Downtown San Antonio in 2020 was dominated by images of a struggling economy amid a pandemic, and of protest. There were also signs of progress.

Here's a look at what transpired as captured by Heron staff and contributing freelance photographers. These images were published either on this website, or on the @sanantonioheron or @downtownsanantonio Instagrams.

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

Clockwise from top left: the 300 block of West Commerce; Alazan-Apache Courts; Broadway East first phase; 25-story hotel proposed by Dream Hotel Group; District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño; Weston Urban's proposed 32-story apartment tower. Photos by San Antonio Heron except Broadway East (GrayStreet Partners), Dream Hotel Group tower (Dream Hotel Group) and Weston Urban tower (Weston Urban).

As these year-end compilations go, we will publish our "Top Stories of 2020" here in the next 24 to 48 hours. The list you're about to read is your list. Here are the San Antonio Heron's most-read stories of 2020:

1. "West Commerce likely to become San Antonio’s next nightlife destination"

Published Jan. 18, 2020

This story, about plans to resuscitate the 300 block of West Commerce Street was by far the most-read Heron story of 2020. The piece talks about plans by a couple of San Antonio's heavy-hitters from the development world—i.e. James Lifshutz and Weston Urban—to turn the block just west of San Pedro Creek into a mini neighborhood with apartments and shops, and bars and restaurants. We wrote about these plans in January, before the pandemic hit. Despite the spread of the coronavirus, which has crippled downtown's hospitality industry, construction has continued on the first phase of this redevelopment: the Lifshutz-owned Kline building. READ MORE.

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2. "Massive $560M Broadway East development near Pearl set to begin next month"

Published Oct. 2, 2020

Though GrayStreet Partners' ambitious plans to build a Pearl-sized development across Broadway from the actual Pearl had been reported previously, a flood of information came out in a little municipal meeting by the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) board in October. That's when Peter French, GrayStreet's development director, made public for the first time the project's size and scale (20-plus acres), timeframe (10 years), cost ($560 million), among other particulars. Later, Heron contributor Richard Webner broke the story that GrayStreet has partnered with Encore Multifamily of Dallas on the master-planned community's first phase. READ MORE.

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3. "Dream Hotel Group of N.Y. plans 25-story development on River Walk"

Published Jan. 29, 2020

In January, a New York hotel company called Dream Hotel Group announced it was planning to build a 25-story hotel and mixed-use development in downtown San Antonio, presumably along the River Walk, and then we didn't hear anything from Dream Hotel Group again. Which is not unusual. It doesn't mean the project's dead, doesn't mean it isn't. Perhaps we'll get an update in 2021. READ MORE.

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4. "Alazan-Apache Courts named one of America's most endangered historic places"

Published Sept. 24, 2020

In September, the groups fighting to preserve the Alazan-Apache Courts from demolition received a shot in the arm when the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the aging public housing complex on the West Side as one of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places." The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) says it would cost more to renovate the courts, and thus plans to raze and rebuild. Instead of 100% public housing, the new community will be mixed-income—from market-rate to public housing units. SAHA says current residents will have the option to relocate into another SAHA property on the West Side, or be given a voucher. READ MORE.

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5. "'We followed all the rules ... and still fell victim to politics,' Councilman Treviño on Alamo plan's demise"

Published Sept. 27, 2020

The saga to redevelop Alamo Plaza had reached its zenith in 2018, when pushback from multiple groups grew strongest leading up to the City Council approving the plan—which revolved around the relocation of the 1930s-era Alamo Cenotaph—later that year. In 2019 and for much of 2020, things were relatively quiet, save for some fencing going up, the removal of the gazebo and The Lady Bird Johnson fountain. That was until the Texas Historical Commission weighed in and derailed the plans in September by denying the city's permit request to repair and relocate the Cenotaph. In this article, I interviewed District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, perhaps the plan's biggest proponent, and asked him to play Monday morning quarterback. READ MORE.

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6. "Weston Urban plans 32-story apartment tower in downtown tech district"

Published Nov. 15, 2020

We first caught wind of Weston Urban's plan to build an apartment tower the weekend before the Planning Commission was to consider whether to abandon the city's right-of-way on aerial space above North Main Avenue. The details revealed a development foreign to downtown San Antonio, but which have been common-place for city's with rapidly-growing downtowns: an apartment tower of more than 30 stories with plenty of retail space on the ground level. READ MORE.

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7. "Rosario's owner seeks to demolish site of landmark San Antonio restaurant El Mirador"

Published Nov. 8, 2020

We knew for a year that Rosario's owner Lisa Wong had purchased the former El Mirador building, but we didn't know for sure about her plans. The speculation was that she would move Rosario's down the street into the historic El Mirador spot, but she wasn't doing interviews. Then, in November, she submitted an application to the city to demolish the former El Mirador building and her plans became apparent. READ MORE.

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8. "San Antonio Housing Trust acquires portion of Friedrich complex for $68.7M redevelopment"

Published Sept. 12, 2020

People have been trying to redevelopment the former Friedrich Air Conditioning Co. complex on East Commerce Street for years. When the San Antonio Housing Trust purchased a huge chunk of the property, it signaled that this development—in partnership with Dallas developer Provident Realty Advisors and capital provider American South Real Estate Fund of Atlanta—might actually happen. READ MORE.

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9. "The Floodgate apartment tower closer to reality with razing of East Commerce building"

Published Feb. 6, 2020

Here's another major downtown development that had been years in the making. Then three one-story buildings on East Commerce Street were demolished, making way for the construction of the 17-story Floodgate luxury apartment tower. Construction continues today READ MORE.

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10. "Cattleman Square Lofts project now partnered with S.A. Housing Trust on key west downtown affordable housing"

Published Oct. 22, 2020

For the first time, the San Antonio Housing Trust, which had been criticized for partnering with for-profit developers, partnered solely with a nonprofit builder in the Alamo Community Group on the 140-unit Cattleman Square Lofts in west downtown. READ MORE.

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

FOLO MEDIA FILE PHOTO

By Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune

The Texas Supreme Court has extended its emergency eviction relief program for tenants behind on rent through at least March 15, postponing the program’s expiration date by a month and a half.

The move comes after Congress passed a stimulus bill Monday extending the federal moratorium on evictions through the end of January. The moratorium order was set to expire at the end of the year.

The state created the Texas Eviction Diversion Program earlier this fall with the help of $171 million in CARES Act funding, the vast majority designated for rental assistance. Around $4 million was designated to fund legal services. The program tries to reduce the number of evictions during the pandemic by allowing a landlord and tenant to reach a resolution when a tenant is unable to cover the rent.

If both the landlord and an eligible tenant agree, the state pauses an eviction proceeding for 60 days. A landlord can decide to resume eviction proceedings during that 60-day period. If not, the program would cover past-due rent and dismiss the eviction case, including five months of past-due rent and up to six months of additional assistance. The landlord receives the money, and the tenant can remain in the home. Court records are also sealed, preventing future landlords from viewing them.

The program started in 19 counties, including Bexar, Harris and El Paso, and this extension will immediately go into effect for those counties. According to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, it will be expanded to 30 communities in mid-January and statewide in late spring. It’s unclear when this extension goes into effect for the rest of the state. As of Dec. 12, four million Texans have filed for unemployment since mid-March.

But some housing advocates said the extension doesn’t go far enough to address the large number of struggling renters, even as the federal government extended its eviction moratorium.

“There could be tens of thousands of evictions on the horizon in Texas later this winter,” said Michael Depland, spokesperson for the advocacy group Texas Housers. “State officials must make sure that we are prepared to address a housing crisis unlike anything we’ve seen. The Texas Supreme Court and the governor must halt all evictions until there is robust rental assistance that is accessible to Texans who need it and the Eviction Diversion Program is ready to meet the widespread need experts are predicting.”

The federal moratorium doesn’t prevent all evictions. Some local authorities across the state have been more aggressive in limiting evictions than others. In Travis County, which is not participating in the program, officials stopped eviction hearings. Meanwhile, Harris County landlords have filed more than 5,500 evictions since Oct. 1. Early in the pandemic, the county halted evictions, but it resumed them in August.

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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.

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

Workers organize toys that were donated to San Antonio Housing Authority residents on Wednesday at SAHA headquarters. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

The Alazan-Apache Courts toy drive seemed doomed after more than half of the 200 toys collected were stolen from the property's community room last Friday.

Then, San Antonio stepped up to replace the stolen gifts—and then some—as the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) received more than 2,000 toys from the community at large since the theft.

Roxanne Aguilar, 35, was among the people who received gifts during a toy distribution Wednesday at SAHA headquarters. Aguilar, who lives at a SAHA community on the northwest side, said the toy drive would allow her to surprise her three kids on Christmas Day.

“This program helps a lot because with the pandemic there (are) very little jobs," Aguilar said. "So what they are doing helps provide a lot."

Aguilar said she was shocked when she first heard about the stolen toys, but was grateful for the community's response.

“I think it’s very awesome that we have people that care not only about themselves, but others,” Aguilar said.

Terrence Blackwood, 43, said it was his first time participating in the program. His son was wanting a laptop, and Blackwood was happy that he could grant his son’s wish.

“It should make him a little more happy because he is getting more gifts than usual," Blackwood said.

SAHA was able to increase the amount of children that received gifts from 60 to 1,600 due to the community's generous efforts, and it allowed the agency to give toys to residents at other public housing properties, not just at Alazan-Apache.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg helps distribute toys to public housing residents on Wednesday. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

"San Antonio is always a community that stands together and rallies around each other, especially during times of need and times of crisis," said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who helped hand out toys on Wednesday.

"This is all of that rolled into one and it’s such an incredible response from the community and hearing that children are giving other children their gifts so they wouldn’t go without one during Christmas is everything you need to know about our city."

SAHA Spokesman Michael Reyes said the agency received gifts from community organizations and churches, and even from kids who offered some of their own toys. He said the San Antonio Police Department is still investigating the theft, and no suspects have been identified.

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Sammy Nieto, a retired executive at Valero Energy Corp., founded the toy drive at the Alazan-Apache Courts more than 25 years ago. Through a program funded by Valero, Nieto served as a mentor for youth in the area who were cited for truancy, and were required to attend college-prep and motivational courses.

During his service, he remembers encountering a man he met that told him in Spanish that "he had no money to buy his kids shoes."

Nieto said he felt the Alazan-Apache Courts, where the average family income is $9,000, was in need of assistance the most.

When he learned of the outpouring of support from the San Antonio community, Nieto was shocked at the generosity.

“The city of San Antonio woke up and said 'You’re not going to do this in this city,' and they came back and donated a bunch of gifts and money," Nieto said. "It’s a great city and they have a great heart and it shows from the people who donated.”

More than 2,000 toys were handed out to families in need on Wednesday at SAHA headquarters. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

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

Doloris Balderramos (left) and Jay Taylor sit in front of Back Unturned Brewing Co. as they receive a personal pizza earlier this month. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

Allie Irvine, 37, has been homeless since Easter weekend of 2016. In her life, she has faced hardships such as drug abuse, self-harm, and being a victim of police brutality, she says. However, Irvine says she is blessed with the amount of care she has received from the many homeless and social services programs in the downtown San Antonio area.

One of them comes from an unlikely place.

In June, Back Unturned Brewing Co. began serving pizzas to the homeless community during lunch. Now known as the Easy as Pie program, the microbrewery offers homeless people a hot personal-sized pizza, along with a drink, five days a week—no questions asked.

Doloris Balderramos prepares a pepperoni pizza from Back Unturned Brewing Co. on Dec. 17. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

“I enjoy this program more than others because I enjoy coming here and it’s pleasant,” Irvine said.

Back Unturned Brewing Co., which opened November 2019 at 516 Brooklyn Ave., is known for its unique beer selection and brick-oven pizzas. Owner Ricardo Garcia gave the bar its name because he didn’t turn his back on his dream of starting his own brewery. But for his lunchtime regulars, the name may take on its own meaning.

“They are human, too,” Garcia said. “I just want to show them some love and give them something to eat.”

Before he started the Easy as Pie outreach program, Garcia’s views on the homeless aligned with the stigma many have toward the homeless community, and was a factor that steered him away at first.

“I had a very negative judgment against homeless people in the past, and questioned why can’t they just get jobs,” Garcia said.

When asked to elaborate on what changed his mind about the homeless, and what sparked him to create the program, Garcia said, “God just told me one day I had to change my views, and find a way to help them. I’m doing this program to just help the people.”

“I can’t judge someone on what they've been through and justify what is OK and what isn’t.”

Gukki and Johnny Blaze look over Back Unturned's menu before placing their order recently. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

Elizabeth, 56, is one of many who are on the streets who appreciate what Garcia is doing for the homeless community.

“The pizza allows me to get in my protein and vegetables daily, while giving me nourishment to keep me well and give me energy for the day,” said Elizabeth, who declined to give her last name. “It’s truly cooking with love. The pizza feels like this is a healing work of food on your body and it’s blessed and done with love.”

Jay Taylor, 32, said the loving energy from Garcia and the Back Unturned staff transcends into other parts of his day.

“I hope this program waters the seed of love that they planted and it grows into a tree, and starts the cycle for the next group,” Taylor said.

Back Unturned server Rebekah Gomez takes a personal pizza to a homeless person outside on Dec. 17. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

The program operates 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday at the brewery that's along the Museum Reach, and is available to the first 10 people. Individuals are allowed to enjoy their food outside, but people Garcia and the staff know can sit inside. There is no limit on the amount of times individuals can take advantage of the program.

Before the program, Garcia and his staff gave away free pizzas to his regulars from the homeless community during the initial development of the microbrewery. They were giving out 50 to 75 pizzas a week, but it caused his staff to be overworked and the business suffered financially.

“We would lose out on about $350-$500 a week, and it was hard because I had to pay the bills, as well,” Garcia said.

This is what led to Garcia capping the amount of the pizzas offered to 10, so they could balance out their labor and expenses.

The microbrewery funds about 75%-80% of the program, while the rest are donations from customers. Customers learn about the program from signage on the front door, from tabletop displays that give additional info, or word of mouth.

Donation bin inside Unturned Brewing. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

If anyone is interested in donating to the program, the brewery has a QR code that you can scan to pay them via PayPal, but cash is also welcome. The funds will be used to potentially increase the amount of pizzas they can offer to people on a daily basis.

Garcia says he is exploring making the program into a nonprofit organization.

Back Unturned also created a donation bin inside the brewery for non-perishable food, and clothes and shoes for individuals in need. The public is welcome to donate items during the brewery’s operating hours of 11 a.m to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Recently, brewery held a Winter Blanket Drive as the cold weather started kicking in.

"I understand how uncomfortable it can be helping a stranger," Garcia said, adding that "at the end of the day, they are people, too."

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Back Unturned Brewing Co. is located at 516 Brooklyn Ave. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

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

The City of San Antonio is renovating the former Frost Tower at 100 W. Houston St. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The City of San Antonio's renovation of the former Frost Bank headquarters on West Houston Street has increased by $15.6 million to a total of $141 million, according to city officials who presented the City Council with a financial update on Thursday.

The council unanimously agreed to amend the contract with the Skanska-Nunnelly joint venture, which is overseeing what city officials call the City Tower project.

In 2015, the city purchased the circa-1975 building from Frost Bank for $52.9 million in a complex deal with the bank and developer Weston Urban that resulted in the new Frost Tower being built kitty-corner across North Flores Street.

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Despite the budget increase, the project, which will consolidate 24 departments and 1,400 city employees under one roof, is on pace to save the city $3.2 million over the 30-year life of the debt that's been issued to pay for the renovations, city officials said. Earlier projections showed the project as being net neutral over the 30-year life of the bonds.

Currently, the city spends about $3.8 million annually on leases for departments at seven different locations throughout the city. Those funds will help back the debt used to fund the project once those departments move into City Tower, officials said.

CITY OF SAN ANTONIO

City Tower documents

» City Tower Pro Forma Summary
» Project Budget
» Scope of Changes
» Staff Presentation to Council

"This is the ... final estimate, and we put an appropriate amount of contingency to cover for any addition unknowns," Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told the council. "So we are very confident we are going to stay on schedule and within this budget."

The city will lease seven floors of the 22-story tower to third party tenants. The plan also includes retail components on the first floor and a restaurant on the top floor.

Additional costs include $4.58 million in mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades "not identified or appropriately priced" during the due diligence phase. The city is also adding $2.67 in security improvements, $2.38 million to include the Solid Waste Management department in the building, $1.73 million in Covid-19-related "return to work" redesigns such as doors one can open with the wave of a hand, $1.29 million worth of additional furniture , among other expenses. Read the complete list of changes.

CITY OF SAN ANTONIO

City staff is expected to begin moving in in July, and be completed in February 2022.

District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry asked how the city expects to save money on the project despite an increased budget.

"This seems like a large amount of increase to then show more savings," District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry said. "What's the tradeoff there?"

Ben Gorzell, the city's chief financial officer, said the city will apply proceeds from the sale of city properties, such as the former Continental Hotel, the San Fernando Gym and Municipal Plaza building, which will be sold to Weston Urban.

Gorzell also said the city will make money by offering the parking garage to the public on nights and weekends; and revenue from leasing seven floors.

"Also, our assumption on interest rates was much hirer," Gorzell said. "Interest rates are lower. That allowed us to build in additional capacity for the project."

CITY OF SAN ANTONIO

For its part, Weston Urban plans to convert the properties it acquires into mixed-use development with an emphasis on housing. Under the agreement, the developer is required to produce 265 residential units. That includes converting the upper floors of the Municipal Plaza office building into housing units, while keeping the ground level as the City Council's meeting space.

Weston Urban's plan to repopulate west downtown goes far beyond the 265 residential units within the deal with Frost Bank and the city. The 32-story apartment tower it's planning a block north alone will contain 351 units.

Previously published
Cost to renovate older Frost tower rises by $33 million

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

Hello Paradise is located at 520 E. Grayson St. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

Hello Paradise, a new outdoor bar and restaurant by bar developer Jeret Peña, celebrates its official opening today on East Grayson Street in Government Hill.

Peña and his Boulevardier group opened the Thai restaurant and tiki-inspired bar last week.

Peña’s most recent bar, Still Golden Social House, was closed in the spring after Jefferson Bank acquired the land it was on on East Grayson and Broadway to construct its new headquarters building. In two years, he plans to reopen Still Golden in the bank’s new building in a retail spot on the southeast corner of East Grayson and North Alamo, a half-block from Hello Paradise.

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Peña said they wanted to wait to find the right deal before opening Hello Paradise, which took over the former Shuck Shack location, and that timing was key.

"We had no other businesses, when Covid hit we were freaking out about what we were going to do," Peña said.

Hello Paradise includes an outdoor patio area with picnic tables, a giant projection screen, and fire pits. Lights hang over the picnic tables and give off a calmly lit vibe at night, making it ideal for Instagram-worthy photos.

The drink menu offers frozen and classic cocktails, beer and wine that range from $8-$10. Customers can also invent their own frozen cocktails that start with daiquiri, vodka sour and margarita bases, and can be finished with flavors such as mango, matcha, spicy cucumbers, strawberry, mint, and pandan, a Southeast Asian aromatic.

The Thai food menu is operated by the owners of the food truck, Yai’s Mobile Kitchen. Yai’s Mobile Kitchen is run by Peña’s in-laws, Dara and Kusol Maknual, and was previously posted outside of Still Golden Social House. Yai’s food menu includes spring rolls, Thai-fried wings, tom yum noodles, and panang curry, and range from $8-$10.

Hello Paradise is open noon to 2 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

Spring rolls and a rum-based cocktail called A Kauai Place. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor
Hello Paradise opened last week. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

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

Rendering shows Weston Urban's proposed 32-story tower at 305 Soledad St.
Rendering shows Weston Urban's proposed 32-story tower at 305 Soledad St. Courtesy Weston Urban

Weston Urban’s plan to build downtown’s tallest residential building, a 32-story apartment tower in west downtown, took a step forward on Wednesday when the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) gave a thumbs-up to its design.

The commission made no comment as it granted conceptual approval for the design of the roughly 400-foot-tall tower, 305 Soledad St., which would single-handedly create a market for high-rise urban living in San Antonio.

The approval stipulated that Weston Urban find a way to screen parts of the exterior of the parking garage that will occupy six stories in the lower part of the tower, along with a few other minor requests.

GOOGLE | HERON

Patti Zaiontz, president of the Conservation Society of San Antonio, submitted a letter to the HDRC expressing concern that the tower would be “excessively tall,” overwhelming nearby historic buildings such as the Weston Urban’s Rand Building, where Geekdom is based, and the Robert E. Lee Apartments.

City staff noted on the HDRC agenda that they consider the tower’s height appropriate and that nearby buildings such as Weston Centre and Frost Tower are of similar height. Zaiontz wasn’t available for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

Randy Smith, Weston Urban’s president, declined to comment.

The Conservation Society also opposes Weston Urban’s request that the city abandon its right-of-way on aerial space above North Main Avenue's sidewalk so that the tower can have a cantilevered parking garage. The city’s Planning Commission approved that request in November.

The tower will have 351 residential units and 7,250 square feet of ground-floor retail space, according to the agenda. Construction is expected to begin mid-next year. The 0.87-acre building site is currently a parking lot.

Most of the tower’s exterior will consist of grey brick and exposed concrete, but the lower levels will have an exterior of earth-colored brick, renderings show.

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Weston Urban is likely to receive $7.6 million in city incentives, which includes an estimated $6.6 million, 75% rebate on city property taxes over 15 years. The other 25% of the rebate, or $2.2 million, will feed the city’s affordable housing fund. The local developer is also expected to receive $1 million in SAWS impact fee waivers.

At a meeting in October, members of the HDRC’s design review committee complimented Weston Urban on the “beautiful” design. One member expressed concern that the grey brick exterior is out of character for San Antonio, but others said they did not share that concern.

[ Visit our Weston Urban tower page for more info on this development. ]

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

The Witte building at 135 E. Commerce St. as seen in 2018. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Esquire Tavern owner Chris Hill, who has been renovating the nearby Witte building on East Commerce Street for more than two years, has announced more details on the tiki bar and Asian restaurant he's been planning for the 1890s Witte building rehab.

The river-level bar will be called Hugman's Oasis, named after River Walk architect Robert H.H. Hugman, and the restaurant, House of Má, which will face Commerce.

Both are scheduled to open in "early 2021," but no specific dates were given.

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“We are particularly excited to add some depth and interest to not only the Riverwalk, but to the overall food and drink scene in San Antonio," Hill said in a press release.

The tiki bar menu is being fashioned by veteran bar owner and operator Jeret Peña, beverage director and owner of the Boulevardier Group. Jill Giles, who's designing both the bar and restaurant, hired tiki bar expert who goes by Bamboo Ben to design the hideout.

"We’re pairing craft cocktails with a relaxed atmosphere and it’s something that feels intrinsically ‘San Antonio'," Peña said in a press release. Peña will also run the bar program at House of Má.

Louis Singh and Eric Treviño, the partners behind Singh's Vietnamese restaurant on the St. Mary's Strip, will run House of Má, and will mostly Vietnamese food such as chicken pho, but also a Cambodian soup called Hủ Tiếu.

“House of Má is going to focus on Vietnamese homestyle cooking,” Singh said. “This is the type of food that has been passed down from Vietnamese mothers and grandmothers for generations.”

In a previous interview, Hill said the upper floors of the Witte would be turned into micro-apartments. Public upgrades include an new public stairway and elevator at Commerce and the River Walk.

For the rehab of the Witte building, Hill has received a portion of a $5.3 million grant from the Houston Street Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, as well as a Riverwalk Capital Improvements Reimbursement Grant worth up to $1 million for the stairway and elevator, and $958,000 in other incentives from the city.

Previously published
Tiki bar, Asian restaurant, apartments part of Witte building restoration

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

Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries is planning to build this mixed-use development at 624 N. Alamo St. Rendering courtesy Mission Park

Robert "Dick" Tips, owner of Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries, is pursuing the development of a mid-rise apartment and condo building near the Broadway corridor.

The project on the 600 block of North Alamo Street would rise at least 12 stories, and include 266 apartments on the lower levels, and 196 condos on the upper levels, with a rooftop restaurant, retail on the ground floor, an event center, and a 400-space, four-level subterranean parking garage.

The property is located in a pocket of downtown that has yet to see any new development, as opposed the opposite side of Broadway, which boasts the Museum Reach section of the San Antonio River.

The structure would consume 1.7 acres, and most of the square block bound by North Alamo, Brooklyn Avenue, Avenue E and 6th Street. The Alamo Funeral Chapel, which Tips purchased in the 1980s, sits on the property. Tips is moving the funeral home to a location just north of Loop 410.

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Tips said he wanted to build something to leave for his 8-year-old twins.

"Our primary focus is the funeral business," said Tips, who's 66. "So we're moving (the Alamo Funeral Chapel) to better serve the community. You end up with a piece of property, once you relocate. What are you going to do with that? Are you going to sell it to somebody. Or, let's do something with it ourselves. Why not develop this piece of property?"

As for the timing, Tips described the project as being in its infancy stage—at least two years from construction beginning.

"We're just coming out of the barn," Tips said. "We haven't even made it to the starting gate."

Tips said because he owns the land, he expects rents and condo prices to be below what the downtown market is currently commanding.

"We think we can make this extremely affordable, because we own it," Tips said. "It's going to be very expensive (to build), no question about it. But if you start out no having debt on the land, that's a big step ... I just feel that since we're starting with a piece of property that's already owned, that we should be extremely competitive, if not better. That's our hope."

Many of the new apartments along the Broadway corridor, and in and around the Pearl area, command rents above $2 per square foot, and have become the most expensive in San Antonio.

MISSION PARK FUNERAL CHAPELS AND CEMETERIES

Tips said ever since he started the rezoning process for the property, he's been fielding phone calls from developers and investors interested in partnering with him.

"So far, we're doing it all ourselves," Tips said. Mission Park has its own construction division, which builds the company's facilities throughout San Antonio.

"We're very knowledgeable about construction," said Tips, who also owns the Fairmont Hotel. "We've had a construction company for the last 50 years. We build for other people in our industry."

MISSION PARK FUNERAL CHAPELS AND CEMETERIES

Tips said he hasn't explored government subsidies to help offset the cost of construction. Since the pandemic started, the city has reached agreements with developers on a case-by-case basis, a pivot from the as-of-right policy that automatically granted developers tax breaks, and other incentives, under the Center City Housing Incentive Policy.

Last week, the City Council rezoned the property from a "form-based zoning" designation, which is layered with restrictions, to a "downtown district" designation, which has no restrictions on building height.

During a recent Zoning Commission meeting, James Griffin, an attorney with Killen, Griffin & Farrimond, which represents Tips on the project, told commissioners there would be a hotel component, and that current historical structures on the property would be incorporated into the final design.

MISSION PARK FUNERAL CHAPELS AND CEMETERIES
MISSION PARK FUNERAL CHAPELS AND CEMETERIES

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

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