COURTESY SAN ANTONIO PARKS FOUNDATION
Celebrate SA
When: 6 p.m.-midnight Monday
Where: Hemisfair, 434 S. Alamo St.
Admission: Free
Info: saparksfoundation.org

Celebrate SA will help San Antonians close an eventful 2018 with free family-friendly activities, live music, craft cocktails and fireworks scheduled for Monday night at Hemisfair and La Villita.

"This year's Celebrate SA will definitely be a big show—it's a goodbye to the city’s 300th year,” said Adam Fleming, the parks foundation's director of marketing and outreach.

The foundation expects more than 50,000 people will attend San Antonio's New Year's Eve celebration, where all proceeds benefit the foundation's park beautification, conservation and accessibility efforts.

"Admission is free, but we encourage people to bring their wallets to enjoy themselves and help support the foundation and our city's parks," Fleming said.

Getting around

Be aware that South Alamo Street will be closed from Market Street to East César E. Chávez Boulevard. Find more parking options here. Attendees are permitted to ride electric scooters to the event, but all dockless vehicles must be parked and remain outside the venue footprint.

Hemisfair

Head to the main stage at Hemisfair for a local music lineup starting with DJ Red Mamba, better known as former Spur Matt Bonner, who will kick off his set with several members of the Spurs’ hype squad. Other acts includes The Texases, Eddie and the Valiants and the SAtisfactions, a Rolling Stones tribute band featuring Garrett T. Capps and DT Buffkin.

The Hemisfair grounds will offer wares by local artisans, carnival rides, and lots of options from local food trucks. A special Tricentennial Commission video, which will highlight 300 moments that happened over the Tricentennial year, will play on huge screens throughout the festival.

The countdown ends at midnight with fireworks next to the Tower of the Americas.

La Villita

The H-E-B Celebrate Family Zone includes face painting, balloon art, street entertainment and photo opportunities from 6-9 p.m. Also, check out Arneson River Theater for programming from Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

Maverick Plaza

Food trucks and pop-ups at the plaza will offer more food and cold beer, and speciality cocktails via Deep Eddy vodka: a Lemon Eddy Mimosa, Spiked Tea Toddies made with apple cider, and a Ruby Greyhound.

"(Maverick Plaza) will be the place for people who want to have a champagne toast and enjoy libations with the fireworks," Fleming said.

There is also the Bud Lite DJ Lounge where attendees can enjoy disco and soul music by DJs Soulstairs, funk music from Adam Madrigal and the sounds of the Chulita Vinyl Club, an all-female collective with a record collection that spans everything from your abuelos' dance records and classic hip-hop to Selena and Ramon Ayala.

“We expect a big crowd at the plaza, but there will still be space for dancing," Fleming added. Attendees should be prepared to show their IDs at the plaza entrance. Because of TABC laws, children under 21 will not be permitted to enter the cocktail area, even if accompanied by a parent.

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The TCU band arrives at last year's Alamo Bowl pep rally at Arneson River Theatre. COURTESY ALAMO BOWL

Whether you prefer to watch college football from stadium seats or on TV, there's plenty to eat, see and do in the days leading up to the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday.

Valero Alamo Bowl
» No. 24 Iowa State vs. No. 13 Washington State
» 8 p.m. Friday
» Alamodome, 100 Montana St.
» Get tickets

This year, Iowa State Cyclones (Big 12) take on the Washington State Cougars in the Alamodome. Expect the respective fanbases to be perhaps a little more lively than others in recent years.

"The amount of interest from (these fans) is unlike anything we’ve seen in the last 10 years," said Rick Hill, VP of Marketing and Communications for the Alamo Bowl. "They fill the hotels and stay out late."

Washington State last played at the Alamo Bowl in 1994, while Iowa State will make its first appearance this year. Event officials estimate out-of-state fans will make up more than two-thirds of total Alamo Bowl ticket sales.

If you're looking to take in the Alamo Bowl sites and sounds, here's what you need to know:

Tickets

As of Wednesday morning, general admission tickets at Ticketmaster start at $25, and are also available via third-party vendors like Ticketmaster and StubHub.

Getting there

VIA will offer roundtrip Park & Ride services from Crossroads Park & Ride (151 Crossroads Blvd.), Blossom Athletic Center (12002 Jones Maltsberger Road) and Madla Park & Ride (1584 Cantrell Drive). Purchase a $5 roundtrip ticket using cash, credit or the VIA goMobile app. The VIA Prímo (Route 100) will also detour to serve the Robert Thompson Transit Center at the Alamodome starting three hours before kickoff and ending one hour after the game.

Lyft is offering discounted rides to and from the Alamo Bowl and official events at the following locations: Alamodome, Marriott Rivercenter, Sunset Station, the San Antonio International Airport and La Villita. Enter code ALAMOBOWL18. (Limited availability).

For more parking and travel info, click here. For questions about parking, or to purchase a parking pass, call (210) 704-6387.

Rules

Some prohibited items are obvious (weapons), while others maybe not so much (helium balloons). There's also a whole list of bags you can't bring into the dome, including purses and clear backpacks. View the complete list here (scroll to "What items are prohibited in the stadium?").

The schedule

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 26

Rudy’s Bar-B-Q Pep Rally
5 p.m. at the Arneson River Theatre
Get ready to cheer, clap and show your team spirit—or, watch others show theirs—during Rudy’s Bar-B-Q Pep Rally, held at the Arneson River Theater. The teams and cheerleaders will make a grand entrance on river barges, while the pep bands will play to see whose fans can cheer loudest. "Our signature (event) is the Pep Rally on the River Walk," Hill said. "It’s something no other city can offer. ... There’s a reason ESPN airs the pep rally segment every year.”

THURSDAY, DEC. 27

La Villita Village Tailgate
11 a.m.- 3 p.m. at Maverick Plaza
This car-free tailgate will be filled with barbecue, an interactive video game truck and live music by the Bobby Joe Harlow Band.

Cyclone Spirit Rally
12:30-3:30 p.m. at the Henry B. González Convention Center (Halls 2 and 3)
Be part of the official Iowa State pep rally, complete with the Cyclone cheerleaders, school band and a visit from the teams.

Bowl Bash
7 p.m. at Marriott Rivercenter
Fans can attend this party before the big game that's complete with gourmet food stations, open bars, fan activities, live music and casino games. Limited number of tickets are sold. Call (210) 704-6391 or click here for more info.

FRIDAY, DEC. 28

Tailgate Town
The Alamodome parking lots will open for tailgating at 10 a.m. All Alamodome parking passes must be purchased ahead of time, but the public is invited to walk and rideshare to the event, meet with other fans and enjoy samples of Kiolbassa sausage.

Fan Zone
2-8 p.m. Sunset Station
Test your football skills, get your face painted, buy some merch, or get your food or drink on before the game kicks off at 8 p.m.

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Maverick Plaza, one of four enclosed plazas at La Villita, is due for a $12 million makeover. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Unlike Alamo Plaza or Main Plaza, Maverick Plaza is more of an event space than a gathering place. When there isn't a private event or celebration such as A Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA) or Dia de los Muertos happening, the plaza is a desolate space tourists traverse to find the shops at La Villita.

A year ago, the City Council agreed to lease the plaza for 49 years to Grupo La Gloria, a restaurant group lead by prominent chef Johnny Hernandez. The plan: to transform sleepy Maverick Plaza into San Antonio's next culinary destination—a $12 million makeover that will result in new Mexican, Spanish and German restaurants with outdoor patios; new pavings and furniture; outdoor kitchens and kiosks; more trees; better lighting.

It’s designed to tell San Antonio's rich history through food and programming and to draw pedestrians into the seldom-used plaza.

"In my agreement, we said we would curate food history through our food and beverage program and cultural events," Hernandez said. "That's what is driving the heart and soul of La Villita—the food and art."

But a few big questions linger a year after the city and Hernandez reached an arrangement.

Will there be enough space left over for large events or concerts after the renovations are completed? Conceptual drawings show the three restaurants and their 352 combined seats consuming Maverick Plaza's margins, leaving only the center for future events.

How much of the programming will Hernandez control—and of that programming, from which events will he pocket the profits? How much profit does Hernandez and his partners expect to make on the restaurants?

Perhaps most important to Fiesta-goers: How will NIOSA be affected?

"We really don't have any details," said Susan Beavin, president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, which puts on the four-day event at La Villita every year. "We don't even have renderings. They're really just (concepts) for future restaurants."

...

» Download the La Villita lease agreement between the city and Grupo La Gloria signed in May.

» Download a draft of the lease agreement approved by City Council on Dec. 14, 2017.

» Download the 64-page Maverick Plaza Master Plan, Oct. 7, 2017 (10MB)

...

The vision

FISHER HECK ARCHITECTS SITE MAP

Here's a quick look at the major upgrades planned for Maverick Plaza. The restaurant construction and build-out will cost approximately $7.6 million, which Grupo La Gloria is funding. The $4.4 million in public upgrades, which include demolition of the 1970s limestone walls that surround the plaza; and the installation of new pavers, furniture, and other features; will come from the city's Inner City Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ). TIRZ funding also includes $600,000 to be distributed over seven years to support programming.

The project is expected to be completed in July 2021.

A

FISHER HECK ARCHITECTS

The Faville House (circa 1855) will become Acequia, a Spanish restaurant by chef Elizabeth Johnson, owner of Pharm Table. The restaurant will interpret this region's indigenous ingredients—such as mesquite, nopal, agarita, chile pequin and pecans—as well as ingredients introduced by the Canary Islanders when they arrived in San Antonio in 1731. An enclosed porch will be built into the plaza. The plaza's limestone walls will be torn down, and an outdoor patio will face a promenade along Alamo Street, which will be reconstructed from Market Street to Chávez Boulevard using bonds dollars. The restaurant's interior will be decorated "in the style of an Iberian cottage and will serve Spanish cuisine within its cozy stone rooms," according to the master plan. Acequia will include 74 indoor seats and 202 outdoor seats.

B

FISHER HECK ARCHITECTS

This two-story Mexican restaurant, which Hernandez will lead, will be constructed anew on the southeast corner of the plaza—one story facing the plaza and two stories facing Nueva Street—and will be made to look like the historic buildings inside La Villita. The structures currently in that quadrant—the '70s walls, the restroom building—will be razed. The new building's exterior will be plaster accented by D'Hanis red brick. The interior "will reflect the elegance of a Mexican hacienda with beamed ceilings and tiled floors." In it, Hernandez will serve flavors of the "Mesoamerican cultures of the Maya, meticulously exploring its evolution through the prism of Spanish colonization." The unnamed restaurant will include 150 indoor seats and 56 patio seats.

C

FISHER HECK ARCHITECTS

The plaza's concessions building will be torn down and replaced with a German restaurant, microbrewery and beer hall operated by Cured owner and chef Steve McHugh. "Its central space will open to the roof rafters and be tall enough to contain the vats and tanks of a microbrewery, which will be publicly displayed." The restaurant will also use the neighboring Gissi House, 250 King Philip, a mid-19th century structure originally located in the HemisFair '68 area that was dismantled and rebuilt at La Villita in 1969. Outside will be a 94-seat beer garden. Inside, the restaurant will have 132 seats.

D

BEN OLIVO | HERON

Seating will surround the fountain at the plaza's center, which may be replaced, according to the master plan. Four trees will also be planted around the fountain. Fountain seating will be available for people who purchase food from kiosks and demonstration kitchens dotted throughout the plaza and on the Alamo Street promenade.

E

Thirty angled park spots will be carved out along Nueva Street.

F

BEN OLIVO | HERON

Alamo Street will be turned into a complete street, meaning it will be made to serve pedestrians, cyclists and motorists equally, using $9 million from the 2017-2022 bond program. The promenade (shown above) will also be revamped so that it blends in with Maverick Plaza on one side, and across Alamo toward Hemisfair on the other side.

...

The process

Soon after Fiesta ends next year, the city will begin preliminary infrastructure work on Maverick Plaza, which is home to NIOSA's Frontier Town—the biggest moneymaker of the festival's 14 sections spread throughout La Villita.

Based on a presentation to the council last year, the design of the plaza and the restaurants was supposed to happen between January and December of this year, but the work is just now getting started.

In 2017, Fisher Heck Architects completed a 64-page master plan of the plaza, which shows renderings and conceptual drawings of the entire plaza, including the restaurants. The document is more concept and historical context, than concrete plan.

Hernandez confirmed that Grupo La Gloria recently hired Fisher Heck, again, and MP Studios Landscape Architects to begin the actual design, and that work has now started. Final designs are expected to be completed in November 2019.

Between now and then, the city plans to invite the public to share feedback during open events, but neither Hernandez nor city officials could say when the public meeting process would start.

The City Council approved the lease on Dec. 14, 2017. The lease was signed in May. The architect team was just selected.

So, what's been going on throughout 2018?

Grupo La Gloria has been "doing research and fact finding to understand the history of the space, and we will be designing something that is in line and respects everything about it," Hernandez said.

Chef Johnny Hernandez at what one of the outdoor kitchens may look like. LA VILLITA MASTER PLAN / FISHER HECK ARCHITECTS

Part of Hernandez' charge is to keep in the spirit of Mayor Maury Maverick's Oct. 12, 1939 ordinance, which restored La Villita from the slum it had become. In the ordinance, Maverick said La Villita "shall not and must not be a restoration and reconstruction of the dead past, and a ghost village for the mincing walk and dusty ways of scholars, but likewise for the average living citizen."

Maverick Plaza wasn't always Maverick Plaza. That corner of Alamo and Nueva street was home to commercial buildings for decades.

In the early 1970s, "Maverick Plaza was created as an outdoor venue for parties, conventions and other gatherings," the master plan reads. It was walled with limestone in keeping with the tradition of enclosed plazas that prominent architect O'Neil Ford, who Maverick tapped for the restoration, applied at La Villita. Those others plazas are Plaza Nacional, Plaza Juarez, O'Neil Ford Plaza.

"This year the city was focussed on so many other things, we didn't necessarily feel that Johnny Hernandez needed to be rushed," District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said. "The place is still active and open. When things are ready to go, we expect to move quickly."

Treviño said he was confident a public process would start "very soon," and added that Hernandez played a key role in San Antonio securing UNESCO's designation as a Creative City of Gastronomy—one of only two in the U.S. (The other is Tuscon, Arizona).

"Of course, any time you're talking about city property and city assets, we should always have a way for the community to understand what's going on, and where we are in that process," Treviño said.

As part of the lease, Grupo La Gloria's rent starts at $100,000, which will fund the plaza's maintenance and programming.

Recently, the Heron filed an open records request seeking Grupo La Gloria's business plan and pro forma for the project—to see what the organization's return on its $7.6 million investment looks like. Grupo La Gloria has challenged the request with the Texas Attorney General's office.

The Maverick Plaza strategy is the latest in an effort by the city to bring sustained life to La Villita.

In recent years, city officials attempted a similar plan, which would have brought more restaurants inside La Villita. In 2014, for example, the city proposed converting a two-story building, used by the Little Church of La Villita for its food pantry program, into a restaurant. But that suggestion was quickly shot down, and the distribution service continues to this day, Arthur Flores, food program minister for the church, said.

The other shop and gallery owners were forced to reapply for their leases. Some did. Others didn't and just retired. Currently, the city is close to leasing two of the last three available of the 24 city-manage buildings at La Villita—the Hessler House and the Dosch-Rische House, both of which face Presa Street.

...

The programming

The Dia de los Muertos festival drew thousands to La Villita this year. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Unlike the lease agreement the city made with the state and the Texas General Land Office over Alamo Plaza, city officials insist Maverick Plaza will remain in full control of the city, even with Hernandez as its tenant.

[ Editor's note: The Heron requested interviews with the city about Maverick Plaza, but none were granted. All correspondence was done by email with Center City Development and Operations Spokeswoman Kelly Saunders. ]

The city says it will partner with Grupo La Gloria to activate Maverick Plaza.

The lease that was ultimately signed in May, however, does not explain how that partnership will work.

Hernandez can close the plaza and Arneson River Theatre for eight days of the year for private events, according to the lease. Otherwise, the lease appears to provide Grupo La Gloria with full control of the plaza’s programming.

"Tenant hereby covenants and agrees to engage in regular public programming of Maverick Plaza including the newly constructed educational kitchens," the lease reads.

No further details are included in the document. It mentions that the "terms and conditions of such public programming shall be governed by a separate Operational and Programming Agreement to be entered into by Landlord and Tenant."

But that agreement has yet to be drafted.

"The Operational and Programming Agreement has not been written or negotiated yet, and so we have no responsive records for that request," the Center City Development and Operations Department wrote in a recent email.

Then there's the question of space. The conceptual drawings in the master plan show much of the plaza's current footprint taken up by restaurants or their outdoor patios.

Hernandez acknowledged that some events traditionally held at Maverick Plaza may have to find new homes, such as Hemisfair across the street.

"Great events grow and evolve," Hernandez said. "Hemisfair is going to be a great place to see events that have outgrown La Villita."

Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar agreed.

"As La Villita transforms itself ... there will be events that may no longer be appropriate because they are too large for the space, and so the natural expansion for those types of events would be for Hemisfair," said Andujar, who cited the Diwali festival as an event that originated at Maverick Plaza before moving to Hemisfair.

A map of NIOSA SAN ANTONIO CONSERVATION SOCIETY

Some of these uncertainties weigh on minds at the San Antonio Conservation Society, the organization behind NIOSA, by far the largest event held a Maverick Plaza, and La Villita as a whole, every year.

Every Fiesta, the conservation society uses Maverick Plaza for its Frontier Town area of NIOSA. Parts of Nueva and Alamo street, just outside the plaza, are shut down for its NIOSA's Clown Alley and French Quarter sections, respectively.

The uncertain outlook for NIOSA is reinforced by the fact that CPS Energy has put the circa-1959 Villita Assembly Building, home to its Sauerkraut Bend hall, and its Navarro building, which serves as one of NIOSA’s four entrances, up for sale.

"It’s not just Maverick Plaza, but the CPS building ... La Villita Assembly Hall—all up for sale,” Beavin said. “If someone came in and decided they wanted to buy it, and not lease it to us ... that could be a problem.”

Every year, NIOSA raises more than $500,000 for the city—nearly $200,000 feeds conservation efforts through the La Villita Fund, and the rest for NIOSA's logistical expenses such as the hiring of police, Beavin said. It's also the conservation society's main fundraiser, which benefits building development and educational educational outreach programs, for residents, tourists and school-aged children.

Beavin said the conservation society's strategic planning committee is looking at all the options regarding NIOSA's future, "particularly during the construction period."

Heron editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report.

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Gourdough's Public House is planned for the space next to Dick's Last Resort. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Gourdough's Public House, a popular Austin eatery, promises to bring donut-centric bites, drinks and brunch vibes to the River Walk next month.

BEN OLIVO | HERON

Paula Samford and Ryan Palmer, co-owners of Gourdough’s Public House, confirmed the company was weeks away from opening its first San Antonio location at 215 Losoya St.

“Finding (a place to eat and drink) at the San Antonio River Walk before 11 a.m. can be kind of hard,” Palmer said. “But (Gourdough’s) will be open for brunch, lunch and late nights until 2 a.m.”

Since 2009, Gourdough’s has grown from a trendy mobile airstream for late-night donuts and party pop-up events to a fully-fledged restaurant on South Lamar Boulevard with loyal fans and an evolving menu.

"We just like the culture in San Antonio," Samford said. "This seemed like the next step and a good opportunity (to grow the company)."

The 7,000-square-foot building, which previously housed La Paloma Riverwalk Parrilla Grill, will provide Gourdough’s customers with seating options at the River Walk and street levels. Its mezzanine level will allow brunch-goers to people watch or take in scenic views of the River Walk from above. The restaurant will also rent out space for private gatherings.

Signature donuts such as the Fat Elvis (pictured below), served with grilled bananas, bacon and peanut butter; and the Black Out, a classic donut topped with brownie batter, fudge icing and chocolate covered brownie bites, can be found at Gourdough’s Public House and its two mobile trailers located at South First Street and East Riverside Drive, respectively.

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Other offerings include the Bacon Me Crazy sandwich, a donut sandwich filled with bacon, provolone cheese, guacamole and tomato; or the Nacho Libre burger with spicy refried beans, chili, cheese sauce and corn chips.

Gourdough’s has become a tourist destination in Austin, Palmer said, "but it’s also a place (where) locals can bring (visitors) in town, have bachelorette parties. It’s all about that frame of mind—having a good time and having fun."

The Gourdough’s team plans to expand the existing Austin menu to include experimental food items that reflect San Antonio’s culture.

"Our San Antonio menu makes eating fun with games, it’s sort of a 'play with your food (approach)," Palmer said. "We've added some donuts that will have a real San Antonio flair."

Walker and Palmer are still looking to fill the restaurant’s head chef position, but confirmed Efrain Quiles, as the general manager. The restaurant may eventually expand to include a mobile trailer, available for local pop-ups and off-site events in San Antonio, but "we want to focus on the restaurant first right now,' he said.

Gourdough's will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Gourdough's Public House is going into the former La Paloma space at 215 Losoya St. BEN OLIVO | HERON

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It’s that OPEN Holiday Market time of year.

Shoppers can expect to find unique and fun gifts from 14 local businesses—Bohemian Gemme, DiZurita, Flor Boutique, Girl & Guy Code Soaps, HERNÁN, Honeydipped, J Lacel Boutique, Jowa, Lirica, Love Art Style, Lulo Texas, Marta Francine, Meechi Ceramics, and Red Cat & Co—inside the vacant retail space at 231 E. Houston St. over the next two weekends.

The 2018 Holiday Market kicks off with a grand opening celebration 5-8 p.m. today (Dec. 7) with live music, small bites and drinks, and free totes with a purchase from one of the vendors. The market will be open noon-8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 1-7 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 16.

The OPEN Downtown Pop Up Shop Program, developed by the Center City Development and Operations Department (CCDO) in 2013, uses vacant downtown spaces to provide small business owners with temporary, low- to no-cost storefronts. The program also provides local businesses with an opportunity to connect with customers in a traditional setting and activate the downtown area as a place to visit and shop.

“The OPEN Holiday Market is the perfect occasion to shop for unique gifts while celebrating and supporting local businesses,” CCDO Director John Jacks said in a press release.

Since 2013, more than 80 local businesses have helped activate 20 vacant downtown spaces. Several participating OPEN pop-ups have gone on to sign long-term business leases elsewhere downtown, such as like Eye Candy Boutique (Houston Street Garage building), Bird & Pear and Huipil Market (both at La Villita).

Elsa Fernandez, owner of Eye Candy Boutique, launched her plus-size fashion store online before she applied for the OPEN program in May 2015.

“The (OPEN market) was my first time popping up and introducing the (clothes and accessories to shoppers in person),” Fernandez said. “It was really helpful because it helped me to get my audience downtown and really test the concept for Eye Candy Boutique.”

Following her success with the OPEN pop-ups, Fernandez applied for a storefront opportunity with the program in fall 2015. Eye Candy Boutique was selected as the first vendor to open for business at 531 Navarro St.—a previously vacant space owned by the city—and allowed Fernandez to operate as a brick-and-mortar, rent-free for 90 days.

Fernandez’s quality fashion and fun accessories quickly found a loyal customer base, and eventually led to her signing a long-term lease with the city. The program has helped her create a strong network of local small businesses that help each other grow.

"Thanks to OPEN, we’ve been able to expand the retail downtown in a way that hasn't happened before … to be here now, downtown, for three years, and to see the landscape changing, and see the (urban core) revitalized—it's an incredible thing," Fernandez said.

The program currently hosts two pop-ups inside the Book building at 140 E. Houston Street. Her Hippie Heart specializes in boho decor, while Pink & Silver Fashion offers one-of-a-kind, handmade clothing and accessories. The shops planned to close earlier this fall but thanks to popular demand, they will remain open until the last week of December. Their hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays- Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.

Pink and Silver pop-up shop at the Book building. BEN OLIVO | HERON

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Constructions workers began the second segment of San Pedro Creek Culture Park's Phase 1 in June. V. FINSTER | HERON CONTRIBUTOR

Bexar County commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved nearly $60 million to complete the segment of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park project currently under construction—about three blocks from Houston Street south to Nueva Street.

The entirety of Phase 1.2 will cost $74.7 million, a 20 percent increase from initial estimates, said Kerry Averyt, San Antonio River Authority (SARA) Senior Engineer and San Pedro Creek project manager.

To date, the total project has a cost about $178 million.

"There’s a lot of construction going on, that has the tendency to cause prices to trend upward with labor and materials," he said. "These three blocks, by far, are the most difficult (construction) along the (creek's) two-mile stretch."

Initial plans for an amphitheater were scrapped in favor of a functional plaza, adjacent to the Alameda Theater, that will allow for public event rentals, receptions and special cultural performances. The updated design also includes a water wall spanning 230 feet, which will help keep visitors cool and improve water quality, and a series of murals that depict the “epic history” of Bexar County and San Antonio.

Alameda Plaza during the day. SAN ANTONIO RIVER AUTHORITY
San Pedro Creek second segment of Phase 1. SAN ANTONIO RIVER AUTHORITY

The segment is just one of the many developments planned for the area.

SARA officials have begun working with the University of Texas at San Antonio, following its recent announcement of a multimillion-dollar expansion that will bring its new School of Data Science and relocate its College of Business to the creek, to incorporate the creek’s design with the design of the campus, while creating an inviting space for students.

From the $59.38 million approved on Tuesday, $48.49 million will be used for construction; $3.06 million for project management services; $4.84 million will go toward construction services and archeological studies, and $3 million will be used to complete pre-construction and designs for the third segment of Phase 1 and Phase 2. Those designs are expected to be completed by October 2019.

SARA officials Tuesday stated that $39.98 million of the total available funding was designated for San Pedro Creek Culture Park, and that utility companies such as SAWS and CPS Energy would reimburse $2.48 million. Commissioners approved $16.4 million in county funds from a federal government reimbursement, specifically for the 2013 Mission Reach project.

The presentation did result in some confusion about project costs, as well as the cost of redesigns.

“The numbers, when I add them up, are really adding up,” said County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, who called for a future off-session meeting with SARA.

"This document from 2014 indicates the original design authorization was for $13.9 million," he said, "but by my calculations, when I added up the amendments from May 2016, July 2016, October 2016, June 2017, February 2018—not including today—I got $22,832,000. And so then from the original budget, on just design ... that’s almost 100 percent over (budget).”

SARA officials said they would send a more detailed breakdown of the costs, but that the funds spent on redesigns help save on construction costs down the road, SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott said.

"It’s a balance," she said.

The first segment of Phase 1—from the flood tunnel inlet behind the Fox Tech campus to Houston Street—was completed under budget and opened in May. However, the park closed in June for redesigns after children swam in an area intended for wading and with potentially harmful bacteria.

The first phase was built to attract visitors, said County Commissioner Paul Elizondo, "so people, especially children, can’t help but want to get in there.”

"It's just a simple thing, to me, with all the brains that you guys have and all the fees we're putting up, that we can’t come up with that," Elizondo told SARA staff members. "It doesn’t have to be treated water and all this magical stuff."

"Whatever water is brought to all the swimming pools downtown and at the hotels—bring that for that particular segment, put the rest into the regular system as planned and keep [the creek water and swimming water separate."

SARA officials said they would consider ways to make Elizondo’s proposed potable water segment a possibility, but it would require finding a way to prevent runoff contamination, safely convey stormwater and receive special permits from both the state of Texas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"There are limits as to what can be done in a natural creek," Scott said. "We’re continuing to explore it, but there’s a lot of factors that we have to work on."

San Pedro Creek second segment of Phase 1. SAN ANTONIO RIVER AUTHORITY
San Pedro Creek second segment of Phase 1. SAN ANTONIO RIVER AUTHORITY
San Pedro Creek entrance near the Alameda Theater heading north. SAN ANTONIO RIVER AUTHORITY
SAN ANTONIO RIVER AUTHORITY

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Geekdom CEO David Garcia (red shirt) speaks with foreman Juan Olvera about overhead lights installed in what will be a classroom in the basement expansion. TIM HERNANDEZ | HERON CONTRIBUTOR

As Geekdom, the coworking space in the Rand building on Houston Street, celebrates its seventh birthday tonight, it will also toast the creation of its entrepreneurial trade school called The District, which is scheduled to open in February.

The school will offer three six-week semesters filled with business and consumer-related coursework, research and development education, and strategies for funding and marketing to Geekdom members and the general public.

"The coursework comes from real minds, and students will learn from people who have succeeded and have actually built companies themselves,” Geekdom co-founder Nick Longo said in a press release.

Classes will be held in the Rand’s basement, which is currently being renovated into 9,000 square feet of additional Geekdom space. Geekdom, which moved into the Rand in 2014 from the Weston Centre a block north, already occupies floors 6-8 of the 105-year-old building, originally home of the Wolff & Marx department store.

The basement build-out will provide Geekdom’s 1,700 members with additional classrooms, offices and conference rooms, meeting areas and a special podcast studio, available to students and members, Geekdom CEO David Garcia said. This will be in addition to its current 50,000 square feet of shared office space, home to more than 500 companies and nonprofits, according to a 2017 Geekdom annual report.

The Heron asked about the project’s cost, but Geekdom has not shared it.

The school and Geekdom expansion fuel a continued effort to build up downtown’s tech district—a growing cluster of companies that have found homes mostly in refurbished historic buildings on Houston Street. San Antonio-based developers Weston Urban (Geekdom co-founder Graham Weston’s company), GrayStreet Partners and AREA Real Estate, LLC, have either built, or are in the process of creating, more open office space, the kind of blank-canvas work environment tech companies prefer.

Geekdom moved into the Rand building in 2014. BEN OLIVO | SAN ANTONIO HERON

Some would say Weston, who also co-founded Rackspace, and Nick Longo, a former director at Rackspace, birthed the tech district when they launched Geekdom as a collaborative resource for local business and entrepreneurship opportunities in late 2011. Rackspace previously struggled to find candidates willing to relocate to San Antonio without more job opportunities and business infrastructure.

"We have had a hand in (creating) the startup scene," Geekdom Chairman Lorenzo Gomez said. "I think that because of (Geekdom's) hard work, we're going to hit critical mass very soon. When you have more people, companies and programs and initiatives than you can track—that's when you hit critical mass, and we're rapidly approaching that point. (Progress) doesn't require one person to do it all or own it all."

In the next few years, the district is expected to begin expanding past its Houston Street confines. Currently, Weston Urban is renovating all 21 stories of the Milam, the historic office building located between the Weston Centre and the Rand. It's also co-developing Frost's new, 23-story glass tower a block west of the Rand, which will offer up 150,000 square feet of office space the bank will not use.

In mid-September, local officials and the University of Texas at San Antonio announced a massive expansion of the university’s downtown campus, for which Weston has donated $15 million for the creation of the $57 million School of Data Science. The school will be built on Dolorosa street near City Hall, along with a cluster of other new buildings in the area, and construction is expected to begin in spring 2019.

The building is part of UTSA’s larger plan to foster, develop and retain homegrown tech talent in the coming decade.

At The District, Longo will lead and teach curriculum for the new school, slated to open Feb. 4.

The District will partner with local universities to enhance classes, develop hands-on learning experiences for students and arrange guest speakers, an extension of Geekdom’s existing partnership. Geekdom and Trinity University partner on programs like Students + Startups, which connects students with paid work opportunities at new companies located in the City's tech corridor.

District students will be required to present business plans and company pitches to the public during a three-day startup program before they can graduate. Cohorts will be limited to 36 students per session, and open for registration three times each year.

"I want more entrepreneurs in San Antonio and I want them to be more successful," Longo said.

Tuition for Geekdom members will cost $299 per cohort, while non-Geekdom members can expect to pay $499. Individuals interested in learning more about the school application process can visit TheDistrict.Works or email Ashley Uptmore, programs coordinator for Geekdom, at thedistrict@geekdom.com.

Lea Thompson is a freelancer journalist in San Antonio. Freelancer journalist Tim Hernandez also contributed to this report.

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In 2017, calavera puppets are used in the Dia de los Muertos procession at La Villita. BEN OLIVO | SAN ANTONIO HERON

Indigenous roots and Catholic traditions make Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a unique Mexican cultural event that celebrates family, friends and ancestors who have died. Families often honor those loved ones by visiting their graves, sharing pan de muerto, a sweet bread, and creating altars—decorated with photos, mezcal, candles, flowers and items that defined them —in their memory.

We've assembled Day of the Dead gatherings happening in the downtown area. It all starts this weekend at Maverick Plaza.

...

The community altar at La Villita last year. BEN OLIVO | SAN ANTONIO HERON

La Villita

10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 27), noon-9 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 28), 418 Villita St. Visit muertosfest.com or the Facebook event page for more info.

La Villita is home to the city's largest open-air altar exhibit with more than 30 displays. Vendors will also offer local apparel, art and tasty treats like pan de muerto and hot chocolate.

From 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Maverick Plaza will host family-friendly craft workshops that include sugar skull decorating, flower-making and mask-making sessions on the hour. Catch a ballet folklorico performance, 1-2 p.m., or check out the live conjunto, punk and cumbia- inspired-music from local bands such as Bidi Bidi Banda, Femina-X and Pinata Protest. The festivities continue Sunday with the altar exhibit and contest, as well as a “living” community altar that invites attendees to contribute offerings to loved ones.

...

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

Exhibit opens Sunday (Oct. 28) and runs through Nov. 22 at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, 723 S. Brazos St. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. View the Facebook event page.

Bring a photo of a late loved one to add to the community altar at Galería Guadalupe. Also, check out the center’s altar exhibit, which includes one-of-a-kind creations by local artists, residents, students at Brackenridge Elementary and local high schools, and the SA Eye Bank.

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Rinconcito de Esperanza

3-11:30 p.m. Nov. 1, 816 S. Colorado St. View the Facebook event page.

Bring instruments and prepare your best calavera face for Día de los Muertos Celebration con Esperanza, an evening of live music and spoken word performances, face painting for children and remembrances of the dead. Attendees are invited to join the community procession through the West Side starting at 5:30 p.m. The event will host local art vendors like Cooperativa MujerArtes, and will offer traditional foods like tamales and pan de muerto for sale. There will be several opportunities for attendees to share original poems or literary ofrendas with the public before the evening ends with music by Alyson Alonzo, Azul Barrientos, Roger Arocha y Su Conjunto, and others.

...

A procession makes its way through the Pearl at last year's Dia de los Muertos event. COURTESY MATT BUIKEMA | PEARL

The Pearl

4-9 p.m. Nov. 1; 5-9 p.m. Nov. 2, 303 Pearl Parkway. View the Facebook event page.

The Pearl will transform into a space of altars and colorful crafts, music and other performances. On Thursday, families are invited to join Dr. Ellen Riojas Clark for the event kickoff at 4:45 p.m before a live music show by Tallercito de Son begins at 5 p.m. First Lady Erica Prosper Nirenberg will host a storytime session for children 6-6:15 p.m. before a festival procession—led by children representing the Southwest School of Art and followed by calaveras and cabezudos from the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center—until 7 p.m. Friday evening is filled with live music performances by Conjunto Heritage Taller, San Antonio Mariachi Academy and Azul Barrientos.

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Historic Market Square

5-10 p.m. Nov. 2, 514 W. Commerce St. View the Facebook event page.

El Mercado will host a special viewing of Pixar’s "Coco" and a folklorico performance by Teresa Champion, with food and art from local vendors available on-site. The evening continues with face painting sessions and a fun musical performance by students at the Henry Ford Academy: Alameda School for Art + Design. Young attendees will have an opportunity to visit with staffers from the San Antonio Public Library’s Latino Collection, and learn how to create mini sugar skulls or nichos to add to the market’s public altar display.

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SAY Sí

6-10:30 p.m. Friday; noon-4 p.m. Saturday, 1518 S Alamo St. View the Facebook event page.

Expect crowds and fun activities during Muertitos Fest 2018: Sin Fronteras, a First Friday event filled with hands-on art workshops and music and dance performances by Danza Kalpulli and Conjunto Mismo Sol. Families and individuals are invited to enter the best-dressed costume contest, or share their favorite snacks at the food booths. Find prints and artisan products at the festival’s mercado, and be sure to catch the procession by Las Monas Performance Group at 8:15 p.m. On Saturday, bring the family for face-painting and special performances at the SAY Sí Black Box Theatre featuring groups such as the Guadalupe Mariachi Academy and The ALAS Youth Theatre Company.

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Geekdom is located in the Rand building, 110 E. Houston St. BEN OLIVO | SAN ANTONIO HERON

San Antonio Startup Week—a five-day series of entrepreneurial and tech panels, mixers and workshops—is expected to draw 2,000 people to the city's burgeoning tech corridor of Houston Street beginning Monday.

The volunteer-driven event will provide attendees with more than 75 free informative sessions developed by representatives from Tech Bloc, Scaleworks and the San Antonio Business Calendar, as San Antonio’s tech community continues to grow its education-to-job ecosystem.

Startup Week itself has grown from its initial 270 attendees in 2016 to 800 in 2017 to the 2,000 expected next week.

“We couldn’t be more excited over how the community has showed up,” said Alexandra Frey, executive director at the 80/20 Foundation, one of the co-sponsors along with Geekdom and Trinity University. “There’s going to be something for everybody—from the student interested in entrepreneurship and somebody who has an idea, to investors or somebody who wants the free taco we’ll be giving out every morning.”

The week kicks off with Rackspace Co-Founder Graham Weston, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy and Geekdom Chairman Lorenzo Gomez, who will discuss the impact of Weston’s recent $15 million gift to UTSA's downtown campus, and why residents can expect to see an influx of students and an era of tech growth in the coming decade. Weston’s gift will help build UTSA’s School of Data Science at 506 Dolorosa, just south of City Hall.

The impetus for this momentum can be attributed to the birth of startup incubator Geekdom, co-founded by Weston and Nick Longo, and which celebrates its seventh year on Thursday.

“When students come to work or intern at Geekdom, they bring this energy that isn’t usually here,” she said. “We’re looking forward to having those students as a resource that can grow (with) the San Antonio tech scene.”

Attendees can easily access sessions held at various locations along Houston Street. This year’s sessions includes information for military members and veterans interested in entrepreneurship ("USAA Presents Breakfast of Champions: Military Transition and Veteranpreneurs," Oct. 24), a look into the future ("State of the SA Tech Economy," Oct. 26) and advise on the state of San Antonio’s tech economy and advice on finding venture capital financing ("Venture Financing - Demystifying Convertible Notes/SAFEs," Oct. 25).

Guest speaker Amy Nelson, CEO of Venture for America, and Andy White of San Diego Startup Week, are just a few of the notable visitors expected to be in attendance.

Growing interest in the local tech community means more opportunities for collaborations, development and new jobs that didn’t exist just five years ago, one sponsor said.

“In the last five years, we’ve seen folks take a risk and choose San Antonio as a place to develop and grow,” said Carmen Aramanda, programs manager at the Entrepreneurship Center for Sciences & Innovation at Trinity University. “This [has become] a place for talent and opportunity, and we’re proud to be part of it.”

Through the center, Trinity students have been connected with fellowships and placement opportunities at local startups, where they can interact with the city’s tech leaders.

Those opportunities have led to a huge shift in the conversations and opportunities surrounding women in the tech industry. Events like “Momtrepreneur: Let's Talk About Motherhood & Entrepreneurship” and “Diversity Needs: Girls in STEM & Why it's so Important to You Legal Pitfalls to Avoid” will highlight women founders and members of the industry, at every point in their career journey.

“It’s extremely exciting,” Aramanda said. “I want our female students to know that they’re more than welcome here-- people are scooting over and we are making sure there’s room for them at the table.”

Visit sanantonio.startupweek.co to register for event sessions and reserve your free spot.

A similar event happening in a few weeks is San Antonio Entrepreneurship Week, produced by Launch SA, which highlights diverse entrepreneurs and businesses. The event includes six days of workshops, meet-ups and other opportunities to engage with the community.

The event, which also launched in 2016, will be held Nov. 12-17 and aims to showcase a broad scope of entrepreneurship and industry, rather than focus solely on tech.

“The magic difference is were broader and holistically not focused on downtown (San Antonio),” said Ryan Salts, Launch SA’s director of programming. “This is an opportunity for those who are not (located) downtown to connect with entrepreneurship resources, opportunities and information.”

Event organizers expect 1,000 registrants this year.

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The Alazán-Apache Courts are San Antonio's oldest housing projects. V. FINSTER | SAN ANTONIO HERON

In 1941, the Alazán-Apache Courts opened as the first public housing project in San Antonio, bringing modern homes and amenities to nearly 5,000 Mexican-Americans. At the time, for hundreds of families, the courts were a step up from the slum conditions that defined the West Side. Nearly 80 years later, living conditions at the courts have declined, but generations of families continue to benefit from its resources and job opportunities.

The Westside Preservation Alliance and the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center explore that legacy in a new exhibit called “Los Courts,” which opens with a reception 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Alazán Community Room, 1011 S. Brazos St.

The exhibit highlights life on the West Side, from the 1920s to present-day, through historic photos, video, and recorded testimonies from past residents. Mexican-American families, who had struggled with high death rates linked to tuberculosis, benefited from housing that offered modern amenities and sanitary living conditions.

Despite local and federal efforts to segregate minorities via public housing, especially through the nationwide housing increase during the Great Depression, developments like Alazán-Apache allowed many residents to achieve new levels of upward mobility.

"[The Courts] gave people the stability they needed to be lifted out of poverty, and enormously changed the quality of life for so many people," exhibit curator Sarah Zenaida Gould said. "We need to be thinking about how we can do that again, because we still have so many people in need of quality food, shelter, education, and health care."

A cropped piece of a panel in the exhibit. COURTESY PHOTO

The exhibit is partially underwritten by the District 5 office and the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), which manages the courts.

"This community was the beginning of our efforts to increase affordable housing, and the history of the community is invaluable," said David Nisivoccia, president and CEO of SAHA, which was founded in 1937.

When construction of the Alazán-Apache Courts stalled in 1939, SAHA leaders wrote to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who authorized the federal funds necessary to improve living conditions for West Side families. Today, the Courts are shaped by three properties: Alazán, Apache and Guadalupe Homes.

Public housing continues to reduce local poverty and homeless rates, but funding, and the living conditions of the dwellings, have plummeted in recent years. The Courts’ faded surfaces, concrete walls and outdated infrastructure, are problematic for a new generation of families. More than half of the Courts’ current residents are under 18, said Gould, who also serves as coordinator for the Westside Community Museum, a project slated to open next year in the old Ruben’s Icehouse at Guadalupe and South Colorado streets.

In a door-to-door survey last year, SAHA found the median household income at the Alazan Courts, north of Guadalupe Street, to be $10,242.

A newspaper clip dated April 12, 1941, announces the birth of the first baby at the Alazán Courts. IRMA ARELLANO CARREON

The courts' units remain largely unchanged since the 1940s. Last year, SAHA applied for up to $30 million from the Choice Neighborhood grant, a program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The plan was to demolish some of the existing Alazán Courts and replace them with market-rate housing in an attempt to revitalize the near West Side, and remove the Courts’ sketchy stigma, SAHA said at the time.

SAHA, which had secured Choice dollars to rebuild Wheatley Courts into the mixed-income East Meadows development on the East Side, did not receive the funding.

The courts were the first opportunity for many families to have access to "indoor plumbing, real linoleum floors and electricity," District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales said. "We are looking to recreate this type of housing, with multigenerational families living together, (and) look forward to bringing back that type of living to the inner city."

SAHA plans to continue its effort to revitalize the Courts by applying for Choice Neighborhood grant dollars again in 2019, Nisivoccia said.

“We hope, as people tour (Los Courts), they can appreciate the growth and opportunities made possible through numerous organizations dedicated to empowering the West Side community,” he added.

N. Straus Nayfach, architect of the Alazán-Apache Courts. COURTESY RUTH FAGIN-WILEN

On the development end, SAHA has partnered with NRP Group for an 85-unit apartment project at the southwest corner of El Paso and South Colorado streets, but it will require low-income housing tax credits, which SAHA will apply for next year, to make it happen.

Despite its West Side roots, the courts have helped define the city’s present-day landscape and housing resources available to residents. Officials hope the show will travel to other communities throughout San Antonio.

“There’s so much more to tell here,” Gould said. “We hope that this is just the beginning of the story.”

"Los Courts" will be on view 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday at the Alazán Community Room through Oct. 26. For more information, call 210-228-0201.

Previously published
A look at the history of Alazan Courts

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Lea Thompson works as Communications Associate for LiftFund, a nonprofit small business lender headquartered in San Antonio. She freelances as a reporter and photographer for local and regional publications.

Contact Ben Olivo: 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

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