projects pop up since the creation of the city's Center City Housing Incentive Policy (CCHIP) is 2012. Last year, voters approved the 2017-2022 bond program, the largest single item of which was $40 million toward Broadway street and sidewalk upgrades, right outside the front doors of Broadway Jones. It's nearly equidistant from the Pearl and downtown proper, and is a quarter-block from the Museum Reach section of the San Antonio River. It's also a short bike ride away from the gentrifying East Side.
A city-funded assessment of CCHIP, which offers rebates on city property taxes alone, concluded that these types of projects—wood-framed, five-story apartment buildings along downtown's outskirts—no longer required incentives to be successful, because the rents they're able to command offer a large enough revenue stream that they are profitable without incentives.
At Broadway Jones, environmental issues having to do with the removal of underground storage tanks, and the spacing out of utility poles, which is required in order for NRP Group to maximize the land, have added additional cost to the project, Sheffield said.
In short, Sheffield said NRP Group could possibly build the apartments without the tax break, but the apartments wouldn't be affordable.
"The project itself would be challenging to exist without the PFC partnership and the incentives," Sheffield said after the Nov. 1 meeting. "You would need significantly higher rents. Now there are new products in the area on the river that are really pushing rents that haven't quite been proven. I can't say if (Broadway Jones) would exist on the same timeline. It might exist five years later. It's possible. (The rents) would have to be very expensive."
At the Nov. 1 meeting, District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse criticized Broadway Jones for only offering one-bedrooms to low-income households.
"You quoted it as the 'best development in the city' ... that a family can not live in," Brockhouse told Sheffield at the meeting. "That is a problem. So (families) cannot have access to the best developed unit."
Plummer said in future PFC deals, he's telling developers they need to include 60 percent AMI rents across all bedroom types.
The new direction in affordability seems to be the result of some strong feedback from Nirenberg, Courage, and, most notably, Saldaña, who has been beating the affordability drum for more than a year in regards to CCHIP and, now, the PFC.
"I just want to say, we're changing the course of business," Saldaña said Nov. 1. "I do think we have to start holding the line on certain items."
The next time you're driving on Broadway and you approach Jones Avenue from either direction, imagine, in place of Mayor Ron Nirenberg's campaign headquarters, apartments rising five stories. They consume the width of the block, from Jones to 10th Street, and extend back another block to Avenue B. A glacier made of wood, stucco and brick assembled on a piece of land the size of Maverick Park across the street.
Broadway Jones, as it's called, will consist of 283 mixed-income units. Half of the units will be offered to people making less than the area median wage. The other half will be leased at market rate rents. The project will include 15,000-square-feet of retail on two floors. Restaurants, most likely. And it will add more residents to what is arguably San Antonio's hottest real estate submarket—River North.
It's easy to imagine what these apartments—what this area—will look like in five years: the vibrant, 24/7 neighborhood that city officials have sought through various housing incentives programs.
Broadway Jones is benefiting from three such programs.
It's hard to explain, however, the how this neighborhood is being built.
Broadway Jones, in particular, is a project by a labyrinthine development partnership that includes developer NRP Group, and a city-created nonprofit called the San Antonio Housing Trust Public Facility Corp., among other unknown partners. It's a relationship very few people fully understand, including the City Council members who make decisions on these projects.
This article is based on a Nov. 1 discussion by City Council members on these topics.
Some criticized Broadway Jones for what they called a lack of true affordability. They also debated whether a deeper level of affordability is possible given the obstacles of developing downtown. At times, the conversation touched on larger questions:
How much affordability can a city demand from developers in return for the incentives it provides?
Will those affordability demands slow the growth of the market the incentives are supposed to be fueling—all in the name of equity?
Is more affordable housing downtown realistic? Or, is it fantasy?
It's a discussion San Antonio has been having ever since Nirenberg formed his Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force in October of last year, and after he put a moratorium on the city's Center City Housing Incentives Policy in December 2017.
Usually, a housing incentive under $1 million wouldn't produce much discourse from the City Council. It would pass on the consent agenda with no discussion, or a Council member would briefly highlight it for the record. Barely a blip.
The matter of approving a $680,000 reimbursement toward NRP Group's $55.9 million, five-story Broadway Jones project, however, was not business as usual.
In an 8-1 vote on Nov. 1, the Council approved the incentive for Broadway Jones, but it was not without a vigorous debate.
"I'm glad we're getting some level of affordability, even if I don't agree with the definition of affordable," District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña told his colleagues.
The Council members also tried to get a clearer picture of what exactly it was they were incentivizing—because some, admittedly, didn't fully understand how Broadway Jones was put together.
In short, Broadway Jones is being developed by a partnership group that involves NRP Group, one of San Antonio's most active developers, and a city-created nonprofit called the San Antonio Housing Trust Public Facility Corporation (PFC), which is operated by Council members who represent Districts 1 through 5.
The partnership is exempt from paying all property taxes because the PFC also owns the property. The group partners with a developer—in this case, NRP Group—to build the housing that includes affordable units.
This type of agreement first produced the Cevallos Lofts in Southtown, and the newer Baldwin apartments on the near East Side, to name a few.
Specifically, half of the units at Broadway Jones will be offered to households making 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), which in the greater San Antonio area (including New Braunfels) is $53,440 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The average rent for these units—all one-bedrooms—will be $1,128. GIVE SOME CONTEXT!!! SPELL OUT FOR THE READER
Some on the Council, particularly Saldaña and District 9 Councilman John Courage asked city staff to explore ways to include units offered to families making 60 percent AMI, or $40,800 for a family of four.
Before we explore these questions, you first have to understand how these PFC projects are put together. It's extremely complex, but let's walk through it together.
The PFC, which, again, is operated by Council members, owns the land and everything that's built on the land.
A partnership is formed that builds and manages the apartments. The PFC leases the building to the partnership for 75 years. During that time, the partnership is exempt from paying any property taxes. At the end of the 75 years, the PFC owns the entire development.
THIS IS HOW THE PFC MAKES MONEY ...
The PFC, in the case of Broadway Jones, owns 15 percent of the partnership. For that, they receive 15 percent of the rent revenue stream. The PFC also receives an annual administrative fee from the partnership, which is $20,000 for Broadway Jones, according to Veronica Soto, director of the city's Neighborhood and Housing Services Department.
In Broadway Jones, NRP Group is also an equity partner, though it's unknown how many millions of dollars it's putting into the project. It's also unknown what other entities, such as investment trusts or individuals, comprise the partnership. A request to NRP Group for the complete partnership list was not answered.
Broadway Jones' lender, nor the rate of return on investment (the profit) is also unknown. I requested these figures from NRP Group and the PFC, but was either denied or ignored.
In return for the tax exemption, the partnership agrees to lease half of the units to households making 80 percent of the area median income, which in San Antonio is $53,440 for a family of four. Just like when you apply to live at an apartment, and you have to prove you make a certain amount of money—but here, lower income households are allowed to rent these apartments. However, the partnership then restricts the rent to 30 to 35 percent of the family's income.
SOTO so even thogh to quality you have to below 80%,
once you're in the building, your rent can not go as high as that 35% of your income
[ Editor's note: The Mayor's Housing Task Force uses an AMI of $49,000 (just San Antonio)—a 2016 figure from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 1-year estimate. Broadway Jones uses the HUD definition of $66,800, which includes New Braunfels. ]
Pfc literally could sell the whole thing, lock stock and barrell?
they can sell its 15%
They cannot back out of the lease
If the project lost its affordability component
Which is very much theoretical
If 10 years from now there’s a different owner, and they … ???
That property would be subject to full property taxes,
And the pfc would still own it
And the pfc would still hae the right to own 15%
??? legally they could, but nobody's going to buy a minority interest in that partnership
if the project is sold, we get a share of the sales proceeds
we can convert that 15% to a rental stream, we can say, no we don't want sales proceeds, we want a longterm rental stream
OTHER QUESTIONS SENT TO SHEFFIELD
In the Friedrich Lofts deal on the East Side, the PFC partnered with Dallas developer Provident Realty Advisors. Of the 347 units on the site of the former refrigerating plant, 14 will be offered to households making 60 percent AMI. HOW MANY TO 80% AMI???
In a meeting in late September, the PFC, which is chaired by District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, voted to "buy down" rents by applying the $250,000 closing fee and a $25,000 annual administrative fee Provident Realty Advisors would have to pay, and reinvest those payments into the project to be able to offer lower rents.
Jim Plummer, an attorney with the law firm Bracewell LLP, who represents the PFC in these deals, explained how this all works using a hypothetical rent structure.
"If rent for an 80 percent (AMI) person was $1,000, then the rent for a 60 percent AMI probably has to be $800," Plummer said in an interview. "We're agreeing that we will pay into the project the $200 differential a month and we're going to use the fees we made from the project to do that."
At the PFC meeting, Plummer told Council members they could use future revenue generated from rents to buy down more rents to be able to offer 60 percent AMI rents than just the 14.
The one-time $250,000 closing fee and the $25,000 annual administrative fee over the 75-year lease add up to $2.1 million. In a recent interview Veronica Soto, director WHAT, said she considers the "buying down" of rents an incentive for the developer. In this case, the developer, Provident Realty Advisors, is essentially paying itself in exchange for offering 14 units to households making 60 percent AMI.
Plummer nor Sheffield responded to follow-up questions on this point. But Soto did. I asked her if this method of "buying down" rents is essentially the developer paying themselves.
"The developer is paying themselves, but the beneficiary is the person who rents at $600 as opposed to $800."
??????This method, however, was not presented as an option for Broadway Jones. During the Council meeting two weeks ago, District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval asked if it was too late to go back and ask for lower rents.
??? ??? ??? GET RESPONSE TO SANDOVAL'S QUESTION Likely the reason is that the Friedrich project is newer and the details of the rent-structure was just put into place, based on Plummer's recent presentation to the PFC board. Broadway Jones has been going on for nearly two years, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said.
PFC projects such as the Friedrich Lofts—which are replacing the decades-long vacant former Friedrich refrigerator factory—are said to be economic boosters in long-neglected neighborhoods.
But the Broadway corridor is far from being ignored. It's the complete opposite of being ignored.
In fact, a city-funded assessment of another incentive program, called the Center City Housing Incentives Program, concluded that these types of projects—wood-framed, five-story apartment buildings along downtown's outskirts—no longer required incentives to be successful, because the rents they're able to command offer a large enough revenue stream that they are profitable without incentives.
The project at Broadway and Jones, however, is unique in that it has environmental issues and additional utility work specific to the site that have added cost to the project, Houston told City Council members.
After the vote, Travis Sheffield, NRP Group's vice president of development, explained.
"The project itself would be challenging to exist without the PFC partnership and the incentives," Sheffield said. "You would need significantly higher rents. Now there are new products in the area on the river that are really pushing rents that haven't quite been proven. I can't say if (Broadway Jones) would exist on the same timeline. It might exist five years later. It's possible. (The rents) would have to be very expensive."
During the discussion, Saldaña asked if the city would do it over again, could they have squeezed in more affordable units into Broadway Jones.
"If the city had an additional $1.8 million," the developer could make 10 percent of the total units at 60 percent AMI, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said.
The $1.8 million Houston referred to was the gap NRP Group explained it needed in order to make the project more affordable.
this project would not happen without city incentives
NRP would not be able to do this project
if hthe city had an additional 1.85 in cash
they could make that 10 percent at 60%
the inner city incentive fund, we don't have that cash
we receive $2M annually
we do not have that pot of money to help with that affordability.
Saldaña stresses the need for more affordability in projects like Broadway Jones, which has 80% area median income rents. He wants 60% in the future.
He said he understood that Broadway Jones was well underway before the mayor launched his housing task force, and his moratorium on the CCHIP, and therefore the subsequent conversation about affordability.
"This was a project was maybe a year and a half in the making, but we are changing the way we do business," Saldaña said.
For Broadway Jones, the average rent offered to people making 80 percent AMI is $1,128; the average market rate rent will be $1,966, according to figures provided to NRP Group.
MUSEUM REACH LOFTS
looking to see how they can create a tier of body??? system /// that is a path we are lokoing at
9 percent tax credit
we are looking at one right now
Museum Reach Lofts
but the tax credit provides 9 percent of the project cost annuallly for a 10 year period
the city incenties help with that project as well
it's a satcking of incenties
the CCHIP when aprtnered with PFC or a tax credit project canhelp with that affordability
GET CCHIP QUOTE FROM L HOUSTON
But Houston broke down the reality the city of San Antonio and developers are pushing.
"60% is not possible without buying down rents, or without a 9 percent."
What works for the people providing the equity, the investors. And what works for the city of San Antonio. In a way, it is not as of right, but a negotiation. Unlike the CCHIP. There isn't a magic ROI. Every one is different. Every one is specific to the investors involved. And the lenders.
One person who ripped into Broadway Jones, and who was the lone dissenting vote, was Courage. "We don't believe 80 percent of the county-wide AMI reflects the 80 percent (AMI) of people who live in the city," he said of other Council members, and alluding to the difference in AMIs.
"I think we've heard concern from several Council people about the fact that affordability is very questionable, when we hear that it’s only affordable for an individual or maybe a married couple who’s at the very top of what we consider affordable income."
District 1 Councilman Robert Treviño, who represents downtown, painted a more realistic picture. He said there are factors that limit the affordability, alluding to fluctuating land prices, and problems inherent with specific pieces of land—in the case of Broadway Jones, they had to do with environmental concerns and utility work.
"I certainly agree with Councilman Saldaña that we need to look for ways to find affordability in these projects," Treviño said. "I just think we can also be thoughtful of where that location is. One location is not necessarily equal to another."
Sandoval asked whether Broadway Jones is designed to serve families, given that the affordable units are only offered in one-bed rooms. "The development as a whole is not necessarily structured to serve full-size families."—@NRPGroup's Travis Sheffield says
"If we're going to put incentives... it's got to have something for the families, too. You quoted it as 'the best development in the city' ... that a family can not live in." @GregBrockhouse tells @NRPGroup's Sheffield about BroadwayJones on limit of affordable units to only 1BRs
sandoval "We likely don't expect to see families living in the affordable units?"
"The development as a whole is not necessarily structured to serve full size families. You're correct."
Other PFC development agreements are structured that way.
young professional, typically younger ... this is a creative flow partnership ... for folks ...
in a true top of the line quality apartment,
"I could be biased, but I feel like it will be the nicest product in all of San Antonio," Sheffield said.
"Right. It sounds like you could have saved yourself 2.6 million if you didn't make it so nice, and maybe have found that gap."
there is a balance there
we have the market rate units, we're actually a fianncail patner with the PFC, it's in the city's
what's the estimate on that
????????since we are a 501c3
you quoted it as the best dev in the citiy that a family can not live in
That is a problem. So they cannot have access to the best developed unit.
I’m not so sure that’s the target audience I would want to incent.
Editor's Note: We'll report more on the Friedrich Lofts project at a later time. Honestly, we're still trying to figure it out, so that we can produce a clear article on how it works.
two sets of incentives, but Broadway Jones is benefiting from both
although the PFC has never been described as an incentive, who is receiving the benefit?
it's also up to the developer. or the equity provider. or the banks??? how do those conversations go
PFC is a negotiation
Soto looking at more insight into the projects
"I just want to say, we're changing the course of business," Saldaña said. "I do think we have to start holding the line on certain items."
It's flanked by Broadway, which is due for $40 million in upgrades from the current bond program, and the Museum Reach segment of the San Antonio River, which received its millions of dollars in improvements six years ago. Apartments continue to go up along the river and Broadway. And now, office space is being built, as well.???
saldana began by questioning
overhead power, street improvements,
that's what tirz dollars go toward
we're saying that's part of a larger pool
timetable, other details of the project
2.75 acres. A monolith.
Early Sunday evening, people brought 32 little Christmas trees and clustered them together on the very spot where downtown's official tree stood for more than 30 years. The gathering was a protest of sorts of the decision last year to relocate the H-E-B tree from Alamo Plaza to Travis Park.
Monreal, the gathering's organizer, had hoped for 300 small trees to occupy the plaza in celebration of San Antonio's tricentennial.
"I'm kind of bummed," Monreal said. "It's not what we had hoped for."
That said, he was happy to bring some joy to those passersby who stopped to take photos with the trees with the Alamo in the background, just as they would if the 50-footer was standing there.
"That alone is enough," said Monreal, who clustered the trees together because the wind kept knocking down some of them.
Last year, officials with the city, H-E-B and Centro San Antonio decided to relocate downtown's largest tree. They said Travis Park fit more people, and it also offers a better setting for continuous holiday programming—such as movie nights, Santa visits, etc.—throughout the season around the tree.
"The move to Travis Park created an action packed holiday season with holiday activities and entertainment, and we will continue to offer exciting programming for all ages this year in Travis Park," said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations department.
The tree would have to move in upcoming years anyway, because of impending construction to Alamo Plaza, they said.
But city officials decided to bring back the tree to Travis Park because, they said, last year was such a success.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said it's too early to tell if the main 50-foot tree will return to the plaza after renovations are completed in five years.
"All those things will be under the consideration of the new board that will be formed for the Alamo Plaza,” Treviño said.
This year, H-E-B has purchased a 20-foot Christmas tree for Alamo Plaza, which will be installed Monday, city officials said.
The company made the same offering last year, and eventually, Alamo Plaza received a tree. But for Monreal, the move didn't come fast enough.
Monreal, a server at a downtown restaurant at the time, stepped in by placing a small Christmas tree on the plaza. It wasn't a protest so much as Monreal wanted to fill what he described as a feeling of emptiness. The Christmas spirit that usually filled the plaza, he said, wasn't there anymore.
By the time the Travis Park tree was lit the day after Thanksgiving, a few others Monreal's tree via social media, and contributed their own.
View this post on Instagram
View this post on Instagram
On Sunday night, Monreal, and most others who gathered around the miniature winter wonderland, spoke solemnly and said they believe this kind of social gathering will be lost after the multimillion-dollar Alamo Plaza renovation is completed in 2024.
"We might not be able to have this anymore," said Monreal, as strangers stopped to take photos and kids whipped around the plaza on scooters.
During public meetings this year on the Alamo Plaza master plan, city officials insisted that the plaza would remain a public space. The plan, which was approved by the City Council in October, will rail off the plaza using some type of barrier and convert the plaza into a kind of open-air museum. During museum hours, visitors—locals and tourists, alike—would enter through one main entrance around where the visitors' center is currently located in the Crockett building oppose the shrine. During non-museum hours, six entrances would open up, and people would be able to access the main space in front of the Alamo, officials said.
"This has always been a very special time for me," said Patricia Varela, 52, who contributed four trees Sunday night along with her husband and three sons. "I'm just really upset that they're doing this. They city is doing things without asking anybody."
When asked whether her family had visited Travis Park this season, Varela's husband, Ted, chimed in.
"Probably not," he said. "We'll go down to the River Walk to see the lights. But, no, we won't be going to Travis Park."
On the @downtownsanantonio Instagram account, the Heron's sister site, more people seem to be in favor of Alamo Plaza as the location for downtown's primary Christmas tree.
"Its just not as magical as when it was by the Alamo"—@shawnerz588
But the Travis Park location has its supporters, as well.
"The tree looks so much better at Travis Park. More room and more decorations! The Alamo already has the Alamo. The same people against this move are the same people that want to keep downtown caca brown with short little buildings." — @fryguy2008
Here is the tree ceremony the way it used to look:
This year's tree ceremony at Travis Park:
Setting It Straight: An earlier version of this article incorrectly estimated the number of mini Christmas trees that were placed in front of the Alamo Sunday night. There were 32.
Thousands of people descended on Travis Park and the River Walk on Friday for the H-E-B Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration and the Ford Holiday River Parade, respectfully. Every year, the two events mark the beginning of the holiday season in San Antonio. View photos from the two events.
Then there are people like Robert Torres and Cesar Laijas, both in their 50s, who met each other at the dinner in 2014. They've claimed the same area—on the far end of the cavernous setup from the entrance—where they have more elbow room.
"We’re just single men who have been by ourselves," said Torres, 59, who was decked out in a white cowboy hat and ranchero suit to match. "All my family has passed away, or is out of town."
Torres needed the extra room for his additional condiments and several turkey and pilgrim tchotchkes he arranged as his own personal table setting. The whipped cream, in particular, became very popular among his buddies when the pumpkin pie servers came around.
All in Torres' family in San Antonio have died. He has some aunts and uncles, but they live out of town. On this day, people like Laijas have become his family.
"This is a place to meet good friends and great families," said Laijas, 56, who use to volunteer at the Jimenez dinner in the late '90s. "That's why I keep coming back. There's nothing but happiness. You never see a frown at the Henry B. Gonzalez. You eat until you're full."
Laijas' only complaint?
"There's not a place to take a nap," Laijas said while laughing.
Every year, the Jimenez dinner, which started in 1979, serves an estimated 25,000 people at the convention center. More than 4,000 volunteers make the well-oiled machine go. There are volunteers who assemble the plates. There are those who push around trash cans and recycle bins to keep the rows upon rows upon rows of tables tidy for the continuous stream of people. The glamorous job goes to the volunteers who carry around the actual meals on large treys and bring them to the hungry. Some just walk around with hot coffee.
Then you have volunteers like Michelle Rodriguez who's job is to walk around and ask people what else they need. If you're a guest at the Jimenez dinner, you're allowed to have as many meals as you like. Rodriguez' job was to identify those who needed pie. But at times, she looked bored.
"There are so many volunteers, everybody is on top of it," said Rodriguez, 45, who helped out on Thursday with her mom and son.
When Rodriguez was a kid, her father, Manuel, introduced the family to the dinner as volunteers. Her dad died on Christmas Eve seven years ago, and now the family recently got back into volunteering at the Jimenez, she said, "just keeping his spirit alive."
Gina Gomez, 43, comes to the dinner every year by herself for the music and to meet new people. It means not having to do dishes at her house. Later that evening, she would go to her mom's place, where the rest of her family would gather for the dinner.
"I like the music, and the people, and it's just fun," Gomez said. "And the food is very good."
City officials, including District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, say it's too early to plan future Alamo Plaza traditions and programming, and that includes the Christmas tree lighting celebration.
"Elements like a Christmas tree—all those things will be under the consideration of the new board that will be formed for the Alamo Plaza," Treviño said. "It’s just way too early to really predict what ... some of these traditions (are) and (how these) events will occur."
Here's how the last Alamo Plaza lighting went in 2016:
Last year, officials gave the public several reasons justifying the move.
In an interview with the Heron, Treviño pointed to a combination of anticipating the multimillion dollar Alamo Plaza reconstruction, and the space that became available at the center of Travis Park after the Confederate monument was removed in the dead of night on Sept. 1. Both decisions were criticized, but the tree relocation drew the most public outcry.
Still, construction at Alamo Plaza, an estimated $250-$300 million effort that was approved by Council on Oct. 19—to much protest by various groups—has yet to begin.
Some people, including Steven Monreal, a downtown restaurant worker who started a mini Christmas tree movement last year, wonders why the 50-foot tree at Travis Park couldn't be switched with the 20-foot tree that's going on the plaza.
Treviño and city officials said the H-E-B Christmas tree returned to Travis Park this year because of the success of last year's ceremony and continuous programming at the park throughout the holiday season.
"The move to Travis Park created an action packed holiday season with holiday activities and entertainment, and we will continue to offer exciting programming for all ages this year," said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations department.
View this post on Instagram
It begins with the 34th Annual H-E-B Tree Lighting Celebration, which is scheduled for 3-6 p.m. Friday. The tree lighting will take place at 6:20 p.m.
H-E-B is providing a 20-foot Christmas tree for Alamo Plaza, which is scheduled to be installed and lit on Monday (Nov. 26), weather permitting, Jacks said.
At 7 p.m. Sunday, the day before the 20-foot tree is to be placed on the plaza, Monreal will lead a mini tree party. The goal: to fill up Alamo Plaza with 300 mini trees in celebration of San Antonio's birthday.
It's an expansion of the tree protest last year, when Monreal placed a mini tree at Alamo Plaza during a period of time when there was no Christmas tree presence there. He also placed mini trees at San Fernando Cathedral, Arneson River Theater, Hemisfair, and the Hays Street Bridge.
Monreal said he placed the trees to bring hope to Alamo Plaza when it had no tree presence.
"Just feeling like we didn't have any hope," said Monreal, who now works at Tomatillo's on Broadway. "Sometimes when you're holding on, what's going to happen ... I'm not going to have enough money to pay the bills, and then you go outside and find a 100 bucks on the grass."
"That little tree was the 100 bucks."
Last year, others saw Monreal's efforts on social media, and they joined in.
View this post on Instagram
Here are some other downtown Christmas tree-related events:
» Fantasyland at Milam Park, Saturday (Nov. 24): Friends of Milam Park host this ode to the old Joske's department store set up with a tree lighting at dusk, Flamenco dancers, arts and crafts vendors, classic cars and a visit from Santa. Noon-7 p.m. Read more.
» Alamo Christmas Tree Celebration 2018, Dec. 15: This is Texas Freedom Force is hosting its own Christmas celebration at Alamo Plaza, which, like Monreal's mini tree efforts, is in protest to the city moving the largest tree. Santa will be on hand to hand out toys to girls and boys at no cost on a first come, first serve basis. Elves and others will hand out cookies. 7-9 p.m. Read more.
The website for The '68, the 151-unit apartment project that developer David Adelman is building at Hemisfair, is now live, which means you can sign up for a January hardhat tour. When The '68 opens in the spring, the $25.5 million project will overlook Yanaguana Garden, making it one of the most desirable places to live downtown.
Do you make enough money to live there? Actually, there's a good chance you do. A combination of local and state rules, which make the project possible, require Adelman to offer some rents to households making as low as 50 percent of the area median wage.
And they're all up for grabs on a first come, first serve basis.
"You can pick it," Adelman said. "It's not like we're saying our worst units are our cheap ones. And then we'll adjust the rent on that unit, and that's it."
Fifteen units of the 151 total will be considered affordable based on a consensus reached by the City Council during discussions at meetings the past two weeks. In those talks, most on the Council seem to agreed that apartments offered to households making 60 percent of the area median income (AMI)—which is $40,800 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—are truly affordable in San Antonio.
Here's how it works at The '68.
Adelman, through his company AREA Real Estate, has partnered with a public entity called the Hemisfair Park Public Facility Corp. (PFC). Because the PFC owns the land, Adelman's development is exempt from paying all property taxes as long as he provides half of the units to people making 80 percent AMI (which many on the Council, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, do not consider as affordable for the average San Antonian, thus the new 60 percent threshold).
The other half of the units can be rented at market rate prices.
But Hemisfair has its own rules in place.
Ten percent of the units (that is, 15 of The '68's 151) must be rented to people making between 50 and 70 percent AMI. On top of that, their rent cannot exceed 25 percent of their income—a restriction that adds more affordability than other PFC projects, such as the one being planned for the corner of Broadway and Jones Avenue by NRP Group (in partnership with the San Antonio Housing Trust PFC) where it can charge up to 35 percent of a household's income.
All of that is well and good, but here's the other thing you have to be aware of.
Adelman, if he chooses, can make all of The '68 apartments market-rate. However, he would lose the full tax exemption offered under the PFC agreement. And he would still be bound by Hemisfair's rules.
"He's welcome to do that, but he would still need to meet our workforce housing policy," Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar said.
Under the Hemisfair rules, if Adelman chose to convert the entire project into market-rate housing, the 10 percent affordable requirement would expand from the current 50-70 percent AMI range requirement to a 50-110 percent AMI requirement.
Andujar said 120 percent AMI is widely considered as market-rate, so renting to a household that makes slightly above the AMI—which is $66,800 for a family of four—would still be considered below market-rate.
Adelman said the tax exemption provided by the PFC makes the project viable from a return on investment standpoint. Take that away, he said, and "it probably doesn't pencil," meaning Adelman would make less money.
Under the arrangement with Hemisfair, AREA Real Estate is leasing the property for 45 years with three 10-year extensions, Andujar said.
In addition to the 151 units, The '68 will add 4,169 square feet of retail space to Hemisfair, which has become a mini culinary destination—and growing.
The actual rents at The '68 were not available. (My interview with Adelman ended before I could request them, and he and AREA's urban development manager did not return email and text requests for the rent breakdown.)
Aside from the full tax exemption, The '68 is also receiving a Center City Housing Incentives Policy package worth $541,989—$469,895 in SAWS impact fee waivers, and $72,094 in city fee waivers.
Editor's note: The Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force, in its report titled "San Antonio's Housing Policy Framework: The Cornerstone of Economic Development," uses the 2016 U.S. Census American Community Survey 1-year AMI of $49,268, because it says it better represents the average San Antonio wage. The HUD AMI of $66,800 comprises the greater San Antonio area, which includes New Braunfels and everything in between.
The circa-1906 Book Building on Houston Street and a cluster of neighboring historic structures are being eyed for a $36 million redevelopment, according to a permit filed with the state.
The cluster—some of which faces the River Walk—includes the old Clegg Co. building (which is hidden among the River Walk's tree canopy), the Veramendi and Kennedy buildings (which front Soledad) and the remaining portion of the old Solo Serve. The other half of Solo Serve was demolished and has become a nine-story Hampton Inn and Suites/Home2 Suites by Austin-based Merritt Development Group that is nearing completion.
The permit does not indicate the type of project the landowner, Soledad House LLC, an affiliate of Austin-based AMS Real Estate Services, is going for.
Construction is scheduled to begin Jan. 1, and will take exactly two years to complete, according to the document.
The permit does not address any type of demolition. Such requests would have to be approved by the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC).
The cluster was long owned by Service Lloyds Insurance Co. of Austin, before it sold the properties in 2016 to its current owner.
Three years ago, Dallas developer Woodbine Development proposed a 21-story AC Hotel by Marriott, and the plans, which included the demolition of the Clegg building, eventually were approved by the HDRC. But the developer abandoned its plans the next year.
An interview request to Soledad House LLC, made through design firm Clayton & Little, which is working on the project, was not returned.
Currently, there is a huge appetite for new retail on Houston with projects underway by GrayStreet Partners and Weston Urban. They're trying to capitalize on the growing number of tech companies and workers slowly moving into the corridor.
no images were found
The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved an incentives package worth $3.3 million for the five-story Museum Reach Lofts, a 94-unit development on the southeast corner of North St. Mary's Street and West Jones Avenue, where rents will start at $290 for low-income individuals.
The development is considered a unicorn among the dozens of apartment buildings that have gone up in and around downtown the past six years. The new housing, spurred by a downtown incentives policy that's currently on hold, is composed mostly of market-rate and luxury apartments. Downtown has seen some apartments built for people making less than the median wage—the city estimates there have been 1,544 of these types of units produced since 2012—but many of those are just a level below the median figure, and therefore they're not considered truly affordable by many housing observers and Council members.
The $17.5 million Museum Reach Lofts project, which is being developed by the nonprofit Alamo Community Group, will provide 86 of the 94 apartments to people making between 30 percent and 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), which translates to between $20,400 and $40,800 for families of four, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
For Alamo Community Group, which also owns the Calcasieu Apartments on Broadway, it was about adding true workforce housing in an area of downtown that's seeing an influx of employers such as Credit Human and Jefferson Bank, both of which are moving their headquarters to Broadway.
In accordance with the SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan process, Alamo Community Group (ACG) saw the need for more workforce housing in Midtown, one of 13 nodes the plan identifies.
"As we looked at that area, it was kind of a perfect storm," Jennifer Gonzalez, ACG's executive director, told the Council. "There wasn't a tax credit project in the area ... There isn't any workforce housing providing this level of affordability."
Gonzalez pointed to the procurement of 9 percent housing tax credits as the main reason the rents at Museum Reach Lofts will be offered at such low prices.
This year, the lofts won $1.2 million in tax credits—a federal program that's administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). Gonzalez estimates the project will gain $10 million in equity after the tax credits are sold to investors, which amounts to 57 percent of the project's total budget.
"That's equity that comes from the outside—banker equity from the Wells Fargos and the Bank of Americas, who pull their equity together and invest in these funds," Gonzalez said. "They provide that upfront capital for us to build the development."
That was the main driver of lower rents. But other incentives played a role. City officials and developers describe the high cost of downtown land as the largest obstacle in building any housing at any price point, much less affordable.
For the Museum Reach Lofts, ACG is now receiving a reimbursement grant up to $2.8 million from the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) for the purchase of the 0.63-acre land. In a TIRZ, the revenue gained from the rise in property taxes is reinvested into projects within the zone.
Museum Reach Lofts rent breakdown
Two weeks ago, the Council debated a TIRZ incentive for the upcoming 283-unit Broadway Jones apartments, although that award will pay for utility work. The project drew criticism for its lack of true affordability—most notable District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña and District 9 Councilman John Courage, who voted against the incentive.
With the Museum Reach Lofts, the Council rhapsodized about the project, which is also receiving a forgivable Chapter 380 economic development loan up to $564,000 for work related to underground utilities.
Under the old Center City Housing Incentives Policy (CCHIP), it's receiving city and SAWS impact fee waivers, and ACG has also seeking a tax rebate, said Assistant City Manager Lori Houston. The tax rebate on city property taxes is on hold as city officials and the Council hammer out revisions to CCHIP.
In past interviews, Gonzalez said the cost of construction, of land, and other factors aren't discounted to nonprofit developers such as ACG just because their purpose for building is altruistic. Layers of incentives are needed to be able to offer affordable rents—i.e., make up the difference lost by offering lower-priced rents.
"It's kind of that lasagna we have to make that helps us drive down that rent," Gonzalez told the Council.
However, perhaps the most important layer—the 9 percent low-income housing tax credit—may not be available for a downtown multifamily project again.
Each year, the TDHCA doles out the tax credits to a handful of developments in different regions of the state. It doesn't award tax credits to a project within two miles of a project that has already received the award. That would rule out most of downtown.
Construction on the Museum Reach Lofts is expected to start March, and be complete in September.