Rendering of the new Rosario's at 722 S. St. Mary’s St. Courtesy Douglas Architects

Restaurateur Lisa Wong received conceptual approval from a city commission on Wednesday to demolish most of the old El Mirador building on South St. Mary's Street so she can build a new home for Southtown staple Rosario’s, which she has owned for 28 years.

“This project is very important to me and being part of the neighborhood fabric is very important to me,” Wong told the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDC) just before the board unanimous approved the concept. The HDRC will have to grant the project final approval at a later date.

Overseen by Wong and Douglas Architects, the reconstruction will replace the current one-story stucco structure—a local landmark—with a new 14,000-square-foot, two-story building, which will include a dining room, lounge, rooftop bar, an exterior elevator tower, and outdoor dining and seating areas. Most of the exterior will be clad in brick veneer, decorative metal screens and decorative glass, and a small portion in D'Hanis brick.

The plan includes relocating the F.L. Dixon House, itself a local landmark and current home to Pig Liquors, to the eastern most part of the property, closer to the existing King William Garden House.

COURTESY DOUGLAS ARCHITECTS

Wong must submit a landmark designation request for an 1860s stone and caliche structure, part of which faces the parking lot, part of which El Mirador used as a dining room. The structure was originally the Jim Mitchel homestead and was expanded on over the years, “including in the 1940s, when a stucco façade and tower were added for Ward’s New Confectionary and Drive Inn,” the city’s Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) wrote in the HDRC agenda packet.

“At the time of renovation, a portion of the original interior of the caliche stone structure had been preserved,” OHP wrote. “The building was further modified after the 1960s to include the front enclosed porch element and the removal of the 1940s tower element.”

The El Mirador building on the property was designated a historic landmark in the 1980s because of the stone and caliche structure.

However, the HDRC only has purview over building exteriors, and Wong plans to enclose the structure by extending the new restaurant footprint over the existing parking lot to neighboring Maverick Texas Brasserie. By designating only the caliche structure, the HDRC will have the ability to oversee it even when enclosed. Additionally, one of the stipulations requires the caliche structure to be used in a publicly accessible space inside the new restaurant in the final version of the project proposal.

Wong and Douglas Architects plan to deconstruct portions of the structure, and reincorporate them into the new building.

During the meeting, Commissioner Jeffrey Fetzer said Wong should keep it as a dining space.

The stone and caliche room inside the former El Mirador restaurant. Photo Courtesy Douglas Architects

The new design will double the size of the current restaurant, providing a more diverse dining experience to patrons, according to Wong. The conceptual plan includes a “COVID Consideration” section that will create safer gathering spaces for patrons.

Before seeking approval from the HDRC, Wong and Andrew Douglas, architect and founder of Douglas Architects, worked closely with the Conservation Society of San Antonio, the Lavaca Neighborhood Association and the King William Neighborhood Association during the plan's development. All three groups expressed support for the redevelopment, while also calling for adjustments.

Margaret Leeds, representing the King William Neighborhood Association, shared a letter from the association’s architectural advisory committee, stating that its support was contingent on receiving an enforceable noise mitigation agreement to offset possible amplified noise levels within the neighborhood. Wong addressed these concerns during the presentation.

“You have our commitment to continue to work on some of these design elements, as well as, I know there’s some concerns on noise,” Wong said during the presentation. “As I’ve stated before, I’m a restauranteur. I’m running a restaurant, not an entertainment venue, so I know we can provide the correct language to give everyone the confidence that they can continue to enjoy the neighborhood.”

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

The Conservation Society expressed both its support of build and concerns regarding the size of the proposed project, specifically the elevator tower.

"The Conservation Society remains concerned that the massing of the new building includes a second story canopy and fence that are out of scale with the neighborhood,” Patti Zaointz, the society’s president, wrote in a statement read during the meeting.

She continued, "The Lavaca and King William neighborhoods, including commercial frontages, are defined by modest structures and a pedestrian-oriented rhythm of open spaces and building fronts. The long, continuous facade proposed here challenges the setback and massing pattern—this could still be addressed by bearing the setback.”

During the meeting, Douglas agreed to reduce the visual impact of the proposed tower elevator.

In a letter written on behalf of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, the organization echoed the Conservation Society’s concerns and recommended the exclusion of fencing in the pedestrian right-of-way along the sidewalk.

COURTESY DOUGLAS ARCHITECT

Related
» Rosario’s new Southtown digs to feature larger dining spaces, rooftop terrace

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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

Pabst Brewing Co. is planning to build an arts complex inside this warehouse at Avenue B and Sixth Street.
Pabst Brewing Co. is planning to build an arts complex inside this warehouse at Avenue B and 6th Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

After recently relocating company headquarters to San Antonio, Pabst Brewing Co. is embarking on a new project: a 1.5-acre culture park to be housed in a renovated warehouse on the corner of Avenue B and 6th Street. The complex will include an indoor skate park, a bar, a rooftop movie theater, an art gallery, retail space and other attractions upon its projected spring 2021 opening, the San Antonio Report reported last week.

Pabst President and CEO Matt Bruhn told the Report he views the build as a way to support the community that supports them.

“It was very much that creative class, that kind of urban-dwelling, poor, cool, hip crowd that picked the brand up, so it became a symbol of that kind of movement,” Bruhn said. “So ever since then, because that’s who rebirthed the brand, we’ve been supporting the community.”

The announcement of the project comes just two months after the company relocated to San Antonio for the second time in its 176 year history.

The property is being leased to Pabst by real estate developer David Adelman, who believes the unique features Bruhn plans for the culture park—like a BMX track and skate park—will provide the city with more diversity and invite new demographics into the downtown area.

"An urban neighborhood is kind of like a fish tank and the most interesting fish tanks have a multi-species ecosystem … I feel like the urban core of San Antonio is like that," Adelman told the Heron.

According to Adelman, the 24,000-square-foot warehouse originally was the Spires-Douglas Buick auto garage and service base built in the 1950s. The renovation will be overseen by local architecture firm Lake Flato.

Bruhn said the project will be “an organic build,” predicting a six month timeline for the project; three for planning and another three for building.

Bruhn told the San Antonio Report that building the arts complex will not only help elevate the city but also draw more employees to Pabst.

“The better the city is perceived, the more successful we’ll be as a company recruiting people to come to the city to work,” he said.

Pabst was founded in 1844 in Milwaukee and has previously held corporate offices in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Antonio. The company was based in San Antonio from 1996 to 2006, and owned the Pearl Brewing Company.

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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

The former El Mirador building, 722 S. St. Mary's St., looks to be the new home of Rosario's.
The former El Mirador property, 722 S. St. Mary's St., looks to be the future home of Rosario's. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

After purchasing the old El Mirador property two years ago, restaurant owner Lisa Wong has submitted an application to demolish the structure and build a new restaurant, presumably the future home of Southtown staple Rosario's.

Perhaps complicating Wong's plan is the fact that the building, 722 S. St. Mary's St., is a local landmark, parts of which date back to the 1860s. The Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) is scheduled to review the demolition proposal and new construction plans on Nov. 18.

The building has been vacant since Wong purchased it in 2018 from local developer and restauranteur Chris Hill, and subsequently closed El Mirador after 50 years of business. Since late September, outdoor advertising has suggested Wong’s plan to move Rosario’s, which she acquired in 1992, from its current location on South Alamo Street a half-block south to the El Mirador location in 2021.

The property received local landmark designation in 1988 after the Center City Cultural Resource Inventory, a comprehensive downtown survey of more than 1,000 designations, was conducted by the City of San Antonio. The oldest portion of the building dates back to the 1860s; throughout the years since, the structure, which is located in the Lavaca Historic District, has seen many alterations, renovations and additions, according to the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP).

Wong did not respond to interview requests.

The Conservation Society of San Antonio, which has fought to preserve historic structures since its founding in 1924, did not respond to an interview request.

According to the Office of Historic Preservation’s webpage, “landmark designation protects the unique character of the City's historic resources. Landmark designation does not affect the use of a property. Land use is regulated by Zoning. Designation does, however, affect the aesthetics of any exterior changes made to landmarks or properties within local historic districts through implementation of a design review process.”

If the project is approved by the HDRC, it will not require City Council approval, because it's a "private demolition," OHP spokeswoman Ximena Copa-Wiggins said. Demolition may begin once the project’s zoning and permit requirements are met.

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

Currently, to receive a landmark designation, properties and structures must meet at least three of 16 criteria listed in the City of San Antonio’s Unified Development Code. Some criteria include: if the location is the site of a historically significant event, it’s connection to a person of historical significance and if the structure includes “distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style valuable for the study of a period, type, method of construction, or use of indigenous materials.”

In the ’80s, designations did not include specific details regarding which criteria landmarks met, Copa-Wiggins said. The survey results, which Copa-Wiggins quoted from, highlighted the significance of the property’s “stone/caliche structures,” but did not include details about what makes the building a local landmark.

El Mirador opened in 1968, and was moved to its current location on South St. Mary's Street in 1978, according to Express-News archives. Hill, who owns Esquire Tavern, bought the restaurant from Diana and Julian Treviño in 2014, before ultimately selling it to Wong four years later.

Previously published
» Rosario’s appears destined for former El Mirador location, sign says
» Rosario’s owner Lisa Wong purchases El Mirador

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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

HERON FILE PHOTO

After announcing its upcoming Fall Heritage Festival, an event meant to soften the fundraising blow suffered from Fiesta's cancellation, The Conservation Society of San Antonio is taking criticism from local business owners concerned the group is hosting a “superspreader” event during the pandemic.

Recently, as Covid-19 case numbers have plateaued and restrictions slowly eased, the Conservation Society received approval from the city and Mayor Ron Nirenberg to hold its Fall Heritage Festival, a one-night fundraiser Nov. 6 at La Villita for a limited crowd of 1,000 people.

The festival is meant to mimic A Night in Old San Antonio, or NIOSA, but on a much smaller scale. Every Fiesta, NIOSA serves as the society's primary fundraiser, hauling in roughly $1.5 million, most of which benefits historic preservation in San Antonio. La Villita alone receives more than $100,000.

When Fiesta 2020 was postponed from April to November, and then canceled because of the coronavirus, NIOSA was moved to April 2021 to adhere to the City of San Antonio’s restrictions on large gatherings.

“It’s not just a fundraiser—it’s a celebration of heritage,” said Patti Zaointz, the society’s president. “We’ve been under this pandemic cloud for so long—it’s an opportunity to come out and have a good time."

According to Zaointz, the $125 festival tickets are all-inclusive, meaning guests can visit any food and beverage booth spread throughout La Villita without exchanging coupons or other forms of payment. Unlike at NIOSA, guests must sit down while eating, which is the only time they will be allowed to take their masks off.

After the festival was announced, the La Villita Tenants Association issued an open letter Oct. 14 to Nirenberg, the City Council, and the city’s Center City Development and Operations department in opposition to the event. With input from members of the association, the letter was written by Deborah Sibley, the association’s treasurer and immediate past president.

In an interview, Sibley said the event’s announcement came as a surprise to members of the association.

“We weren’t informed by the city, which is unfortunate,” Sibley said. “Being a stakeholder, it would have been nice to be consulted about the potential plans, and for us to be able to contribute our position as they gave consideration to what they wanted to do.”

The festival also received criticism from some local bar and restaurant owners as first reported in the San Antonio Current.

“This news of a very expensive fundraiser comes just four days after our mayor went on TV pleading for restaurant, bar owners, event venues and PATRONS to ‘carefully consider the risk among the pandemic’ in regards to reopening any further,” Braunda Smith, owner of Lucy Cooper’s Icehouse, said in a Facebook post.

Smith was joined by other restaurant owners who took to social media echoing her sentiment. In a Facebook post, Tim McDiarmid, owner of The Good Kind, Ivy Hall and Tim the Girl catering, pleaded with Nirenberg for the city to support the local restaurant industry.

“We have been forced to shut down, some of us for months, with no city aid and CONSTANT blame and criticism,” McDiarmid said.

As local coronavirus case numbers began to decline, Zaointz said the society submitted a festival proposal to the city, which approved the plan.

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

“We submitted (the festival proposal) with the expectation that if it went, great; if it didn’t, it’s OK,” Zaointz said. “We placed it in the hands of the city and as things settled down, they thought this might be something that’s doable.”

In a statement, Nirenberg said:

“Every event must have an operational plan approved by Metro Health and the city manager, and finally by the Mayor. The operational plan will be reviewed and modified if necessary by the public health authorities. Public health guidelines will be strictly enforced and approval can be revoked if public health conditions change or it is otherwise determined to be necessary.”

After receiving approval, Zaointz said the society worked closely with the city to meet public health standards and Covid-19 safety protocols. For example, during the festival, guests will have access to hand sanitizing stations, be required to wear masks, and social distancing will be encouraged throughout the 4-acre venue; society volunteers will walk the event to make sure attendees adhere to protocols. Currently, there are no plans to require temperature checks before entering the festival, but Zaiontz said the society will continue to explore all safety options available.

The festival is not the first event to draw a potentially large crowd since quarantine started, Zaointz pointed out. In September, the first large convention was held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Six Flags Fiesta Texas reopened June 19, and museums are now open to the public.

The La Villita tenants letter expresses concern that bringing a crowd of 1,000 people to the village “has all the components of a potential “superspreader” of Covid-19. An Oct. 12 quote by Nirenberg, which said “the virus is still active in our community and is transmitting person to person,” was also included in the letter.

According to Sibley, if an outbreak did occur, publicity for the businesses in La Villita would be negatively affected.

Businesses in the village are operating at reduced days and hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.

The festival will take place 6-9 p.m. on a Friday, which is after operating hours for the businesses. But Sibley said the event will disrupt their shops regardless.

“They plan to host this event on a Friday, staging on Thursday and tearing down on Saturday,” Sibley said. “That takes up three of the four days we’re open for business. We know from other events and even from NIOSA how we are affected and how tourists are deterred from coming in while these things are ongoing. So, we have a financial stake in this event.”

La Villita is owned by the City of San Antonio and managed by Center City Development and Operations (CCDO). To host the festival, the society had to book the village venue through CCDO, which declined an interview and did not provide any additional information.

As property owners in La Villita, the Conservation Society is a member of the La Villita Tenants Association. According to Zaointz, the event is meant to highlight the unique location. She also noted the society’s support of La Villita, including providing funding for the maintenance of the buildings with NIOSA proceeds, which annually exceed $100,000.

“We value our relationship with the tenants and we really value our relationship with the village itself,” Zaointz said.

The society is also partnering with the San Antonio Food Bank and will have donation drop-offs at each festival entrance.

NIOSA originally began as the “Indian festival” held at Mission San Jose in the 1930s. It became an official event in the late 1940s, and eventually moved to La Villita. Since then, it has grown to a four-night event drawing more than 85,000 locals and tourists.

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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

HERON FILE PHOTO

As early voting starts today amid the coronavirus pandemic, you may find yourself considering various options to stay safe while casting your ballot.

If you want to vote in person, you have from today through Oct. 30. Like in recent elections, you can cast a ballot at any of the polling sites in Bexar County, either during early voting or on Election Day. There are 47 locations to choose from with the following hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday Oct. 13-17; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Oct. 19-24; noon-6 p.m. Sundays; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. the week of Oct. 26-30. For more info, visit the Bexar County website.

If you're looking to vote by mail, you must request a ballot by Oct. 23, and meet eligibility requirements some voting rights advocates consider are too stringent considering social distancing guidelines.

At stake is the race for U.S. president, as well as congressional races, various state and county positions, and local propositions from deciding the future of Pre-K 4 SA, to deciding on a workforce program called Ready to Work. For more on what's on the ballot, we recommend this Voter's Guide by the League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area.

Voting by mail

In May, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that exposure to Covid-19 is not reason enough to vote by mail for many Texans, as opposed to states like California and Colorado, which offer universal mail-in voting.

Texas residents are eligible for mail-in ballots if:

» You are 65 years old or older

» You are sick or have a disability

» You are incarcerated but legally allowed to vote

» You will be out of the county you are registered in during both early voting and Election Day

The court does allow individuals to decide if other health conditions, like asthma or a history of smoking, combined with potential exposure, qualifies them for absentee voting. If you decide this applies to you, you must indicate so by checking the “disability” box on the application and describe which scenario applies to you.

To meet the deadline, Ballot by Mail application applications can be hand delivered to the Bexar County Elections office or arrive by mail no later than Oct. 23. Applications are available at public libraries; or call the elections office at 210-335-8683 for more instructions.

How to vote by mail in Bexar County:

» Vote-by-mail ballots can be delivered in-person to the Bexar County Elections office during polling hours; if you are mailing your completed ballot, it must be postmarked by 7 p.m. Nov. 3 and received by 5 p.m. the next day to be counted in the election.

Vote by mail applications and ballots must be mailed or delivered to the Bexar County Elections office:

1103 S. Frio St., Suite 100
San Antonio, TX 78207

Voters who sent in their mail-in application can track the status of their ballot here or by calling the elections office at 210-335-8683.

Election Day voting

According to an election advisory published June 18 by Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram, polling site workers in Texas are unable to refuse voters showing symptoms of Covid-19 and other illnesses.

“The Texas Election Code does not authorize an election judge to ask a voter about their health history,” the advisory states. “This means that election workers cannot require a voter’s temperature to be checked prior to entering the polling place; nor can an election worker ask a voter whether they have experienced symptoms of an illness in the past 14 days.”

The office of the Texas Secretary of State has published health guidelines for individuals to consider before going to in-person voting locations. These guidelines urge voters to wear masks, bring their own hand sanitizer with them and to socially distance as much as possible when waiting to vote.

Attempting to further address concerns surrounding safe voting locations, many states have adjusted their voting processes to make it safer and more accessible. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation July 27 allowing a statewide six-day extension of early voting.

The state will also allow voters to hand deliver mail-in ballots to their county elections office once they are completed, a method usually allowed only on Election Day. Voters must present a photo ID if delivering their mail-in ballot.

"By extending the early voting period and expanding the period in which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility to cast their ballots, while at the same time protecting themselves and others from COVID-19," Abbott said.

Because Bexar County is part of the Countywide Polling Place Program (CWPP), there are no Election Day precinct limitations; registered voters choosing to vote in-person may cast their ballots at any county polling location during early voting and on Election Day.

Voter turnout

Bexar County has registered more than 1.7 million voters, a 12% increase compared to the 1,045,357 voters registered in 2016, Jacque Callanen, Bexar County Elections Administrator, told the San Antonio Express-News recently. While these numbers may indicate an uptick in voter turnout, it is not guaranteed.

“My only hope—my prayer—is that the people who are coming to register to vote will come back to vote,” Callanen said.

The potential for large voter turnout poses a challenge for safe and socially distant voting sites. As part of the NBA’s efforts to curb social injustices, they are partnering with local governments in various cities to provide available arenas as safe voting centers.

In San Antonio, the AT&T Center will be used as a voting site for the first time. Owned by the county, the 13,725-square-foot space on the Plaza Level concourse will allow room for socially distant voting during early voting and on Election Day.

"This partnership with the Spurs is emblematic of what our hometown organization represents: community, civic engagement and giving back,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said in a press release Sept. 16. “It’s a true win-win.”

While voting sites like the AT&T Center prepare to handle large crowds, some activist groups continue to point out gaps in voting access. MOVE Texas Civic Fund and the Texas Organizing Project, both progressive groups, are suing Bexar County for providing fewer Election Day polling sites than in previous years.

The lawsuit emphasizes the decrease of the over 300 sites open since 2012 to the now 284 Election Day locations Bexar County plans to open this election. The lawsuit demands the County make 27 additional polling locations available to voters this election.

In response, Callanen said the Bexar County Elections Office is leaving the outcome of the lawsuit to the courts and will keep their focus on conducting the upcoming election.

“Our staff continues to work seven days a week processing applications for mail-in ballots and assisting voters in the election process,” Callanen said in a statement released Oct. 7.

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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

Art students flood Main Avenue during Chalk It Up in 2018. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

After 17 years of adding color to the streets of downtown San Antonio, Artpace San Antonio’s annual Chalk It Up interactive art gathering on Saturday, Oct. 10, will instead take place at various public libraries due to the pandemic.

“It’s really the time for Artpace to bring art to, literally, the streets of San Antonio and provide an opportunity for everyone to spend a day creating artwork and watching artists create fantastic murals,” said Casie Lomeli, Artpace's communications manager.

Each year, featured artists, and community and school teams, are tasked with creating themed chalk murals for viewing while the general public is encouraged to participate by creating their own chalk masterpieces on the sidewalk.

Normally, the event would bring people to blocked off sections of Houston Street and Main Avenue. This year, instead of attracting large crowds downtown, where social distancing may not be possible, Artpace is partnering with the San Antonio Public Library to split up the event between 10 libraries across the city.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, featured artists will create their murals outside the libraries; the community is encouraged to view them by visiting the library or by participating in their "drive-through experience," where guests take a predesignated route designed to allow mural viewing while staying safely in their cars.

“This year, it’s really meant to be so people can engage in whatever way they want to and in a way that’s most comfortable to them in regards to our current situation,” Lomeli said.

The following artists will be featured at these libraries:
» Central Library (District 1): Fernando Andrade, Cassidy Fritts
» Carver Library (District 2): Bárbara Miñarro, Anthony Dean
» Harris Mission Library (District 3): Isabel Ann Castro, Mark Anthony Martinez
» Cortez Library (District 4): Juan Miguel Ramos, Justin Korver
» Las Palmas Library (District 5): Joe De La Cruz
» Henry Guerra (District 6): Xavier Gilmore, Katarina Guzman
» Maverick Library (District 7): Ruth Buentello, Nathan Segovia, Yoko Misu
» Igo Library (District 8): Richard Armendariz, Alán Serna
» Parman Library (District 9): Madison Cowles Serna, Jasmeet Kaur
» Tobin Library (District 10): Kaldric Deshon Dow, Cherise "Rhys" Joy Munro

To keep downtown involved, Artpace has partnered with Centro San Antonio to hang images of chalk murals from past years in the windows of buildings along and around Houston Street. Downtown visitors are encouraged to post pictures using the hashtag “#ChalkItUpOnHoustonSt”.

Unlike last year, Chalk It Up's TeamWorks contest, where local schools and community teams create their own chalk murals for a chance to win gift card prizes, will also be conducted at a distance.

Artpace provided the 54 registered teams with "Chalk It Up To Go" kits. Teams will create their artwork in their own spaces before submitting pictures of the process and final product for judging. Chalk It Up 2020 co-chairs Katie Pace Halleran and Cristina Peña Walls will announce a winner and 17 finalists on social media at noon on Saturday.

A map of participating libraries, artwork prompts, featured artist bios and information on donating to Artpace can be found on the Chalk It Up website.

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

HERON ARCHIVE

Between alarming unemployment rates, presidential debates and the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, you may feel motivated to have your opinions heard through our electoral process. Even though Election Day, Nov. 3, is fast approaching, you still have until Monday, Oct. 5, to register to vote, either in-person, by mail or, in some cases, online.

Any U.S. citizen who is 18 or older, registered to vote and not a convicted felon has the right to vote. You can prepare by viewing and filling out a sample ballot, which you’re allowed to bring with you to polling stations during early voting and on Election Day.

If you’re uncertain about your registration status, check it by visiting the Bexar County website.

Here’s what you need to know about registering to vote:

In-person registration: Visit the Bexar County Elections office, located at 1103 S. Frio St., Suite 100, to register.

Mail-in: Voters mailing in their registration must first fill out a voter registration form, then print, sign and mail it to the elections office; all mail-in registrations must be postmarked Oct. 5.

“We say it’s sort of like the IRS when it’s Tax Day,” said Jacque Callanen, Bexar County Elections Administrator, during a press conference Sept. 21. “Just make sure it’s postmarked by that day and we will process it.”

Registering by mail does not mean voters are eligible for mail-in ballots.

Online: For the first time in Texas, you also have the ability to register online when renewing your driver’s license. When renewing online, you will be asked if you wish to be registered to vote, similar to questions asked when renewing in-person.

This new online method was updated Sept. 23 in response to U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s second ruling stating Texas violated registration laws by not allowing voters online registration options.

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

Voter registration and turnout: Leading up to the deadline, local organizations and activist groups like MOVE Texas and the San Antonio chapter of the League of Texas Voters hosted events to make it easier for members of the community to register.

In 2018, there were 1,073,320 registered voters in Bexar County according to the Texas Secretary of State website; of those voters, only 551,073 cast their ballots in the elections. As of Sept. 21, Callanen said there were now 1,162,040 registered voters in the county.

What's at stake: In addition to voting for the leader of the free world, San Antonio residents will decide U.S. Senate races, U.S. House races at the national level. In Texas, the state railroad commissioner and chief justice for the Supreme Court of Texas will be decided. County positions up for election include sheriff, district judges and the tax assessor-collector.

The ballot also includes voting on Proposition B, the reallocation of funds from the ⅛-cent sales tax. Currently, the funding serves the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program (EAPP); if voted through, the funding would transfer to a workforce development program called Ready to Work, which is a job training and scholarships program that is intended to serve up to 40,000 people whose jobs were eliminated or cut during the pandemic.

San Antonio Independent School District’s Propositions A and B, both proposed property tax increases, will also be voted on. If passed, Proposition A will issue school building bonds to the district for school building construction and upgrades, and Proposition B will issue technology bonds to acquire better technology for schools in the district.

The Alamo Community Colleges District, Somerset Independent School District, South San Antonio Independent School District and others are also electing trustees during this election.

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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

Diners seated on the outside patio along the Riverwalk at Casa Rio Sept. 24, 2020. Photo by Victoria Martinez
Dining groups are socially-distanced along the River Walk at Casa Rio. Photo by Victoria Martinez | Heron contributor

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.

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

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.

Diners have a meal at La Panadería located Downtown Sept. 24, 2020. Restaurants can increase occupancy to 75 percent of capacity according to Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo by Victoria Martinez
People dine at La Panadería on East Houston Street. Photo by Victoria Martinez | Heron contributor

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.

Two people sitting at each end of the bar at Schilo’s Sept. 24, 2020. This restaurant offers dine-in, takeout and no-contact delivery. Photo by Victoria Martinez
Schilo’s on East Commerce Street has made every other table available for dine-in. Photo by Victoria Martinez | Heron contributor

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.”

Related
» 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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

Commerce Street and Losoya Street in downtown San Antonio. Photo taken summer 2020 during the pandemic.
Much of downtown San Antonio is exposed to the sun. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Downtown officials are seeking community input on a design competition that will result in more shade structures built in the center city.

Couching it as an equity issue, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño launched the competition to demonstrate architectural solutions for providing more shade citywide.

“We as a city should be treating everybody equitably," Treviño said. "And when I see that one neighborhood has a wonderful sidewalk system and great shade, but another neighborhood on the West Side, for example, doesn’t have either one of those, I want to put my intention on that."

The Shade Equity Design Competition is being hosted and organized by the City of San Antonio, Centro San Antonio and American Institute of Architects in San Antonio.

Design teams across Texas were invited to submit designs for structures to be built in three downtown locations: along the San Antonio River bridge on East Houston Street; the intersection of Flores and Commerce streets; and a stretch of West Market/Dolorosa spanning from The Westin Riverwalk hotel to Main Plaza, respectively.

The designs vary from smaller canopies that loom over street corners, to tunnel-like structures that span a block.

[ An online gallery of the design can be viewed here, and will be open for public feedback through Sept. 22. ]

The initial construction of the final design is budgeted for $750,000—$500,000 from the Houston Street Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) and $250,000 from Centro San Antonio. The budget will cover the project's design cost, materials and other expenses. Because the design has not yet been chosen, it is unknown how much of the budget the project will require.

The competition is the fourth of its kind since 2015. Previous competitions sought new designs for the River Walk barges and the main entrance of City Hall, which is undergoing a $38 million renovation.

Teams, whose identities are being kept anonymous, even to the selection jury, were allowed to submit designs until Sept. 10. Submissions will be judged by a jury of five city officials, licensed architects and design professionals, including City Architect Gopinath Akalkotkar and Assistant City Manager Lori Houston.

Among the jury's considerations: The structures should be freestanding, scalable, and should not impede the natural flow of pedestrians. Teams were also instructed to be cognizant of, and include, bus stops in their designs.

The competition winners will be announced this fall, although no date has been set. The winning design will then go through a request for proposal (RFP) process where multiple parties will bid to be contracted in the construction of the design.

Treviño said winners of the past design competitions have all been picked to work with the city to see the projects to completion.

“I have no reason to believe the winner of this will not follow the same path as the other three (design teams) have,” Treviño said.

Out of the 12 submissions received, three winners will be announced this fall. The first place design team will receive a prize of $10,000; the second and third place winners will receive smaller monetary prizes of $3,500 and $1,500. City residents are encouraged to provide community feedback which will be considered during the evaluation process.

In addition to providing the practical function of shade, the structures are meant to provide an artistic element to the city. Judging criteria includes elements such as aesthetics and the incorporation of cultural aspects in the design.

"Treviño always encourages us to embrace public art,” Torrey Stanley Carleton, executive director of AIA San Antonio, said in an interview, “so in a way, shade can also contribute to that experience downtown.”

Partnering with the city, Centro San Antonio has set a “moon shot” goal to shade 80% of the sidewalks downtown through a “tree first” strategy, said Matt Brown, CEO of Centro San Antonio and competition co-host. Since there is no concrete plan in place to achieve majority shade equity throughout San Antonio, the competition will serve as a first step to making it a reality, Brown said.

“The lack of shade throughout the city (is something) that I’m sure is attributed to redlining, which then would go really deep into social equity,” Brown said, referring to the 1930s practice of lenders racially discriminating against borrowers to control neighborhood demographics, during a webinar on Monday. “In part, we’re hoping that the work we’re doing downtown can eventually be spread across the city.”

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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

The Spanish Governor's Palace facade in downtown San Antonio taken Monday Aug. 24, 2020.
The Spanish Governor's Palace was built in 1722 next to San Pedro Creek. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The deteriorating, Circa-1930s western perimeter wall of the historic Spanish Governor’s Palace, which once faced San Pedro Creek, has been demolished, making way for the construction of a reimagined rear wall.

The 8-foot wall located on Calder Street, which runs parallel to the creek, first showed signs of decay in 2016, said Colleen Swain, director of the city’s World Heritage Office. Rather than restore it, the city chose to demolish and rebuild the wall in order to create visual continuity between the palace and this segment of the San Pedro Creek just south of West Commerce Street.

“We have this failing wall and we also knew San Pedro Creek is being built,” Swain said. “It is an opportunity, hopefully with the development of San Pedro Creek, for people walking along this wonderful new creekway to get a peek inside the Spanish Governor’s Palace.”

Most of the wall will be rebuilt, except for a 9-foot portion where utilities are attached; that section will be restored. The construction, which began in June and is scheduled to finish in March 2021, is considered part of the $225 million San Pedro Creek Culture Park project.

The Spanish Governor’s Palace, located behind City Hall, was constructed in 1722 by Marquis de San Miguel de Aguayo, who served as governor of Coahuila and Texas. The building housed government and religious officials during the early settlement of this region.

Final design rendering of new rear wall for the Spanish Governor's Palace. Courtesy City of San Antonio
Final design rendering of new rear wall for the Spanish Governor's Palace. Courtesy: City of San Antonio
The San Pedro Creek Culture Park under construction on Monday Aug. 24, 2020 where the Spanish Governor's Palace backs up to it.
The San Pedro Creek Culture Park under construction on Monday Aug. 24, where the Spanish Governor's Palace backs up to it. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The palace backs up to San Pedro Creek, which once served as a water source for early settlers in this region. From the 1920s through the ‘70s, the city began channeling and paving over parts of natural waterways in an effort to control flooding. The San Pedro Creek Park project is intended to address flood control while beautifying and expanding the creek.

Unlike the original, the new wall will include four wrought metal windows and a Mahogany gate. Architects aimed for a new sense of continuity between the palace and San Pedro Creek. During the process, it was decided the city should reuse the wrought metal slide bar latch from the original gate on the new structure.

“We’ll always look at anything we can do to salvage original material,” Swain said.

The new concrete wall will be plastered white to match the rest of the building so the finished structure remains consistent with the landmark’s facade.

The palace facade and entrance, and the captain’s offices, are original. Over the years, the palace was expanded twice, once during the late 1700s and again by the City of San Antonio in the 1930s, when a model kitchen, children’s bedroom and a perimeter wall were added. The site is now used to host events and educational tours about Texas during the Spanish Colonial era.

The back wall of the Spanish Governor's Palace shows the wall deteriorating. Unknown date taken. Courtesy City of San Antonio
This photo provided by the City of San Antonio shows the rear wall falling apart.

The wall being reconstructed surrounds the main courtyard of the palace. Patti Zaiontz, president of The Conservation Society of San Antonio, noted it was originally constructed during the 1930s restoration and therefore is not part of the original building structure.

The wall “was not built at the same time as the Governor’s Palace itself, therefore it’s not part of the historic designation of the property,” Zaiontz said.

The Conservation Society reviewed and approved the design of the wall, and agrees that the changes will add to the experience of people visiting the revamped San Pedro Creek.

Before beginning the demolition of the wall on June 22, the World Heritage Office received approval for the construction plans from the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC), the National Park Service, the Texas Historical Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The $405,000 project is mostly funded under the city’s deferred maintenance program for fiscal year 2020.

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 brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

hello@saheron.com | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

Top linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram