Downtown restaurants, especially those on the River Walk, continue to take a financial hit during the pandemic due to low tourism and new social distancing protocols.
Although Texas Gov. Greg Abbott loosened restrictions beginning Sept. 21, allowing restaurants to reopen at 75% capacity, businesses are finding they must sacrifice seating space in order to create socially-distanced dining rooms.
“Once you start seriously socially distancing your tables, that means removing a large portion of the seating capacity,” said Terry Corless, CEO of Mad Dogs Restaurant Group. “We’ve lost more than 50% (of seating). So if the governor says you can go from 50% to 75%, it’s negated by the loss."
Mad Dogs Restaurant Group is composed of well-known establishments Maddy McMurphy’s, Mad Dogs British Pub, Bier Garten Riverwalk and On The Bend. Because of their large alcohol sales, the restaurants were categorized as bars during the government mandated shutdown.
Food establishments are classified as bars if over 50% of sales are made from alcohol, otherwise known as the 51% rule. Because they cater to late-night crowds, the Mad Dogs restaurants’ liquor sales exceed the percentage despite making over $1 million in food sales. Loosening previous restrictions in late August, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) began allowing bars to reclassify as restaurants by increasing their food sales.
On Sept. 22, all of Corless’ restaurants received approval to reopen, and are now required to only sell alcohol when combined with a food order, to keep liquor sales below 50%. Having to limit these sales results in less profitable workdays, making it difficult to pay rent and other operating costs, Corless said.
“We’ve had very little or no assistance from landlords in terms of our long going obligation to pay rent,” Corless said. “We’re some of the highest real-estate rent in San Antonio being on the River Walk.”
The Mad Dogs restaurants have been serving guests at 10-15% capacity on weekdays while having to turn diners away on weekends to keep their dining areas properly socially distanced and below capacity, Corless said.
For The Republic of Texas, a family owned and operated restaurant, the tourism downturn has resulted in steep losses.
"Ninety percent of our business is made on tourism and conventions; it’s not locals,” said owner Will Grinnan, whose father Rick opened the River Walk staple in 1975.
Before the pandemic, people visiting The Republic of Texas and other River Walk restaurants had to weave their way through crowds of diners and pedestrians. Now, the sidewalks are mostly empty while the patios of some riverfront eateries, like Boudro’s Bistro, are closed until further notice.
“It’s a scary, eerie situation down here: People are not walking around and we’ve seen businesses open up and then have to close back down because there’s just not enough revenue,” Grinnan said.
The Mad Dogs restaurants and The Republic of Texas received funding from the Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federally-funded coronavirus relief program allowing small businesses to apply for loans to keep staff employed. As of Aug. 8, businesses are no longer able to apply for these loans. Politicians and small business owners across the country are calling for a second round of PPP to continue the aid.
Grinnan said the PPP funds The Republic of Texas received made it possible to keep them open. However, they continue to struggle to make a profit and keep their staff, which has shrunk from 95 to 24 employees as of Sept. 25. In addition to payroll, restaurants must pay for personal protective equipment (PPE), operational costs and rent. Without crowds downtown, restaurants will not be able to pay their bills, Grinnan said.
“We have to get the convention center back open and we have to get airplanes back in the air, people traveling,” Grinnan said. “Without that (the River Walk) may not survive.”
Last week, the Women of Joy conference was hosted at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, the first large event since March. Most events on the convention center’s 2020 calendar have been postponed until next year, with few exceptions.
While advocating for restaurants, the Texas Restaurant Association worked with the state government to create the Texas Restaurant Promise, a set of guidelines restaurants must follow to meet the Minimum Standard Health Protocols enacted in Texas on May 1.
Requirements include providing guests with disposable menus, spaced out tables and hand sanitizing stations. These new guidelines bring additional costs to businesses.
When La Panaderia’s East Houston Street location closed its doors in March, the business relied on its Broadway location up north to keep it afloat by delivering bread and selling baskets of eggs, beans and other hard-to-find grocery items, at the time.
Since reopening, the location is taking advantage of its large dining room and newly added outdoor patio to accommodate customers and increase sales. Location manager Tiffany Cabrera said they are hopeful the loosened capacity restrictions will continue to benefit the business, but won’t know for some time.
“Overall, we are hoping things get better by the end of the year, like November or December,” Cabrera said. “We’re just hoping everything gets more stable.”
For Casa Rio’s, the oldest restaurant on the River Walk, and Schilo’s, the oldest restaurant in San Antonio, the absence of tourism and big conventions has impacted profits. Both locations are only meeting 30% of their regular sales despite their historic reputations, said Tom Furgerson, director of operations for both restaurants.
Unlike La Panaderia, Casa Rio and Schilo’s were unable to adopt food delivery or curbside pickup services during the lockdown because of their East Commerce Street and River Walk locations.
“You can’t drive down, park on Commerce Street, get out, run in and get food,” Furgerson said. “The logistics of it made it impossible.”
Neither restaurant can rely on local support to sustain them as many San Antonio residents are unwilling to pay expensive downtown parking fees, Furgerson said.
To safely bring in more customers, Schilo’s will be placing barriers between tables to lessen the distance required between them. Casa Rio will hang similar barriers from the umbrellas covering the tables on their riverfront patio. The restaurants will also offer guests free parking in their small lot if they spend at least $20 inside; they hope waiving parking fees will encourage guests to attend.
“We’re going to have to operate under these circumstances for quite a while longer,” Furgerson said. “It’s a whole combination of things: people have to feel comfortable and safe about going out and we have to figure out ways to operate within the guidelines we’ve been given.”
» Looking back: The week downtown San Antonio became a ghost town
» San Antonio landlords now obligated to inform tenants of rights
» Downtown economy struggles to return to the new norm, much less the normal norm
» City Council narrowly rejects proposal to give renters 60 extra days to pay overdue rent
» A commission of renters? In San Antonio, the debate rages early on
» Landlords asked to forgive 25% rent for tenants impacted by coronavirus
Brigid Cooley is a Heron intern this fall. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Mesquite newspaper. She can be reached at email@example.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter
By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
Confused about voting? Voting clerks in parts of Texas are confused, too. All the political chatter about problems with the U.S. Postal Service and voting by mail has some election officials telling their voters to cast absentee ballots by bringing them to the main office instead of dropping them in the mail. They’re also telling voters to bring approved voter identification if they vote that way — just as if they were voting in person — and not to bring anyone else’s ballot, sealed or not.
Anne Morris, a retired Milam County voter, said county officials told her to bring her absentee ballot to the county seat if she wanted to put it in their hands. And they told her that if she wanted to mail her absentee ballot, she should put it in a manila envelope so thieves wouldn’t recognize it and steal it from the mail before it reached the county offices. Milam County Clerk Jodi Morgan says her office is telling voters that dropping mail in a manila envelope is permissible if a voter doesn't want the Post Office to know it's a ballot, but they can also mail it in the envelope provided. And there's a special slot in the county's parking lot where voters can bring their absentee ballots in, with photo ID, if they want to skip the mail altogether.
Here’s an idea: Keep calm and vote on. Don’t let political figures talking about elections freak you out. Instead, ask why they want you to freak out and deal with that. Don’t confine your imagination to the worst crimes and hijinks that might take place in this election. They might not. And the worst thing that can happen is that voters are spooked out of picking the people who represent them; that’s a way to get a government that doesn’t reflect the population.
When political people — and a fair number of pundits, too — are trying to stir voters up, those voters have a choice between anxiety and serenity. And serenity doesn’t mean shutting it all out, plugging their ears and ignoring what’s going on. It’s more about what they do with the information they’re getting.
A lot of that talk is about fraud and corruption — relatively rare election crimes that seem, in this particular election season, to be the only things some politicians want to discuss.
Remember when electronic voting machines and hanging chads were all we were worried about? This year’s conversation makes that seem like the good old days.
President Donald Trump has been harping on the dangers of voting by mail, even though the country has a long history of such balloting and that it’s popular with older voters, including the president himself. Some of Trump’s Texas choristers have joined in. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said a few months ago that Democrats promoting absentee voting were trying to steal the election. Attorney General Ken Paxton landed a vote-harvesting indictment and arrests in Gregg County this week. The timing was interesting: The charges aren’t about the election that starts here, with early voting, in less than three weeks — they’re about an election two years ago.
Democrats have been unsuccessful in their attempts to allow more Texans to vote by mail, running into both political and legal opposition. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that worries about infection weren’t enough to qualify someone as disabled. But the court also noted that there is nothing on the absentee ballot application that requires someone to list their disability, and no authority at election offices to verify someone’s claim to that exemption for voting by mail. And federal courts tossed out a challenge to provisions that allow voters who are 65 years old or older to vote by mail while denying that privilege to younger voters.
Gov. Greg Abbott made one concession to fears of voting during a pandemic, extending early voting by six days. That spreads voting over a greater number of days and, by extension, increases a chance to vote in a socially distanced way. But this week, Abbott got sued over that extension.
All the talk and litigation works like a fog machine, making voting and elections seem a lot more complicated and confusing and full of traps for unwary voters than they are.
Voters have to calculate the value of their vote, as they listen to government officials and politicians talk about elections and voting the way they talk about other dishonest and unsavory activities.
Why would you want people to distrust an election you thought you might win? Stirring anxieties now betrays a lack of confidence. It sets the table for challenges of the results. It raises everyone’s distrust, too, no matter who wins on Nov. 3.
The real corruption is in the attacks on the system we’ve relied on for more than 200 years.
It’s not as confusing as it might seem. Hear the politicians out. Think about their motives. And get out and vote, with confidence, for the ones you like and against the ones you don’t. Easy.
This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
The year-long zoning battle being fought in Government Hill, over a plan to convert two acres of residential property into commercial at the Interstate 35 frontage road and North Walters Street, has caught the attention of neighborhoods outside this East Side community.
This became evident on Sept. 17 when the City Council made a zoning decision it rarely makes: It stymied the wishes of the council member from that district, which, in this case, is District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan. The councilwoman has sided with a trust managed by Frost Bank and a property owner named Sara Martinez who own adjacent lot clusters and are partnering to build a commercial development where eight homes currently stand.
At the front of the opposition's minds is the prospect of those homes being replaced by a commercial development, while those who support the plan advocate for more business growth, especially on a key thoroughfare such as North Walters, which leads into Fort Sam Houston.
What's been brewing for a solid year now is a vigorous debate over a property owner's right to capitalize their land to the fullest, versus a neighborhood's right to have a say in how their community evolves.
The majority of property owners within 200 feet who responded to the city's zoning survey oppose converting the properties from R-6, residential, to C-2, commercial.
On Aug. 20, the City Council rezoned the cluster owned by the trust that faces the I-35 frontage road from R-6 to C-2 NA, which prohibits the sale of alcohol.
But four council members expressed concern during the council meeting on Sept. 17, which focussed on Martinez's properties, either about the merits of the case itself, or because they had been bombarded with constituent emails who had been paying attention to the Government Hill case and were worried a precedent was being set.
For starters, there's the optics of eight homes, which were being rented to lower-income families, being demolished for commercial development at a time when the city has prioritized affordable housing under Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
If these eight homes are razed, which ones are next? Not just in Government Hill, but in any neighborhood, they contend.
Martinez has said she did not evict the residents, but simply did not extend their month-to-month leases. She said she gave them free rent during the months they looked for new housing, which took place over the summer, and refunded 100% of their deposit. Through her lawyer, she also says the homes are in poor condition and that she wants to get out of the landlord business.
Many who oppose C-2 have agreed to compromise to a lesser form of commercial, C-1; but say Andrews-Sullivan reneged on a promise to do so, and has since pushed for C-2 NA.
Andrews-Sullivan said she recognized her earlier commitment to C-1, "then the understanding of deed restrictions cannot be enforced by the city weighed on my heart. Do I put something in place that continuously leaves a community vulnerable or do I step up as a leader and put the best zoning in place for this community?," she said referring to the "no alcohol" restriction she backs. But the neighbors have said the sale of alcohol is not the sticking point, but rather the various large-scale uses allowed under C-2.
Martinez and the trust lately have not said which tenants would be leasing the prospective development. The owners, which are now represented by attorney Matt Badders, said they have agreed to place deed restrictions prohibiting a gas station (the neighbors' biggest fear), a tattoo parlor and a gun shop. Nothing has been put in writing, at least on the Martinez properties, stating as much, which has cast doubt in the minds of the neighbors that the restrictions will be followed.
"The applicant is saying it could be, it might be, but we don't know. You don't know," said Dora Lopez, 53, who inherited the house she grew up in on Sandmeyer Street, adjacent to the lots in question, during the council meeting two Thursdays ago. "I don't know the applicant even knows what's going to be developed."
Badders has used broad language to describe the kind of tenant the development partnership is pursuing.
"Both the councilwoman and the neighborhood association told us they don't want another fast food, unhealthy option," Badders said. "They want something first-class and name-brand that will bring amenities to this neighborhood it doesn't have."
At least one council member, Clayton Perry, has questioned the lack of a meeting mediated by Andrews-Sullivan where all parties were seated at the same virtual table for a compromise.
Because more than 20% of the property owners within 200 feet oppose the rezoning, a supermajority vote was required by the council at their last meeting. Andrews-Sullivan failed to gather the nine necessary votes when council members John Courage and Roberto Treviño voted against the rezoning, and council members Perry and Ana Sandoval abstained.
That's when Andrews-Sullivan made a motion for a continuance, and the council will now revisit the matter at its Oct. 1 meeting, which is Thursday.
The continuance triggered a community meeting via Webex, which was held last Tuesday. But many of the attendees said the meeting did little to resemble a mediation. For starters, Andrews-Sullivan did not attend and no one acted the role of mediator. Andrews-Sullivan's chief of staff, Lou Miller, ran the meeting, and higher-ups at the Development Services Department (DSD) explained nuances in the zoning code. At one point, some of the neighbors engaged Badders directly, and Badders made the statement that his clients have compromised with the aforementioned restrictions. This left the neighbors with a bad taste in their mouth, feeling like they're no better off now than what they were when the council voted for a continuance.
In a statement to the Heron, Andrews-Sullivan defended the meeting.
It "gave the community an opportunity to speak to one another rather than talking at each other," she said. "There have been several meetings in the past whose sole purpose was to negotiate and compromise. The biggest benefit was the fact that we invited all parties, in and outside of the affected area, that was concerned about this zoning case. It is our hope that the question and answer session was beneficial to all those concerned."
In January, those who oppose commercial development defeated a proposal by QuikTrip, on behalf of Martinez and the trust, to turn the properties into a mega gas station after the Zoning Commission denied the request. Six months later, the rezoning request resurfaced, this time with Badders representing Martinez pro bono, while the Jackson Cloma Living Trust represented itself. But without a known tenant.
At a Zoning Commission meeting in July, in the middle of his presentation, Badders caught commissioners off guard when he told them they were eyeing a Starbucks to lease the property. In the following weeks, after being pressed by some of the neighbors, a Starbucks executive told them directly the company had no intention of opening a shop in Government Hill.
Fast forward to hear and now.
Residents believe a carte blanche C-2 commercial zoning designation, meaning one without a known tenant, would leave residents powerless to oppose, should they feel the incoming business is inappropriate for their neighborhood. The Zoning Commission agreed saying rezoning without a known tenant would leave residents powerless to fight should they not agree with it, except with a lawsuit.
Supporters say the properties are a perfect place to build more retail and restaurants, because they're close to Fort Sam and they face a busy intersection, and they would give this historically low-income community an economic boost.
"What we're talking about is economic development," said Rose Hill, who is president of the longest active neighborhood group called Government Hill Alliance. "We have restaurants in our neighborhood that are closing. We have families that have lost income. We need jobs."
Badders has declined to say what tenants they're looking to fill the commercial space, nor will he shed light on the number of tenants. Badders said he's negotiating with a development partner, one that would bring capital to the project and a list of potential tenants, but that any deal hinges on how the council votes on Thursday.
"Here is the problem with answering your question: The last time they backed me up into a wall. Then they organized a protest and scared them away," Badders said, referring to the neighbors contacting Starbucks. "Their efforts are counter productive."
The C-2 NA designation, according to Andrews-Sullivan, would, in theory, kill any possibility for a gas station, because it prohibits alcohol. But the neighbors point out that a non-alcoholic business that pumps gas could still be placed there, as well as a convenience store that sells alcohol, allowed under C-1.
The neighbors have said they'll accept any business allowed under C-1, alcohol never being a dealbreaker.
In a recent interview, when asked why C-1 wasn't an option, Badders said it was still on the table, but that it limited his clients' options. They've never been shy about saying C-2 increases the value of the property, which is a good card to have during any real estate negotiation. During Tuesday's community meeting, Badders asked DSD officials whether a dentist office could work under C-1, and was told it would not.
"We have to bring something that brings the kind of jobs the people in the neighborhood want to have, such as dental offices," Badders said. "There's not a 24-hour Texas Med Clinic in the neighborhood. Those are specific categories that I don't get in C-1. This is the reason why so far we have been disinclined to accept C-1."
Badders said Martinez and the trust are willing to add deed restrictions that would prohibit a gas station, a tattoo parlor, or a gun shop, but neighbors doubt they will be enforced. Badders said the deed restrictions would be enforced by Martinez and the trust, and any tenant who leased the land and who violated the restrictions would lose control of the property.
"If I'm an evil gas station, why would I spend millions of dollars knowing the property owner can rip it out of my hands?" Badders said.
For weeks now, the Tier 1 Neighborhood Coalition, a group of neighborhoods largely within Loop 410, has spread the details of this case to its members. Though the coalition hasn't taken an official stance, members have been loud in the ears of their respective council members, most notable District 1's Treviño. They're worried a case such as this one, one without a known business, will set a precedent for commercial use invading neighborhoods unchecked.
Their efforts were enough to delay the vote at the last council meeting.
"It's called commercial creep," said Cosima Colvin, a member of the Tier 1 Neighborhood Coalition. "It's a well-known phenomenon. It continues to happen. The problem with that particular little area—if that property is successfully (zoned commercial), how do you deny the next one over? You cannot."
One of the main fears from neighboring residents is how far inward the development would come. If it were just the trust's property, which faces the frontage road, less residents would have an issue. In that scenario, the homes that face the neighborhood would back up to the development. With the trust and Martinez's proposal, homes across the site would face the development.
"It devalues our properties," said D'Ette Cole, one of the neighbors leading the charge against C-2, who lives on Reno Street with her husband Steve Versteeg, across from the site. "We would have never moved here if we were going to be facing the back of a possible gas station or convenience store and dumpsters."
Badders has argued the section of commercial property that faces the homes would be less intrusive, and contain some kind of barrier such as a stone or stucco fence that encloses the property, as well as retain the trees currently planted there.
"There are other things you can do to create sound and visibility barriers," Badders said.
Badders disagrees with the notion that successfully rezoning Martinez's properties C-2 would set a bad precedent.
"The fun part of real estate, every property is unique," he said. "So if this happens in Government Hill, is this going to happen in Beacon Hill? I mean, does Beacon Hill have a military base with the single largest economic incentive package in San Antonio's history? Does Beacon Hill have I-35 running through it? I can see a lot of ingredients that make this property at this location and this space different."
Government Hill is one of the fastest-changing of all inner city neighborhoods, mostly because of its proximity to the Pearl and the Broadway corridor. That end of the hill has seen the most gentrification in the form of rehabbed homes and some new construction. On the opposite end of Government Hill, up the hill some 20 blocks east of Broadway, is this pocket where the neighborhood's changing, but at a much slower pace. Over here, dozens of signs have gone up at homes that read, "Don't Kill Government Hill."
Managing change in Government Hill, what kind of philosophical stance this community should take toward incoming development, has resulted in three neighborhood associations, two formed in recent years.
During the summer, Carolina Davila, a teacher’s aid and a mother of three who lived in one of Martinez's homes on Edgar Avenue, told the Heron said she didn't want to move. She said Martinez gave her an ultimatum: leave by June 28, or start paying $1,1000 in rent, an increase of almost 70% of what she had been paying, Davila said.
Though Martinez has declined multiple interviews from the Heron, Badders vehemently denied last week any assertion that Martinez forced her tenants to move by pricing them out.
One Government Hill housing advocate, Marlene Hawkins, opposes a zoning change to any form of commercial, and feels the homes can be repaired through HUD's FHA 203K program, or moved to vacant lots elsewhere.
Badders has said Martinez is an older woman who wants to development her properties and lease the building to one or more tenants. He's said the homes are in such bad shape, they're beyond repair, and they will be demolished whether the land is rezoned or not.
A year ago, Cole moved her home goods store, GOOD|goods, from its spot in a retail strip on the southeast corner of Nolan and North Pine streets. A gun shop and tattoo parlor called Transfer Station opened next door at the start of the year, which caught many in adjacent Dignowity Hill off guard.
“Never once did (they) mention (the gun shop),” Andrews-Sullivan told the San Antonio Report at the time. "They were not fully transparent with City Council and the neighborhood. That to me is not a community partner."
Cole asserts the situation happening across from her home is the same.
Andrews-Sullivan "mentions that 'I'm not going to be bamboozled again like I was the tattoo parlor and gun shop'," she said. "This is exactly how you get bamboozled, when you award someone rezoning without knowing what will go in there."
Badders says he wants the neighbors to give him an example of a C-2 use they wouldn't support that's not a gas station, a gun shop, nor tattoo parlor. Cole said there are plenty of uses they would opposed under C-2, saying it's too abrupt for a neighborhood.
"If the City Council allows this to happen, to rezone from R-6 to C-2 without any kind of project, just this blind rezoning, so that they can get the most money, that is allowing them to flip an entire neighborhood block. Really, we are going to open the door from the city to this kind of speculative real estate venture that's going to destroy neighborhoods like ours.
"You're going to have this whole culture of people flipping whole neighborhoods, instead of houses. That's what this is."
» City Council OKs rezoning residential land for commercial use in controversial Government Hill case
» Planning Commission recommends light commercial use for contentious Government Hill land
» Starbucks not opening on contentious Government Hill property
» Plans to demolish Government Hill homes for Starbucks denied
Setting It Straight: The name of D'Ette Cole's business was misidentified in an earlier version of this article. It's called GOOD|goods.
Editor's note: Marlene Hawkins and Steve Versteeg are monthly donors to the Heron. View a list of all donors here.
Nearly two years ago, in an interview that got somewhat heated on the eve of the City Council vote to approve the $450 million Alamo master plan, I asked District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño: If he could change any part of the public process, would he?
"I wouldn't even dare think of a way I would change it," Treviño told me in October 2018.
A few days later, the City Council approved the plan, a vote so historic, one that had received so much pushback from a diverse range of groups, that there was almost an exhalation, Treviño, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and other supporters celebrating the way pro athletes do when they traverse the gauntlet of the regular season and playoffs on the way to a championship. A sigh of relief for the partnership of the City of San Antonio, the Texas General Land Office and the Alamo Endowment.
This past Tuesday was a different feeling.
The Texas Historical Commission (THC) denied the city's permit request to repair and relocate the 1930s-era Alamo Cenotaph from its current location in front of the Long Barracks to in front of the Menger Hotel. The denial effectively kills the Alamo master plan, according to the city—at least for now. Treviño, who serves on the Alamo Management Committee, and who's been the face of the project in recent years, and city officials have said without relocating the Cenotaph, the overall master plan doesn't work.
The plan is to reclaim the Alamo footprint, to reorient visitors who enter the site, not just the church, and to give the site's various epochs equal billing—from the Coahuiltecan tribes who lived on the land even before the Spanish established the Mission San Antonio de Valero, aka the Alamo, in 1718 to the plaza's modern history—not just the famous 1836 battle. The plan also includes a new museum and the restoration of the church and Long Barracks, which is already underway.
Those who oppose the relocation say the monument to the fallen from the Battle of the Alamo should remain where it is, within the footprint of the fort, where the defenders died—and not relocated outside the gates, where the Mexican army laid siege for 13 days.
On Saturday, I asked Treviño the same question I asked him two years ago: Would he change anything about the process?
"I think we made all the necessary points, followed all the rules," Treviño said, "and, most importantly, we made a compelling case: Telling the complete story at the Alamo is at the heart of everything we are doing. Obviously, I'm disappointed that the THC does not see that."
My question was based on the premise that the THC's denial was somehow tied to the perception by many that the plan lacked a true public process. Throughout the master planning process, in 2018, several groups openly opposed the plan. This is Texas Freedom Force, which opposes relocating the Cenotaph, aka "The Spirit of Sacrifice," was the loudest. But there were others. One of them remains the Conservation Society of San Antonio, whose main concern is the preservation of the Woolworth, as one of the first Southern lunch counters to desegregate on March 16, 1960, and Crockett buildings.
"Over the past year, we’ve made numerous written requests for the Waite report and the Latimore report and we’ve made in-person requests for architectural concepts, but the constant reply is, 'Not ready yet'," Patti Zaiontz, the Conservation Society president, said in an email while referring to studies by the architectural firm of John G. Waite Associates and Trinity University associate history professor Carey Latimore, respectively. "Makes one wonder ... So, of course, we’re concerned about having a plan put out without any public input."
Treviño said those reports, one that examines the Woolworth building's history (Latimore) and the other that explores preservation options (Waite), are just now being completed. The team designing the actual museum, HKS Inc. (Dallas) and Machado Silvetti (Boston), has begun work, but it's been preliminary.
The museum's location is said to be where the Woolworth, Palace, and Crockett buildings stand across the plaza from the church facade. The Conservation Society's concern stems from the fact that the Woolworth's demolition was always been kept as an option.
Treviño said the emphasis was on the first phase, the relocation of the Cenotaph, to get that approved, before diving into the museum.
Treviño contends the public process was sound, and that the THC rejected the plan for other reasons.
The THC meeting revealed two ends of the spectrum when it comes to how Alamo Plaza should be remade: the one Treviño endorses vs. that of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Treviño, citing the project's vision and guiding principles, crafted in 2014 by the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee, says the strategy to remake the plaza has been one of inclusivity.
"Let's be clear, we've been inclusive," Treviño said. "We followed all the rules, and sadly you can do all those things and still fall victim to politics."
At the start of the 9-hour-plus THC meeting, Patrick gave an impassioned speech to commissioners, urging them to vote against the Cenotaph relocation, believing the Alamo Plaza makeover should focus on the 1836 battle.
"Those who want to tell a broader story, that story can be told as part of (the 1836 battle), for sure," Patrick said. "But that's not the main emphasis."
He continued, "Yes, it was only 13 days, that was the battle out of hundreds of years, but the most important 13 days in the history of Texas and Western civilization."
"Our goal is to tell the complete story of the Alamo, not a Hollywood dramatization."
Both sides have accused the other of introducing politics into the debate.
Treviño said the THC decision didn't come as a surprise. Commission Chairman John Nau, President and CEO fo Silver Eagle Distributors, told the councilman in March that he "didn't see a compelling reason why the Cenotaph had to move," according to Treviño.
"Everyone has known it's an up or down vote," Treviño remembers telling Nau, given that the entire plan, in the works since 2014, hinges on the Cenotaph relocation. "It's not an opportunity to change the plan that has been agreed upon."
"His response was simply, 'Well, every contract can be changed and every design can be changed.' I did everything I could to tell him or warn him that's not the case."
So, where does the plan go from here? Treviño declined to comment on the 50-year ground lease of the plaza between the City of San Antonio and the state. He said the Alamo Management Committee has met to weigh their options, and the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee will meet this week.
"Nobody's saying everything was perfect, but we do feel like we had a good thing," Treviño said. "And certainly, I guess I'm left wondering if anybody thinks that the THC was impacted by process and not by politics."
Many in this debate seem to agree that the Alamo's current state is underwhelming, and that the plaza is in desperate need of a makeover worthy of the site's significance.
"For the moment the answer to the question of many Alamo visitors—'Is that all there is?'—remains a resounding yes," Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said in a statement after the THC vote.
Nau agrees with that sentiment; it seems to be the "how" where opinions clash.
"I'll go back to what so many people said today: As they walk out, they turn around and say, 'Is that all there is?'," Nau said as the meeting closed. "We cannot forget that's the image, and we need to work to help provide the totality. And with that, do I have a motion to adjourn?"
By Juan Pablo Garnham, The Texas Tribune
Texas is using $171 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to provide financial and legal aid to renters facing eviction, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday.
The vast majority of that money — $167 million — will go toward rental assistance. Another $4.2 million will be used to fund legal services for Texans.
Abbott's office also said in a press release that the state is creating the Texas Eviction Diversion Program, which will coordinate state agencies, local governments and nonprofits to help renters avoid evictions and catch up with missed rent payments.
It wasn't immediately clear how the money would be divvied up, but Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs spokesperson Kristina Tirloni explained that cities, counties and nonprofits will manage the application process. Although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development needs to approve the funding, the state estimates that the money will be available by the winter holidays in communities with existing rental assistance programs, and by the start of 2021 in the rest of Texas.
"The Texas Eviction Diversion Program is crucial to our state's response to COVID-19, and it will help many families recover from the impact of the pandemic without the looming threat of eviction," Abbott said in the release. "This innovative partnership, coupled with the renters assistance provided through CARES Act funding, will strengthen our economic recovery efforts and provide a lifeline to renters and property owners alike."
Since the pandemic began in March, more than 3.5 million Texans have filed for unemployment, and staying current on rent has become a main concern of Texans who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut. According to a survey done in late August by the U.S. Census Bureau, 36.8% of Texans said they were somewhat or very likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months. Data from the Princeton-based research center The Eviction Lab shows that eviction filings have increased in some of Texas' largest cities since a statewide moratorium ended in mid-May.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new nationwide eviction moratorium earlier this month that will last until Dec. 31.
Since then, the Texas Supreme Court ordered every eviction citation to include information about the moratorium, as well as the form that tenants are required to fill to seek protection from being evicted.
Christina Rosales, deputy director of the advocacy organization Texas Housers, said that Abbott's new program was "unprecedented" and a "good start," but more needs to be done to avoid an increase in evictions in January, when the CDC moratorium expires.
"In Texas, tenants can be evicted because of nonpayment of rent. The thing that will keep them housed is rent assistance," Rosales said. "Legal assistance, right to counsel and eviction diversion will help manage the crisis, but if we want to steer our way out of the crisis, we will need more rental relief."
Texas' most populated cities and counties have created similar rent-assistance programs, mostly using CARES Act funding, too. These have experienced high levels of demand. San Antonio offered residents $50.3 million for rent and legal assistance, which city officials expected to be tapped by the end of this month. Since then, the city has added $24.1 million to the program, which is expected to last until mid-December. In Houston, the first round of a $15 million rental assistance program was drained in 90 minutes. Since then, the city announced a new $19 million program.
This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
By Kelly Merka Nelson | San Antonio Current
Hopscotch, the massive new art space slated to open in downtown San Antonio next month, has revealed the full list of participating artists as well as details on its food and beverage offerings.
The experiential art space will open with 14 featured installations from artists around the globe, including San Antonio's Amada Miller, Gary Sweeney, Wide Awake Creative and the San Antonio Street Art Initiative (SASAI).
The first slate of installations will include A Strange Slant of Light by Amada Miller (San Antonio, TX), Rainbow Cave by Basia Goszczynska (Brooklyn, New York), | | | L I G H T L I N E S | | | by Campbell Landscape Architecture (Austin, Texas, and San Francisco, California), Perspective by Gary Sweeney (San Antonio), Symbiosis and Quantum Space by Kuflex (Moscow, Russia), Infinity Boxes by Matt Elson (Los Angeles, California), VJ Yourself! by Playmodes (Barcelona, Spain), Color Therapy and Cloudscape by POLIS (Austin, Texas), Walls Within by SASAI (San Antonio), Show It 2 Me by Titmouse (Los Angeles, California, New York, New York, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), Laser Graffiti by Todd Moyer Designs (Los Angeles, California) and Secrets by Wide Awake Creative (San Antonio).
Hopscotch will also showcase artistic interior design elements from a slate of Texas artists and artisans, including San Antonio's Justin Parr, Angelica Raquel Martinez, Flux Metal Studios, Larry Servin, Los Otros Murals and Redondo Tile.
The gallery's beverage offerings will also be integrated into the art experience. Hopscotch's bar menu will feature specialty cocktails, beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages inspired by the space's installations, curated for the gallery with help from former Deep Eddy Vodka Hospitality Director Tracy Beacham. Beverages can be consumed in Hopscotch's lounge, which is open to the public, as well as throughout the gallery space.
For those that work up an appetite at the space, Hopscotch partnered with San Antonio food truck Smack's Chicken Shack, which will relocate to the gallery's downtown patio. As part of the partnership, Smack's is introducing a #LetsHopscotch sandwich to its menu, "a decadent combination of fried chicken, powdered sugar, honey butter and donuts, that will only be served at Hopscotch," according to a press release.
"Having a career that has been rooted in hospitality and experience creation it was very important to me that the 'Hopscotch Experience' extend throughout every corner of the space so that every single detail was intentional," Hopscotch Co-Founder Nicole Jensen said in a statement.
"We wanted to create a holistic environment where food, beverage and community were an integral part of the overall offering."
This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.
The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.
By Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff | The Texas Tribune
When Jarrod Stringer updated his driver’s license address in 2014, the Texas Department of Public Safety website asked if he wanted to register to vote. He clicked yes and thought he was registered. That fall, when he went to vote in San Antonio, he was denied. According to the system, he had never registered. It was past the registration deadline, so he couldn’t vote.
That kicked off a six-year legal battle that included two lawsuits for the right for Texans to register to vote online while updating their licenses.
“It’s traumatic when you can’t vote,” Stringer said. “It’s implicitly saying, ‘You don’t have a voice. You can’t participate in change.’”
On Wednesday, Stringer won that “mind-boggling” fight with the state of Texas two weeks before the deadline to register to vote in 2020. Acting on a federal judge’s orders, the state updated its online systems to allow people to add their names to the voter rolls when they update their licenses.
While it’s a limited step — the online option is still only available to people updating their licenses — the change marks the first time Texans have been able to register to vote online, which advocates say could significantly increase turnout both this year and for future elections.
Mimi Marziani, the president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which brought forward the lawsuits, said the change specifically helps marginalized Texans, who most often move.
“This is absolutely a victory for voting rights for all Texans,” Marziani said. “It’s a particular victory for younger Texans, poorer Texans and Texans of color.”
The National Voter Registration Act, known as the motor voter law, requires states to let residents complete their voter registration applications when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses. Marziani said she took up the case because Stringer had been denied that right.
Previously, Texans like Stringer who tried to register while using the state’s online license portal were directed to a blank registration form they had to fill out, print and send to their county registrar. The state was forced to change that system after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled last month that DPS is “legally obligated” to allow voters to simultaneously register to vote with every license renewal or change-of-address application. Garcia had ordered the state to set up a “fully operable” online system by Wednesday.
“The Secretary of State and Texas Department of Public Safety are in compliance with the court’s order,” said Kayleigh Date, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, in a statement.
According to Marziani, 1.9 million Texans use the Department of Public Safety’s online portal to update their driving information each year, and 96% of eligible Texans have their driver’s licenses. Texas drivers can renew their licenses online if they renewed them in person the previous time, they are older than 18 but younger than 79, and their licenses expire within two years or have been expired for less than two years, among other restrictions. Texas has more than 16.6 million registered voters.
The coronavirus has brought widespread concern about how people can vote safely in Texas this November, especially as the state’s elected leaders have resisted the idea of broadening who is eligible to vote by mail. Campaigns and advocates from both parties have found that registering new voters has been a challenge without online voting. Forty-one states have passed legislation to allow residents to register to vote online; Texas is not one of them.
Marziani said Wednesday’s move shows the state has the infrastructure in place to expand online voting beyond DPS and renewing driver’s licenses.
“The system they use is the exact same system that they would implement for a broader online voter registration,” Marziani said. “This is a flashing green light for the Legislature to finally bring Texas in line with states across the country and pass online voter registration.”
Date did not answer questions about whether this would be possible or whether the state expected to expand online voter registration.
While some state leaders have staunchly opposed any form of online registration, Garcia’s ruling last month said online registration would actually bolster security and election integrity.
“Uncontested expert testimony shows that a compliant DPS system would very likely lead to great efficiency, less human error, a massive saving in costs, and increased voter registration,” Garcia wrote.
For Stringer, who moved again in August and waited to update his license until Wednesday, the action by the state was a relief.
“The representation of the people in the state of Texas is more fair today than it was two weeks ago,” he said. “Part of what it means to be a citizen is to vote without duress. It’s a huge deal.”
This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Like streetcar of recent memory, a huge civic project worth million of dollars
is now dead
in a blaze of glory
which they tend to do
big money spending plans that aren't popular tend to
various aspects of them
many battles in one
The Battle of the Alamo
Texas Freedom Force
Battle of Flowers Association
revealing it all at once, would have been diastorous
had to tke care of the largest one first
do it by giving various boards an all or nothing
well THC said, nothing
This article was updated at 7:29 p.m.
The 80-year-old Alazan-Apache Courts on the near West Side have been named one of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately-funded nonprofit that protects and promulgates the importance of historic sites.
Today, 501 public housing units comprise the Alazan side of the courts on roughly 26 acres north of Guadalupe Street—both Alazan and Apache are west of Alazan Creek near downtown. The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) plans to demolish Alazan in phases over multiple years, and replace the aging units with a new mixed-income development. Last November, SAHA's board of commissioners approved the plan and chose Cleveland-based NRP Group as the developer. The timeline for the new Alazan development is unclear, SAHA says, because it's still identifying funding sources. It will presumably include some public housing, as well as below-market-rate and market-rate rents.
"The preservation of historic buildings that provide affordable housing—and the communities that call those places home—should be a priority not only for San Antonio, but all cities nationwide," said Katherine Malone-France, the National Trust's chief preservation officer.
SAHA's plan has received stiff and consistent pushback from West Side preservationists, most notably the Westside Preservation Alliance, which, in partnership with the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, submitted the endangered sites application to the National Trust in February.
They say SAHA's plan to raze Alazan, known colloquially as "Los Courts," "will break up the existing community and scatter its residents throughout the city." The redevelopment is also seen as a major trigger in the gentrification of the West Side.
The preservation alliance has advocated for the rehab of the barracks-style public housing complex that opened in 1940-41, according to the preservation alliance.
"The plans to demolish Los Courts would not only bring the loss of an architecturally significant site, but also the loss of a deeply embedded community while paving the way for the gentrification that has already taken over other downtown-adjacent neighborhoods," Sara Gould, a member of the Westside Preservation Alliance, said in a press release.
Kayla Miranda, an Alazan-Apache resident, said SAHA should be preserving its housing stock, instead of destroying it.
"They want to flush us out to make room for higher income individuals and majority market rent properties," Miranda said in a press release.
SAHA officials have said the cost to rehabilitate the units on cement cinder blocks is greater than the cost to rebuild, although SAHA has not produced specific financial figures when asked by the Heron in the past.
"Residents are unable to have access to a central air and heating system nor washer and dryer connections," SAHA spokesman Michael Reyes said. "Moreover, interior insulation is not possible which makes winters colder and summers hotter."
SAHA cited a survey of Alazan residents, in recent years, when it was pursuing the Choice Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in which 81% of residents said they'd prefer the two-story buildings be rebuilt rather than remodeled.
The Alazan redevelopment is one piece of a larger plan to revitalize the West Side. Current residents will either be given an opportunity to move into the new development, as it's completed in phases, or into one of the other West Side development's SAHA is building, such as the Tampico Apartments, which just began construction nearby.
An 88-unit mixed-income project called The Legacy at Alazan at the intersection of El Paso and South Colorado streets, a vacant site that abuts Alazan to the south, is the first phase of SAHA's West Side strategy. Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall, and take roughly 18 months to complete.
Or, current Alazan residents will be given vouchers.
In a recent interview, SAHA President and CEO David Nisivoccia told the Heron the reduction of public housing units on the Alazan site—from the demolition of public housing for a mixed-income development—would be made up through other programs offered by HUD.
"If a housing authority makes a decision to reprogram a development, HUD gives us what they call 'tenant replacement vouchers'," Nisivoccia said.
"One thing we require of all our new developments is that they have to receive Section 8 vouchers," Nisivoccia continued. "So that client has a choice to come back to that property, just under a different program, Section 8. Or, they have a choice to take that voucher and go somewhere else that they might see as more advantageous to their lives or their children’s lives, for whatever reason. Closer to a job, closer to family, closer to their social network, wanting to escape a high concentration of poverty area."
In the meeting in last November, when the SAHA board approved the plan, Sofia Lopez, who served on the board of commissioners at the time, rebuked the assertion that a voucher was an adequate replacement for a public housing unit.
"Vouchers are not a perfect program, and landlords across the city are not required to accept them," said Lopez, who resigned from SAHA's board this summer for personal reasons.
The preservationists say they're trying to leverage support for Alazan to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would qualify it for historic tax credits, Gould said.
SAHA has repeatedly described the redevelopment strategy at Alazan as being multi-phased, over potentially 5-8 years, composed of potentially 700 units. It's a different strategy than the one SAHA employed at Wheatley Courts on the East Side, where SAHA demolished roughly 200 units at once in 2014 for the mixed-income community called East Meadows that stands there today. SAHA officials have since admitted it made an error in razing those courts all at once.
Of the 205 households who left Wheatley Courts, roughly 50 of them chose to return to the site and the new development, according to SAHA. Another 56 received housing vouchers, and 99 are no longer in SAHA programs, the agency said.
Another example of replacing public housing communities with mixed-income is the old Victoria Courts site just south of Hemisfair, which was demolished in 2001; SAHA built the first phase called Refugio Place in 2004, and is still building on the site within the Lavaca neighborhood's boundaries.
SAHA says it wants to de-concentrate its other public housing communities, most notably the Apache courts, the Cassiano Homes and the Lincoln Heights Courts—all on the West Side. The trend is one adopted by housing authorities nationwide so that people of all socio-economic background "learn and grow from each other," Tim Alcott, SAHA’s real estate and legal services officer, said at a virtual neighborhood meeting this week.
"The Alazan-Apache community is located in the poorest ZIP code in the poorest big city in America," Reyes said. "It is not acceptable that Alazan residents must continue to live under these poor and outdated conditions."
» NRP Group chosen for Alazan Courts redevelopment (Nov. 11, 2019)
» SAHA, NRP Group moving forward with contentious Alazan Lofts project (Aug. 25, 2019)
» How best to revitalize Alazan Courts and the near West Side? It’s complicated. (Aug. 17, 2019)
» Controversial Alazan Lofts gets boost from a reluctant zoning commission (July 17, 2019)
» As downtown development spreads, displacement and gentrification are set to roll over the West Side (May 21, 2019)
» Alazan Lofts project gets assist from non-West Side council members (Jan. 19, 2019)
It appears Lisa Wong, the owner of Rosario's in Southtown, may be moving her iconic restaurant down South St. Mary's Street to the former El Mirador building.
A banner sign advertising "Rosario's — Coming 2021" has been seen slung over the old El Mirador for a week. Wong closed El Mirador in November 2018 soon after purchasing it for more than $3 million from local developer and Esquire Tavern owner Chris Hill.
The move would literally be down the street from its location at 910 S. Alamo St., a half-block down South St. Mary's Street.
Before closing, El Mirador, a Southtown dining staple of its own since 1968, had undergone a series of changes in recent years. Hill purchased El Mirador in 2014 from the original owners, Diana and Julian Treviño. In mid-2016, Hill shut down El Mirador for six months, giving the restaurant a makeover, and reopened it in December 2016.
Wong took ownership of Rosario's in 1992, and grew it into Southtown's most popular restaurant. Wong also owns Ácenar on East Houston Street and another Rosario's location on San Pedro Avenue.
Wong did not respond to interview requests.