The Elmira Apartments, 1126 E. Elmira St., is a 265-unit, 7-story apartment complex with structured parking, and ground floor live-work units and retail, proposed by Silver Ventures. Courtesy Don B. McDonald Architect
The Elmira Apartments is a seven-story apartment building planned for 1126 E. Elmira St. Courtesy Don B. McDonald

This article was updated at 4:45 p.m.

Pearl developer Silver Ventures is planning to build a 265-unit, seven-story apartment building on East Elmira Street, on the other side of the San Antonio River's Museum Reach from the Pearl's main campus.

The project would be the fourth major multifamily development by Silver Ventures, and would push the Pearl's apartment total past 900 units.

Documents submitted to the city show the project consuming most of the city block bound by East Elmira, Schiller, East Quincy and East Park streets, a 3.1-acre site that touches a River Walk entrance.

CITY OF SAN ANTONIO
PEARL APARTMENTS
The major Pearl multifamily apartments built by Silver Ventures to date:
» Can Plant, 293 units, opened 2012
» Southline Residences, 223 units, opened October 2019
» Cellars at Pearl, 122 units, opened 2017

On Wednesday, the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) is scheduled to review and potentially vote on the project.

The HDRC agenda item for the Elmira Apartments describes a seven-level "precast parking garage" wrapped with mostly apartments, and some live-work units and 7,500 square feet of retail space on the ground level, including a coffee shop. Structurally, five wood-framed stories would sit atop a "2-story concrete podium." The facade would consist of mostly brick masonry, and painted stucco.

For the Elmira Apartments, Silver Ventures turned to local architect Don B. McDonald, who the company also tapped to design Credit Human's 12-story headquarters building, and the Oxbox, an eight-story office building on Broadway—two projects it co-developed. Jefferson Bank, in an attempt for architectural continuity on Broadway, also hired McDonald for its upcoming 13-story headquarters at Broadway and East Grayson streets.

The documents also describe a pool deck, community living room and fitness center overlooking the river. The developer will explore using " salvaged brewery artifacts" into the elements of the design, supporting documents read.

Silver Ventures is requesting an incentives package via the city's Center City Housing Incentive Policy. It includes a rebate on city property taxes for 10 years, but it's unclear how much the city or Silver Ventures estimates the tax break to be worth. The developer will receive back 75% of the total city property taxes owed, while 25% will feed the city's Affordable Housing Fund, estimated to be worth $1 million across the 10 years.

It also includes a reimbursement on SAWS impact fees valued at $500,000, which the developer will request from the MidTown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) board.

In a TIRZ, the rise in property tax revenue is collected and reinvested back into the zone in the form of public upgrades or for the creation or preservation of affordable housing.

It's unclear how much it will cost to build the project, and what the timeline looks like. Bill Shown, Silver Ventures' managing director for real estate, didn't immediately respond to an email inquiry Monday morning.

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Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

This lot next to the Milam building and Weston Centre could be a 32-story apartment tower by Weston Urban.
Weston Urban is planning a 32-story residential tower on this Soledad Street lot. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Office buildings and hotel towers have dominated San Antonio’s skyline for decades, an all-too-visible reminder of the longstanding local struggle to draw housing to the urban core.

To the delight of many, Weston Urban is setting out to change that with its plan to build a 32-story, $107 million apartment tower on Soledad Street near Geekdom.

Little is known about the project—the company, backed by tech multimillionaire Graham Weston, has been mum about it since it popped up on the city’s Planning Commission agenda last week. It will have 351 apartment units, 7,250 square feet of retail space and a six-level parking garage. Construction is expected to begin mid-next year. That’s about it.

CITY OF SAN ANTONIO

Yet more can be said. For one thing, the tower would be the tallest residential building downtown by a long shot, bringing a style of high-rise urban living that most major cities can offer, but San Antonio cannot.

And the project indicates that Weston Urban, at least, thinks that the downtown real estate market is finally capable of supporting a high-rise. Last week, the Heron surveyed 19 of the 20 apartment buildings that have been built in the downtown area since the city created the Center City Housing Incentive Policy (CCHIP) eight years ago. The occupancy collectively stand at 86% for those properties.

"What people don’t appreciate is that decisions of this magnitude and this cost aren’t made without some really strong comfort that there’s a market for that type of unit," developer Ed Cross said. "This is really serious construction and complexity, and it is a big vote of approval on downtown San Antonio. People don’t do this stuff lightly."

When developers consider whether to risk millions of dollars on a certain project, they typically take a close look at the performance of similar projects nearby. But there’s nothing similar to Weston Urban’s proposed tower in downtown San Antonio. The closest thing is the 14-story, 250-unit Inspire Downtown, formerly known as the Vistana, which has done well since Cross and other investors built it in 2009. Last fall, they sold it to an investment firm from Los Angeles.

A 17-story tower, the Floodgate, is under construction on East Commerce Street. A couple years ago, Austin firm Teeple Partners planned to build a 21-story tower with 305 apartments across the street from City Hall, and even reached an incentive agreement with the city, but canceled the project after determining that it wasn’t feasible.

Last year, the San Antonio Housing Authority board of commissioners voted to pursue a partnership with JMJ of Dallas on twin, 24-story apartment towers kitty-corner to the Tower Life Building, but that mega project fizzled.

"In real estate, a lot of the time we look in a rear-view mirror to verify that you can build something that will be economically viable,” developer David Adelman said. “It takes a remarkable visionary to put that kind of capital to work, not knowing the level of success.”

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High-rises have proliferated in the downtowns of Austin, Dallas and Houston over the last decade, leading many to wonder why San Antonio can’t be blessed with so many construction cranes.

The tourism industry, which powers the downtown economy, makes it difficult to build apartments and condos because land owners and financiers think they can make more money on a hotel, developers say. For a residential project to be feasible, the investors have to be sure they can charge high enough rents to justify it.

Many of the land parcels downtown are small and irregularly shaped, and thus are hard to build on. And the abundance of open and cheaper land on the city’s fringes encourages suburban sprawl at the expense of urban density.

The hope is that Weston Urban’s tower will convince investors that such a project can be lucrative in downtown San Antonio.

“I think it’s going to greatly expand the market potential for multifamily in San Antonio,” said Peter French, the director of development for GrayStreet Partners. “Really, what it does is, it blazes the trail for people who are going to finance this kind of thing.”

Crews are prepping this site for The Floodgate apartment tower on East Commerce Street next to the Esquire Tavern.
Crews are prepping this site for the Floodgate apartment tower on East Commerce Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The tower would be a trophy for the city after it spent the last 10 years stimulating the downtown housing market through financial incentives and close working relationships with developers. Former Mayor Julián Castro began the effort in 2010 when he proclaimed the "Decade of Downtown." In 2012, City Council created CCHIP, which has since awarded developers with more than $100 million worth of incentives, the bulk of which are breaks on city property taxes.

"Only recently has our downtown economy shown positive signs of being able to help support these types of high-rise developments," said Veronica Garcia, an assistant director with the city’s Center City Development and Operations (CCDO) department. "Maybe five years ago, a project like this may not have been possible. But as our downtown continues to have retail, restaurants, things that attract residents, and as we have those residents downtown, developers are seeing that it's a viable market."

Weston Urban is requesting CCHIP incentives for the tower, including a $1 million SAWS impact fee waiver and a 15-year local tax rebate, said Kelly Saunders, a spokeswoman for CCDO. Discussions are ongoing, she said.

Under the agreement being discussed, 25% of the rebate would be used to invest in "the future development of affordable housing," she said.

The city’s Planning Commission voted last week to let the project go forward. Its design will need to be approved by the Historic and Design Review Commission because it is in the city’s river overlay district, which upholds design standards near the river. The 0.87-acre site it would be built on is zoned for “downtown district,” which allows for mixed-use and residential uses and carries no height restrictions.

In 2015, Weston Urban reached a deal with the city that gave rise to the new 24-story Frost Tower and made it owner of large parts of west downtown, ranging from the stately Municipal Plaza Building where City Council meets to several run-down parking lots. The agreement required the company to build at least 265 housing units.

It has cobbled together other properties outside of the city land deal, totaling more than 20 acres in west downtown.

Randy Smith, Weston Urban’s president, told the Heron last year that the company planned to far exceed the 265 units it promised to the city.

"We will build multifamily down here until the market tells us to stop," he said.

Related
» Weston Urban plans 32-story apartment tower in downtown tech district
» Continental Hotel sold to Weston Urban for mixed-use project
» With Frost Tower finished, Weston Urban pivots toward housing
» Weston Urban purchases iconic Toudouze building, eyes synergy with UTSA expansion
» A glimpse at west downtown in 10 years
» More Weston Urban stories

Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter

Heron intern Brigid Cooley contributed to this report.

Contact the Heron at hello@saheron.com | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

The H-E-B Christmas tree at Travis Park is decorated earlier this week. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Judge Nelson Wolff have placed a curfew prohibiting people from gathering outside their homes from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning Thanksgiving Day and lasting through Monday morning. Exceptions apply to people seeking services from a business, according to a city press release.

Violators could be punished with a $1,000 fine.

During normal times, this is the weekend that kickoffs the holiday season in San Antonio, when thousands of locals flock downtown to take in the H-E-B Christmas tree, the River Walk, and other light displays.

These aren't normal times as Covid-19 cases continue to rise locally, and as temperatures are expected to drop on Thanksgiving Day.

The holiday tree lighting ceremony at Travis Park will be shown virtually on H-E-B's Youtube channel. Thought, undoubtedly, many will make the trip downtown for a selfie in front of the 50-foot Concolor Fir.

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During curfew hours, restaurants will be required to close for dining service from 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. They may continue drive-thru, curbside or takeout services after 10 p.m.

"The last two surges in cases followed holiday weekends; in this case, the numbers are already increasing exponentially, so the Judge and I decided to impose a curfew to limit the spread over the Thanksgiving holiday," Nirenberg said in a press release. "We are counting on each and every San Antonian to take personal responsibility for protecting themselves and others."

The moves comes as local leaders have resorted to pleading with San Antonians to stay at home as the holiday season begins to kick off. At the same time, Nirenberg has said he's ramping up enforcement on business who violate the local Covid-19 order.

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park two weeks ago. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Now that downtown’s newest park has opened across from the Frost Tower, its caretaker, a familiar name to Spurs fans, says locals can expect the green space to flourish with activity in the coming year.

Weston Urban, the park’s owner, has hired San Antonio native David Robinson Jr., son of Spurs legend David Robinson, as director of parks and recreation.

The 1.2-acre park, which Weston Urban acquired from Frost Bank in the recent land deal that resulted in the new Frost Tower, resides along West Houston Street between North Main and North Flores streets.

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
Eddie Romero and his daughter, Halynn, take in the new park the first week it opened. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Two weeks ago, fencing around the park, which had been completed for months, were finally taken down. Only Pinkerton's Barbecue, located inside a newly-built 5,000-square-foot restaurant on the park's north end, remains closed.

"This is more of a soft opening for us," Robinson Jr. said. "Early next year, we really want to open the park up once Pinkerton's opens. I think next year will be more of a coming out party, but it was important for us to open the park to people right now.

"There has been so much negativity and one good thing could help the people."

Robinson is planning programming and events to bring people together at the park. His ideas included screenings for movies or sporting events in a possible partnership with Alamo Drafthouse. He's also considering outdoor fitness classes, recreational sports and company meetings.

The park consists of a large green space semi-enclosed by a curved berm, and Mexican sycamore trees—all of which were added to the mature oaks that already lined the space.

There’s also a vine-covered pergola along North Flores. Tables and chairs are spaced six feet apart for social distancing and Christmas lights have been set up on the trees along the pergola. Robinson envisions the area as being popular with couples on date night.

A wide paved promenade along Houston Street, also lined with tables and chairs, is an extension of the one built next to the neighboring Frost Tower when it opened last year.

Robinson Jr. emphasized how crucial the green space is for the downtown area.

“Downtown has a lot of parking lots and people don’t get to enjoy the fresh air or be outdoors because we don’t have much green space in the area,” Robinson Jr. said. “This will help people gather responsibly, enjoy the outdoors, and make people happy.”

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
Pinkerton's Barbecue is expected to open early next year. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The "main staple," as Robinson Jr. described, is Pinkerton's.

Once large gatherings are permitted, Robinson Jr. envisions crowds coming out after work to grab sliders and a beer, or enjoying some barbecue during Spurs game days. He also hopes Pinkerton’s becomes a main attraction in the downtown nightlife scene.

Robinson Jr. expects the barbecue joint to open its doors at the beginning of next year.

He said he's open to any programming ideas from the public, and reassured that safety protocols would be taken during Covid-19. After the pandemic?

“We would love to host events here at the park in the future, during Fiesta or Oktoberfest, and see possible wedding receptions being held here,” he said.

For now, Robinson and his team have created safety measures to ensure individuals feel safe while visiting the park. Measures include sanitizing publicly-used spaces, hand sanitizer dispensers gifted by Centro San Antonio, and social distancing regulations along with enforcing the mask mandate.

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Robinson said the Pearl’s creation of chalk circles in their greenspace area that distance people six feet apart was an excellent idea that the park could use once foot traffic increases.

Weston Urban park is currently operating during the daylight hours and Robinson said an official name for the park has not been decided.

“I think people will be blown away about how lush, green and vibrant the park will be in five years,” Robinson said.

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The Weston Urban park is located along West Houston Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The pergola runs alongside North Flores Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The Houston Street promenade. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The downtown worker checks out the new space two weeks ago. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

Contact the Heron at hello@saheron.com | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

The 36th Annual H-E-B Tree Lighting ceremony at Travis Park will take place virtually this year as a safety precaution amid the pandemic.

Which What exactly does that mean? It means the ceremony already happened. The pre-taped ceremony will air on H-E-B’s YouTube channel starting at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27. The Christmas tree lights will be illuminated at 7:20 p.m. Mariachi Las Altenas will serve as the musical entertainment.

In normal times, the River Walk lights are lit minutes after the tree lighting ceremony, which kicks off the Ford Holiday River Parade—which, of course, has been canceled. Mayor Ron Nirenberg lit the lights virtually last week.

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The 50-foot Concolor Fir hails from Northern Michigan near Lake Michigan. The tree arrived at Travis Park last Tuesday, and crews have been busy decorating it with more than 10,000 red, white, and blue lights, and dozens of handmade ornaments. H-E-B has committed more than $250,000 to transport, decorate and light the tree.

The Christmas tree lighting ceremony used to take place in front of the Alamo. But it was moved in 2017 by city officials to Travis Park's center and replaced the Confederate monument, which had been removed a few months earlier. Among the reasons for moving the Christmas tree was that Alamo Plaza would be under construction for the master redevelopment. The plan has been suspended. Read the latest from the San Antonio Express-News.

[ Photos by Ben Olivo | Heron ]

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

Hotel Contessa is located at 306 W. Market St. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

A New England investment firm has purchased the Hotel Contessa luxury River Walk hotel, a show of confidence in San Antonio's hospitality industry as it struggles through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wheelock Street Capital, a private firm with offices in Boston and Greenwich, Conn., bought the 12-story, 265-room hotel at 306 W. Market Street last week, county property records show. The hotel was previously owned by a partnership between Silver Ventures, the developer of the Pearl, and Hixon Properties, another downtown builder.

"It has a pretty irreplaceable location right on the River Walk, in a market that has a significant drive-to-leisure component," said Tim Hodes, Wheelock's director of hotel investments. "We know that the next six to nine to 12 months will be tough for the industry, but there is light at the end of the tunnel with the positive news around the development of a handful of vaccines."

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Hodes declined to share the purchase price. The Bexar Appraisal District assessed the hotel's value at $52.4 million this year.

Wheelock plans to hold onto the hotel for a while, and will start work on a full renovation of its ground-floor restaurant and bar in coming months, Hodes said. The firm is bringing on national hotel operator HEI Hotels & Resorts to manage the property.

In June, the hotel notified the State of Texas that it planned to lay off 84 of its staff members.

"As the market recovers, we will invest and hire and rehire," Hodes said. "I'm not sure I can say anything else beyond that."

Wheelock's acquisition of Hotel Contessa marks its first purchase of a hotel in San Antonio, but the firm has invested in multifamily properties in the area, Hodes said. The firm has been making more and more investments in Texas, attracted by the state's population growth, he said.

The hotel opened in December 2005. Executives from Silver Ventures and Hixon Properties also partnered to build the 473-room Westin Riverwalk, across Navarro Street, which they sold to Fort Worth firm Crescent Real Estate last year, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter

This three-story office building on the River Walk sits at 454 Soledad St.
This three-story office building on Soledad Street is owned by an Austin firm. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron BEN OLIVO | HERON

An Austin real estate firm has purchased a three-story historic office building on the River Walk in a fast-growing part of west downtown.

The firm, Real International, bought the building at 454 Soledad St. from former Mayor Henry Cisneros on Oct. 14, county deed records show. Its founder, Lynn Yuan, sees a lot of potential in downtown, particularly in that area, she said in an email.

She pointed out that the building is in between the famous “horseshoe” section of the River Walk and the Pearl, and that it is in a federal Opportunity Zone, which makes developers eligible for breaks on capital gains taxes. The 32-story apartment tower that Weston Urban plans to build is only a short walk away, she said.

“We plan to hold onto it and also make improvements,” she said.

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She declined to say how much the property sold for. The Bexar Appraisal District assessed it at $3.7 million this year.

The office building has 21,920 square feet and was built in 1926, according to the appraisal district.

Cisneros has worked from the building since he bought it in 2016. Several businesses linked with him are located there, including Mission DG, Cisneros and Victoria Miramontes' development firm that has partnered with the San Antonio Housing Authority to build the Tampico Apartments on the West Side. It's also home to the San Antonio offices of American Triple-I Partners, an infrastructure fund manager of which Cisneros is chairman.

Cisneros and Miramontes are moving their offices to a building the former mayor is rehabilitating on the West Side, 2201 Buena Vista Street, he said.

"It came time to reorganize my own financial situation and also to commit to a property on the West Side," he said.

Most of Real International’s investors are Asian or Asian-American, Yuan said, with about 20% coming from other countries. The firm has been investing in the San Antonio market for about two years—its website lists several single-family and multifamily properties outside the urban core—and it plans to do so more in the future, she said.

[ View more downtown transactions. ]

Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter

Housing advocates take their anti-SAHA protest to Flores Street on the way to the condo of CEO David Nisivoccia on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.
Protestors march down South Flores Street on Saturday toward the Steel House Lofts, where SAHA CEO David Nisivoccia lives. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The protest on Saturday started at the San Antonio Housing Authority's headquarters on South Flores Street near downtown where roughly 80 advocates demanded the Alazán Courts demolition and redevelopment plan be halted, among a slew of other complaints against the agency.

It ended 90 minutes later at the Steel House Lofts, five blocks down South Flores, where SAHA CEO and President David Nisivoccia lives. The group that included Alazán Courts residents turned right on West Peden Alley, as a small caravan occupied a lane on Flores and honked their horns. In the alleyway, they chanted, "Shame on SAHA, shame on David!" and "Mi barrio no se vende!" (My neighborhood is not for sale) as they looked up at the four-story condominiums.

Nisivoccia, who has ramped up SAHA's production of mixed-income apartments since he became CEO in 2016, is leaving in January to become executive director of the Denver Housing Authority.

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SAHA spokesman Michael Reyes said Nisivoccia was not available for an interview on Saturday, but instead issued a statement.

"Today’s protest at the home of a SAHA staff member is another demonstration of the Esperanza Center choosing intimation and scare tactics over truth or productive dialogue," Reyes wrote.

To be clear, Saturday's protest was by a group composed of the Coalition For Tenant Justice, the Historic Westside Residents Association, Texas Organizing Project, the San Antonio Tenants Union, along with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and other housing advocates.

Reyes' statement went on to describe the protest at the Steel House Lofts as "uncivil" and that SAHA does not condone protests that "jeopardize the safety of our leadership and staff members."

At no time did the protest get out of hand or become violent. If it was anything, it was loud, as the group shouted, "What do we want? Housing! When do we want it? Now! If we don't get it? Shut it down!" When cars or delivery trucks entered the alley, the group moved out of the way to let them pass. Some of the Steel House Lofts residents observed the protestors from their balconies.

"We have invited them to the policy discussion and have attempted to explain the affordable housing crisis, yet they refuse to understand it because it doesn't align with their political agenda and fundraising efforts," Reyes said of the Esperanza in a lengthy statement.

About 80 people gather at SAHA headquarters on Nov. 21, 2020 to protest the agencies plan to demolish the Alazan Courts.
About 80 protestors gather at SAHA's headquarters on Saturday. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The event's organizer, Kayla Miranda, who's also a member of the Historic Westside Residents Association, and a SAHA resident, said in response, "We have every right to go to David's home. He filled out the paperwork with the city same as other officials and commissioners. ... And he's coming after our homes. Why shouldn't we confront him in his?"

In a lengthy response of her own, Graciela Sanchez, director of the Esperanza, said, "I have no idea of what policy discussions he speaks of. All we have been able to do is attend the monthly SAHA meetings and speak for 3 minutes, unless of course, we're limited to 1.5 minutes because too many folks wanted to speak against demolition of the Alazán Courts."

Sanchez was referring to the SAHA board limiting time for citizens to be heard at the meeting in early November because of the sheer volume of people who signed up to speak, more than 60, on Alazán Courts.

The fierce debate over SAHA's development strategy, which calls for eliminating San Antonio's remaining public housing communities, while partnering with for-profit developers to build mixed-income apartment complexes, has only escalated between the authority and its supporters versus a growing number of housing activists with each step the authority takes.

On Nov. 5, the SAHA board of commissioners voted 5-2 to seek permission from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish Alazán's 501 units on the near West Side, and replace them with a mixed-income community to be built by Cleveland-based developer NRP Group in the coming years.

This patch of land on the northwest corner of South Colorado and El Paso streets—adjacent to the Alazan Courts—is being eyed for a 98-unit, mixed-income development called Alazan Lofts.
The Alazán Courts from El Paso Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, in a letter of support dated Nov. 3, has backed the plan and wrote, "It will provide modern quality apartment homes for families at a variety of income levels."

Activists and preservation groups have called for rehabbing the 80-year-old courts—a collection of decaying, barracks-style public housing units spread across 26 acres along Alazán Creek. Roughly 1,200 people, whose average yearly income is $8,700, currently live there.

The activists describe the redevelopment as a massive displacement, one in which 1,200 people would be scattered throughout the city. They point to the former Wheatley Courts on the East Side, where, in 2014, roughly 200 families were forced to leave the area to clear the way for SAHA's 414-unit East Meadows mixed-income community. Also, see the Victoria Commons as another large-scale example. SAHA has admitted it made a mistake by demolishing the Wheatley Courts all at once, and therefore plans to raze and rebuild at the Alazán site in at least two phases.

SAHA says annual funding from HUD has dwindled, and doesn't have the means to build large amounts of new affordable housing on its own. It also doesn't have the funding to maintain and repair its aging public housing stock, the agency says. The mixed-income projects, in which SAHA provides a toolkit of subsidies to private developers, will provide much needed revenue that will bolster its reserves, which can then be used to subsidize more below market-rate housing down the line.

In a recent SAHA board meeting, Nisivoccia said he estimates the agency has roughly $7-8 million annually to spend on the remaining 6,000 public housing units.

"If you take the average cost of wanting to renovate or fix up versus redevelop, about $100,000 per unit, at 500 units: that’s $50 million," he said at the October meeting. "That would be about 10 full years of our capital fund program and ignoring the rest of our portfolio. I want all the residents to know and understand: We’re not ignoring Alazan. It’s just a financial challenge. … The deterioration of Alazan has been happening over 20-30 years."

But housing activists don't buy it. They question the math behind the systemic elimination of public housing units in San Antonio at a time when SAHA's wait list for affordable housing has grown to more than 45,000 families compared to 15,000 in 2000, according to San Antonio Express-News archives.

"We are insulted that he thinks that they need to explain to us about the affordable housing crisis," Sanchez said. "What was the demonstration about except to say that affordable housing isn't even affordable to public housing tenants, and their current housing policy is mixed income housing."

Jacquline Caldwell speaks at a protest in front of SAHA headquarters on Saturday, NOv. 21, 2020.
Alazán Courts resident Jacquline Caldwell speaks at a protest in front of SAHA headquarters on Saturday. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

During the rally, Alazán Courts resident Jacquline Caldwell described SAHA's new business model as a public housing holocaust. SAHA has said it plans to demolish the remaining public housing stock: The nearby Apache, Cassiano and Lincoln courts, and replace them with mixed-income communities.

"Stop this holocaust," said Caldwell, a mother of two. "Stop killing our homes. Stop killing our communities. Stop mass murdering all of our dreams and expectations and aspirations so that you all can profit."

Big picture, SAHA says it's actually creating more affordable housing by partnering with for-profit developers. Currently, SAHA has more than 8,800 mixed-income apartments it is either constructing or planning with another developer. Alone, the agency says, it would build a fraction of that amount if it were just building subsidized apartments.

From 2008 to 2018, the agency produced 3,500 units.

At Alazán, the new apartments are projected to have some public housing units, but also market-rate units. SAHA is also building other mixed-income communities on the West Side, including the 200-unit Tampico Lofts near San Fernando Cemetery No. 1. But West Side activists criticize the development, which is a SAHA partnership with developer Mission DG, for only having nine units priced for people making up to 30% of the area median income, or, the most needy. It has a range of other affordable rents; while 64 are priced at market rate.

SAHA protestors make their way down South Flores Street on Saturday. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

SAHA contends the financial cost to rehabilitate Alazán Courts is higher than the cost to demolish and rebuild. The agency says current Alazán Courts residents will have first dibs at one of the new apartments, should they choose to return to the site. They can also move into one of the newer developments SAHA is building. Or, they will be given Tenant Protection Vouchers from HUD, which they can use to find housing elsewhere in San Antonio.

Housing activists point out that landlords don't have to accept the voucher, and that some end up losing a voucher that was never used.

Like at East Meadows, as well as Hemisview and Refugio Place just south of downtown, SAHA envisions the Alazán apartments with a range of rents, for people in public housing to people who can afford to pay market rate.

Although the East Meadows master development had the support of President Obama's $30 million Choice Neighborhood grant, which was partly designed to mitigate the harmful effects of such a move on families with little means, many of them still suffered the move, Olga Kauffman, who sits on SAHA's board, and who worked directly with Wheatley Courts families at the time, told the Heron recently.

SAHA has begun to put together a plan to help families with their credit scores, and other potential impediments to finding housing with a voucher in hand. For more on their plan, view SAHA's presentation for relocating Alazán residents at its Nov. 5 meeting.

Activists protest outside Steel House Lofts where SAHA CEO David Nisivoccia lives on Saturday. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Nirenberg agrees with the strategy.

"We recognize that displacement can destabilize and harm residents," the mayor wrote in a statement to the Heron. "As SAHA prepares for the next steps, we look forward to reviewing the Relocation and Re-Occupancy Plan for Alazan Courts residents, which we intend to ensure centers and addresses their comprehensive needs throughout the changes ahead of us. The process must thoroughly address displacement concerns.”

Nirenberg did not return several direct interview requests for this article.

SAHA says the majority of residents it polled earlier this year prefer the voucher. The Heron obtained copies of the survey, which was stopped because of the pandemic, and which SAHA has authenticated. View the survey here, and the results here.

A protestor attends a rally Saturday at SAHA headquarters. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Related
How to relocate Alazan Courts’ 1,200 residents? San Antonio Housing Authority says it’s complicated, critics say you don’t
» Alazan-Apache Courts named one of America’s most endangered historic places
» NRP Group chosen for Alazan Courts redevelopment
» SAHA, NRP Group moving forward with contentious Alazan Lofts project
» How best to revitalize Alazan Courts and the near West Side? It’s complicated.

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

Rendering shows Encore Multifamily's apartment project as part of Broadway East. Courtesy Encore

Dallas developer Encore Multifamily plans to build a five-story apartment complex as the first phase of GrayStreet Partners’ $560 million Broadway East master-planned community.

The 386-unit complex will be constructed on about 3.4 acres of land that Encore bought from GrayStreet in July, northwest from the corner of Carson and Austin streets in Government Hill, across Broadway from the Pearl. Construction is expected to begin some time next year, company spokeswoman Amy Dunaway said in an email.

The complex will feature a courtyard, and its landscaping will make use of an historic acequia that runs through the property, said Peter French, GrayStreet’s director of development. All of its units will be market-rate, he said. It will not feature a retail component.

French said he wasn't sure when the groundbreaking will happen, but said "sooner rather than later."

"They're a great outfit," French said of Encore, which finished construction last year of the Encore SoFlo complex in south downtown. "They've approached this with a clear understanding that they’re part of a larger master plan. … That's not the way everyone approaches projects."

Over the next 10 years, GrayStreet has said it plans to develop more than 1.6 million square feet of mixed-use space in Broadway East with its partner, Houston builder Midway. The community would span about 20 acres roughly bounded by Broadway, North Hackberry, Casa Blanca and East Grayson streets. In recent years, GrayStreet has acquired the non-residential properties, most of which were previously owned by the San Antonio Independent School District.

Rendering shows the scope of the Broadway East development from Broadway looking east. Courtesy GrayStreet Partners

Along with the construction of Encore’s complex, the first phase will include infrastructure work that is badly needed in the area, which is expected to begin this year, French said.

The second phase will focus on the city blocks north and south of a planned extention of Pearl Parkway to the east, French said. As currently planned, a mixture of office space and retail would be built on land GrayStreet owns next to the 1800 Broadway apartment complex, while retail and multifamily would be built south of the extension. The plans also include a hotel component.

It’s not yet clear whether GrayStreet and Midway would develop the second phase by themselves or would work with other partners, French said.

He is hopeful that Encore’s complex will build momentum for the community, attracting retail businesses to serve the new residents. The complex would be just south of a cluster of trendy bars and restaurants on East Grayson Street.

“Rooftops, rooftops, rooftops is one of the keys to successful neighborhood retail,” French said. “Activity begets activity.”

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Last month, French went before the board of the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) after GrayStreet and Midway requested $8.9 million in reimbursement dollars to cover part of their infrastructure work for the first phase. In a TIRZ, revenue gained from the rise in property taxes is collected and reinvested into public upgrades within the zone. Recently, San Antonio began using some of those dollars to restore and create affordable housing.

In addition to the TIRZ dollars, GrayStreet is also seeking a Chapter 380 economic development agreement for a total ask of $20.5 million in public incentives from the city.

BROADWAY EAST IN PHASES
Work is expected to start this year, and extend to 2023.
» Phase 1, 2020-2023 — $146.M
» Phase 2, 2022-2025 — $152.8M
» Phase 3, 2024-2026 — $124M
» Phase 4, 2027-2030 — $140.9M
Source: GrayStreet Partners

The massive development is expected to generate more than $160 million in new tax revenue by 2030, which includes property tax, sales tax, and hotel occupancy tax revenues, French told the TIRZ board. GrayStreet and Midway are not requesting property tax breaks, such as an exemption or a rebate.

Addressing concerns of affordable housing, French told the Midtown TIRZ board that commercial tenants and hotel guests at Broadway East would pay a fee that would feed a fund that could be used by Government Hill or the city for below-market-rate housing. Government Hill is one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in San Antonio, according to county property records; it's also located in one of San Antonio's poorest ZIP codes.

"We will create an annual fund to support affordable housing, community organizations and events, and maintenance of area homes and businesses, which will be administered in conjunction with the Government Hill neighborhood association," French told the board.

Broadway East is expected to return to the Midtown TIRZ board for a vote in December, and to the City Council for final approval in January.

GrayStreet also plans to build a 20-story office and hotel tower at 1603 Broadway.

Related
» Massive $560M Broadway East development near Pearl set to begin next month
» Rezoned properties offer glimpse of GrayStreet’s 23-acre Broadway East campus

Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter

This three-story building at 505 E. Travis St. is scheduled to become short-term rentals.
This three-story building at 505 E. Travis St. is scheduled to become short-term rentals. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Metairie, La.-based developer Beau Baudier plans to renovate a circa-1914, three-story commercial building on East Travis Street that has been largely unused in recent memory.

The developer plans to convert the former office space into 16 short-term rental "guest rooms" along with two retail spaces presumably on the ground level, according to documents filed with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The filing describes the units as "transient, short-term rentals."

Baudier of Design Engineering Inc. did not respond to an interview request. Welty Architecture LLC, also based in Metairie, which is part of the New Orleans metropolitan area, is listed as the architect.

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The building was built in 1914 and designed by Atlee B. Ayers for the San Antonio Light newspaper, according to city records. Baudier purchased the building from San Antonio developer James Lifshutz last year.

The renovation is expected to cost $3.5 million. According to the filing, work was expected to begin this month and be finished by September 2021.

For the longest time, a sign that read "Beauty College" still hung on the facade, a specter of one of the historic structure's former tenant.

The Baudier-Welty team recently renovated a structure similar in size in downtown New Orleans into apartments.

This year, the Bexar Appraisal District assessed the building, which is listed as a local landmark, at $1.4 million.

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

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