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

Pearl developer Silver Ventures could receive an incentive package from the City of San Antonio worth $3.6 million over 10 years, while also contributing $1 million to the city's affordable housing fund, for its latest apartment project.

The 265-unit residential development would be located on the other side of the San Antonio River from the Pearl's main campus. It's slated to go on a 3.1-acre lot on East Elmira Street, and rise seven stories with a facade made of brick masonry and painted stucco. Live-work units and 7,500 square feet of retail space would lined the street level.

On Wednesday, the project receive conceptual approval from the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) on Wednesday.

[ Download the HDRC agenda packet for the Elmira Apartments. ]

The city's incentive package includes a 75% rebate on city property taxes for Silver Ventures worth $3.1 million over 10 years, as well as $500,000 in SAWS fee impact waivers, which the developer will request from the MidTown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ). The other 25% of the rebate—worth roughly $1 million over 10 years—will feed into the city's affordable housing fund, which is used to create and restore below-market-rate housing.

Because developing the land will increase its value, other taxing entities are expected to benefit from the build. The city estimates the San Antonio Independent School District will receive $1.1 million annually, and Alamo Colleges $112,000 annually, from the property after the apartments are built.

The project's cost and timeline are unclear. Bill Shown, Silver Ventures' managing director for real estate, did not respond to an email inquiry earlier this week.

[ Read more: "Pearl developer Silver Ventures plans to build 265 apartments across the river" ]

GOOGLE | HERON

Elmira Apartments

» Address: 1126 E. Elmira St.
» Developer: Silver Ventures
» Property Owner: Silver Ventures

» Occupancy: N/A
» Rent or Buy: Unknown
» Height: 7 stories
» Land size: 3.1 acres
» Total units: 265
     » Market rate: Unknown
     » 80% AMI: Unknown
     » 60% AMI: Unknown
     » 30% AMI: Unknown
     » Student Units: Unknown
» Section 8: Unknown

» Retail (s.f.): 7,500
» Office (s.f.): Unknown
» Parking: Garage; unknown number of spaces

» Construction start date: Unknown
» End date: Unknown
» Architect: Don B. McDonald

» Cost: Unknown
» Investors: Unknown
» Financing: Unknown
» San Antonio Incentives: $3.6 million
     » SAWS Fee Waivers: $500,000 to be requested from MidTown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) board
     » City Fee Waivers: N/A
     » City Loans: N/A
     » Est. City Property Tax Rebate: $3.1 million (estimated $313,476 per year for 10 years)
» Bexar County Incentives: Unknown
» Texas incentives: Unknown
» Federal incentives: Unknown
» Other: Unknown
» TOTAL PUBLIC SUBSIDY: $3.6 million

» Return on investment: Unknown

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

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

Renovated Maverick Plaza on the corner of South Alamo and East Nueva streets.
This rendering shows a renovated Maverick Plaza from the corner of South Alamo and East Nueva streets. Courtesy Fisher Heck Architects

The reduction of public space in the $12 million Maverick Plaza renovation plan at La Villita drew sharp criticism from The Conservation Society of San Antonio during the Historic and Design Review Commission meeting on Wednesday.

For more than 70 years during Fiesta, the group has held A Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA) at La Villita, its largest fundraiser of the year. The Conservation Society is concerned the scaling back of plaza space will hamper its ability to make maximum dollar during NIOSA. Every year, ticket sales are partly funneled back into La Villita's restoration, but also fund the society's year-round efforts to preserve San Antonio's historic structures and spaces.

More than 50 people expressed dismay over the new Maverick Plaza design, which will reduce the public space by 35%—from 27,300 square feet to 17,750 square feet. Three new restaurants with patio seating, a development headed by local chef Johnny Hernandez, will consume the plaza's periphery space against the walls that currently enclose it. Those limestone walls, erected in the 1970s, will be razed to open up the plaza.

The architecture team of Fisher Heck and MP Studio told the commission the promenade along South Alamo Street will expand by 8.5% and will blend into the plaza after the walls are removed.

"We aren't against change," said Patti Zaiontz, Conservation Society president. "Preservation is about managing change and too often we aren't included in managing that change, and this is a biggie for us."

In a 4-3 vote, the HDRC narrowly approved the public space aspect of the design; the restaurant design will be brought to the commission at a later date.

[ Download the plans from the HDRC agenda here. ]

Map of Maverick Plaza showing current public space footprint.
Map above shows current Maverick Plaza footprint. Map below shows reduced public space inside the plaza after redevelopment.
Map of Maverick Plaza showing public space footprint after redevelopment.
COURTESY FISHER HECK ARCHITECTS | MP STUDIO

In May 2018, Hernandez's Grupo La Gloria began a 49-year lease of the plaza with the city. Hernandez's group was selected and approved by the City Council in 2017 through an open bidding process. In 2018, Hernandez selected Fisher Heck and MP Studio to design the plaza's renovation, and stakeholder engagement began.

"Our task was to activate Maverick Plaza and energize it on a daily basis, and not just for large events, but for everyday users—people who live downtown, work downtown," Mark Padilla, lead principle of MP Studio, told the commission.

Construction is scheduled to begin in November and take a year to complete, city officials said. Hernandez's company is footing most of the $12 million bill—$7.6 million, while the city contributes $4.4 million from the Inner City Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. Grupo La Gloria's rent starts at $100,000, which will fund the plaza's maintenance and programming.

Throughout the process, the Conservation Society has felt consternation about how the plaza renovation will impact NIOSA, in particular Frontier Town, it's biggest money-maker among the festival's other sections. The idea of moving NIOSA to Hemisfair's Civic Park, whenever the delayed project is completed, has been floated as well, Zaiontz said.

"'Well you can move to Civic Park when Civic Park is built.' No. Our home is at La Vilita and that's where we want to stay," Zaiontz said.

The city says the Conservation Society has been kept abreast of the renovation's impact on NIOSA.

"The city has made multiple commitments that NIOSA will continue and we will work with them in the future," Rhea Roberts, special projects manager with the city, told the commission.

An in email to the Heron, Paul Berry, chief communications officer for the Department of Public Works, added, the society has "also had members participate in our Maverick Park Public Design meetings. We understand their concerns and we have addressed them multiple times."

But the Conservation Society contends the city has done the bare minimum in including the group in the redesign process.

"We were not as involved in the planning as they would think we were," Zaiontz said. "They've checked the box as far as saying, 'OK, we're going to do this here. Are you OK with that?' "

This drawing shows what Maverick Plaza would look like with three new restaurants, the '70s walls removed and footprint expanded to the edge of South Alamo Street.
This drawing shows what Maverick Plaza would look like with three new restaurants, the '70s walls removed and footprint expanded to the edge of South Alamo Street.
Spanish restaurant potentially by Elizabeth Johnson in the circa-1855 Faville House, which will be expanded back into the plaza.
Mexican restaurant by Johnny Hernandez in newly-constructed two-story hacienda-style building.
Unknown restaurant; may include the Gissi house.
Large kiosk for cooking demonstrations.
Fountain relocated from center of the plaza toward South Alamo Street.
South Alamo Street reconstruction to include newly-paved promenade that blends into plaza
Courtesy Fisher Heck Architects | MP Studio

The Conservation Society also fears the plaza will become privatized because Hernandez' company is leasing the public space. Zaiontz doubts there will be enough space to hold cultural festivals and family-oriented gatherings such as weddings and quinceaneras once the project is completed.

The lease between the city and Grupo La Gloria, which can be downloaded here, does not detail how programming will work. In late 2018, when the Heron first reported this story, the city's Center City Development and Operations Department said an operational and programming agreement, which out outline such matters, was not written or negotiated.

"Maverick Plaza will always remain open to the public," Roberts told the commission. "That was never a question. We do anticipate it will be programmed on a daily and weekly basis with different forms of activity to be coordinated with chef Johnny Hernandez, Grupo La Gloria, as well as other stakeholders and La Villita."

But what that programming will look like—whether the current series of festivals and events will be allowed to continue at Maverick Plaza, or have the room to—has not been made public. What's also hazy event revenue split between Hernandez and the city when the programming resumes after completion and post pandemic.

Under the lease, Hernandez is allowed to close the plaza and Arneson River Theatre eight days of the year for private events. 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.

Before the pandemic, Hernandez held his first event at La Villita, the new Day of the Dead San Antonio series, which had the financial backing of the city—to the anger of cultural groups who had grown their Dia de los Muertos celebrations from the community level for many years.

The city, Hernandez and an executive with Fisher Heck did not grant interview requests for this article.

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

Changes in design

The plan would transform Maverick Plaza into a culinary destination.

Hernandez will build a Mexican restaurant along East Nueva. Two other restaurants will be included as well. One of them was to be a German restaurant and brewery operated by Cured owner Steve McHugh, but he's no longer involved with the project, McHugh confirmed via email. It's unclear if Pharm Table owner Elizabeth Johnson is still involved in opening a Spanish restaurant in the circa-1855 Faville House.

One of the concerns from the Conservation Society and some of the La Villita shop owners is that the project is designed to draw pedestrians toward the restaurants, not the rest of La Villita. They call for more signage on Villita Street and for ornate pavers to extend up Alamo Street to the River Walk entrance near the Hilton Palacio del Rio.

Commissioner Jeffrey Fetzer asked about the plaza's fountain. The plan shows the current fountain demolished and replaced by one situated closer to South Alamo. Padilla told the commission the water portion of the new fountain would be larger than the existing one, but that the current fountain has a larger stepped base that has been used as a place for people to congregate.

Commissioner Gabriel Velasquez said the plan was incongruent La Villita's history.

"What I see is a design that only takes into consideration a creation of a place, but in no way shape or form do I see it respecting a place with dramatic history," Velasquez said.

Mark Navarro, Fisher Heck president, said the design reflects La Villita's history as a historic arts district.

"We heard so much response from the public about, 'My grandfather, my dad ... they used to have a shop out here'," Navarro said. "'They were artisans. They used to do metal work. When I was a kid, I used to come out here and play with this art shop, this pottery place.'

"That really stuck with us. ... You can see that in the metal work as well as in the light work, showing how that could be something that was handcrafted very delicately."

Here's how the HDRC voted on the Maverick Plaza redesign:
» Curtis Richard Fish (D1) — y
» J. Maurice Gibbs (D2) — y
» Gabriel Q. Velasquez (D3) — n
» Alvaro R. Arreola Jr. (D4) — y
» Anne-Marie Grube (D7) — y
» Jeffrey Fetzer (D9) — n
» John R. Laffoon (D10) — n

Resources
» Download the La Villita lease agreement between the city and Grupo La Gloria.
» Download the 64-page "Master Plan for a Culinary Concept in Mayor Maury Maverick Plaza," Oct. 7, 2017 (10MB)
» Download the latest plans and community feedback documents from the city's website.

Previously published
» La Villita’s Maverick Plaza makeover gets fresh new look
» Questions remain one year after Johnny Hernandez lands Maverick Plaza lease
» Plans to add restaurants to Maverick Plaza draws mixed reviews at NIOSA
» "It's the last NIOSA as we know it"
» "Day of the Dead is substantially larger this year. Does that make it better?

Setting It Straight: An earlier version of this article misstated Steve McHugh's involvement with the project; he's no longer involved.

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

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

The eight-story, 250-unit St. John's Square development is being proposed for the southeast corner of St. Mary's and Nueva streets. Rendering courtesy Mark Odom Studio

You don't see many buildings with rounded corners in downtown San Antonio. The obvious example that comes to mind is the circa-1891 Clifford Building at 429 E. Commerce St., on the River Walk, longtime home of Royalty Coins.

Perhaps the old Joske's HemisFair-era fiberglass facade counts as having rounded corners, but it's also not the original, early-1900s brick structure, which owner Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp. destroyed when it built the new space for the Dave & Busters, H&M, among others.

The Crockett Hotel has a rounded corner.

There certainly are more chamfered-cornered buildings—buildings where the sharp edge has been flattened—like the Emily Morgan hotel (which opened in 1924 as the Medical Arts Building) or the circa-1890s Reuter Building, home of the Mirror Maze attraction.

Now comes a proposed design for the St. John's Square apartments—an eight-story, 250-unit, mostly-market-rate building with a wide rounded corner on the southeast corner of South St. Mary's and East Nueva streets near La Villita. The building's other corners, facing east and south, are plain old 90-degree angled.

Austin developer Dennis McDaniel, who built the Steel House Lofts, is teaming up with the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) and St. John's Lutheran Church (which owns the 1.3-acre property) on the development, which is projected to cost anywhere from $30 to $50 million to build.

On Wednesday, the Historic and Design Review Commission will consider the design, whose facade features brick, metal panels and stucco.

The St. John's Square will also feature "walk-up, brownstone-like" units on the ground floor and at least 6,000 square feet of retail space facing St. Mary's and Nueva.

What's AMI?
The AMI for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area (including New Braunfels) is $66,800, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here's how it breaks down for lower-income households:
» 80% - $53,440
» 60% - $40,800
» 50% - $33,400
» 40% - $26,720
» 30% - $20,400

The mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments would be primarily market-rate—roughly 80 percent of the units. The other 20 percent would be rented to households making 80 percent of the area median income—which, for a family of four, is $53,440 according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—McDaniel told the Heron last year.

McDaniel has signed a 99-year lease on the property from St. John's Lutheran Church, McDaniel said. In return, the church will have some of the garage parking spaces and revenue from the rents. In August, SAHA's commissioners voted to seek 4 percent low-income housing tax credits, a federal program that's intended to aid affordable housing growth.

The city of San Antonio is also chipping in with a $3.2 million incentives package from its Center City Housing Incentive Program—$2.3 million of which is a rebate on city property taxes over 15 years.

Last year, Tim Alcott, SAHA's real estate and legal services officer, said SAHA was considering other funding methods is has access to as a housing agency.

The development will not affect the Law Office of Nicholas & Barrera building, which sits at the corner of South Presa and Nueva streets.

For more background on how the St. John's Square partners came together, read "St. John’s Square would offer workforce housing near La Villita"

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

The redesign for the Museum Reach Lofts as of Feb. 1. GRG ARCHITECTURE / ALAMO COMMUNITY GROUP

Nonprofit developer Alamo Community Group has redesigned its Museum Reach Lofts, one of the true affordable housing developments planned for the downtown area that's due to begin construction this spring on the southeast corner of West Jones Avenue and North St. Mary's Street.

The location is a block north of the San Antonio Museum of Art, KSAT 12, and Central Catholic High School.

The nonprofit has hired GRG Architecture of San Antonio for the lofts redesign, which is expected to go before the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) for approval in the coming weeks.

If approved, the new design will replace this one created by Alamo Architects, which the HDRC gave conceptual approval to on Dec. 5:

ALAMO ARCHITECTS / ALAMO COMMUNITY GROUP

Alamo Community Group Executive Director Jennifer Gonzalez addressed the change in design to the Heron.

"I believe this building best reflects the essence and spirit of the River Walk Museum Reach area while complementing the architecture of the San Antonio Museum of Art and Central Catholic," Gonzalez said. "We believe Museum Reach Lofts will be a welcomed addition and we are looking forward to breaking ground in the spring."

What's AMI?
The area median income for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area (including New Braunfels) is $66,800, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here's how it breaks down for lower-income households:
» 80% - $53,440
» 60% - $40,800
» 50% - $33,400
» 40% - $26,720
» 30% - $20,400

The $17.5 million, five-story project is expected to add 95 units in the Museum Reach area just north of downtown—77 units reserved for households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) and 9 units for people making less than 30 percent AMI. The remaining nine will be rented at market-rate prices.

Construction on the Museum Reach Lofts is expected to begin in March, and be completed in September 2020.

In addition to its own equity sources, the project is receiving a bevy of incentives, which experts such as Gonzalez and city officials say is the key to pricing newly-built housing at affordable rates. The incentives package includes:

» $27,431 in city development fee waivers (Center City Housing Incentive Policy, or CCHIP)

» $295,988 in SAWS fee waivers (CCHIP)

» 75 percent rebate on city property taxes over 10 years (estimated rebate is $34,600 the first year); 25 percent of its city property tax obligation will feed into the affordable housing fund (estimated at $11,500 the first year; CCHIP).

» $2.8 million reimbursement grant from the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone

» 9 percent low-income housing tax credits (a federal subsidy doled out by the state) worth an estimated $10 million after they’re sold to investors

Related
Affordable Museum Reach Lofts receive $2.8M incentive

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

Noted architect Sir David Adjaye gives a lecture about Ruby City Tuesday night at Trinity University's Laurie Auditorium. ALYSSA BUNTING | HERON CONTRIBUTOR

Architecture students, art buffs and just over all enthusiastic San Antonians gathered at Trinity University's Laurie Auditorium on Tuesday evening to hear Sir David Adjaye speak on the highly anticipated Ruby City, the two-story building south of downtown he designed to hold Linda Pace's art collection.

The modern-looking crimson building is scheduled to open Oct. 13 at 150 Camp St. Architectural Digest called it one of the 14 most anticipated buildings of 2019.

The evening began with the story of Ruby City's origins. In 2006, Pace, the late San Antonio artist and philanthropist, was visiting London with friends and collectors to see art. Among the friends was filmmaker Isaac Julien, who Pace had known since the mid-1990s, and who was also a trustee of one of Adjaye's first cultural buildings in East London. Pace was so partial to the building, she told Julien to introduce her to Adjaye, and the two hit it off immediately. Adjaye joked that Pace was such a visionary that she must have had the gift of foresight.

"There was something like magic in which she had with the artists," Adjaye told the auditorium. "Artists really gravitated towards her. They were very generous in terms of (their) work she had access to. And if you were lucky enough to meet Linda, get to know Linda, you really want to do the best for her. She had an incredible ability to pull you into your best."

The next year, Pace hired Adjaye for the project, and Adjaye would make two visits to San Antonio. Pace explained to Adjaye in detail the history San Antonio's history and the importance of its indigenous heritage. She took him to the Spanish colonial missions, which Adjaye described as inspiring and powerful. He believes that it's important to look at past generations when sculpting for the future.

During Adjaye's two visits to San Antonio, Pace lived in her apartment on Camp Street near Ruby City's future location and not far from where an old ice house stood.

"Actually she wasn't sure if she wanted to tear that down," Adjaye recalled. "So the first conversations where about ... what could they do with the old ice house? Could we leave it? It was this fascinating kind of mute building. It was almost a perfect art cube but it felt not … not quite right to fit the dream she was incubating."

Linda Pace's vision of Ruby City which she drew before Sir David Adjaye visited San Antonio. COURTESY LINDA PACE FOUNDATION

Before one of his visits in 2007, after sitting on the idea for some time, Pace presented Adjaye with a "brief" of an idea for Ruby City: the sketch of a scarlet city she had seen in a dream. He was only able to show her a few of his own sketches in response—ideas he had for interpreting her vision—before she died of breast cancer in July.

They worked through many models, studying form and light. His focus was to bring in "zenithal light" with the notion that art spaces are backdrops to the art itself, understanding the color of light that illuminates the art and its different frequencies. The lighting in the galleries themselves pay homage to the different types of studios that artists may work in, such as factory buildings or converted sheds.

The building's form on the outside looks like it's constantly changing—different at every angle—while the inside was inspired by the circular walkways around the missions. It starts one place and ends back where you started, where you could almost walk around the building continuously. Every detail was thought out and had a purpose behind it. The entrance, for example, is a very shaded and dark space, a refresher for the eyes and a "retinal adjuster" to the lighting and tones that greet you when you enter.

Ruby City, a contemporary art center envisaged by the late San Antonio artist and philanthropist Linda Pace, is located at 150 Camp Street. It's scheduled to open Oct. 13, 2019. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Accomplishing the vivid red color of the exterior was no easy task as red concrete is almost impossible to create and keep bright without fading. With the help of a precasting company from Mexico City by the name of Pretecsa, they tested many samples outside until they finally got what Adjaye was keen to make.

"They added a recycled glass aggregate so that the beautiful light of the city always retracted, so it creates a kind of sparkle, which to me is the idea of magic," Adjaye said

The architect created the structure to have two textures made from the same material, the bottom portion is meant to be inviting and smooth to touch for guests while the top matte half contains the "magic."

The most prominent features of the entire building are the three giant windows that Adjaye refered to as "lenses" that tie together the relationship with the outside world with the spaces the art collections will occupy. The main window in the front, "the eye of the project," faces the San Pedro Creek, which Adjaye described as the origin of the city. Indeed, city archeologists believe the Mission de Valero, which would be later dubbed the Alamo, was founded on the creek near the present day San Francesco Di Paola Catholic Church, about 1½ miles north of Ruby City.

The window also overlooks a plaza sculpture garden and potentially an amphitheater as part of the San Pedro Creek restoration project. The second "lens" illuminates the staircase that goes around the building, creating a "lightwell." The third "lens" is focussed on the center, inviting you to get closer and sit down. Adjaye called it a space to reflect, as it overlooks Chris Park, the space on the opposite site of Camp Street named after Pace's son, Chris, who passed away at age 24, and to the San Antonio's skyline.

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

Ruby City, a contemporary art center envisaged by late San Antonio artist and philanthropist Linda Pace, is scheduled to open Oct. 13. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Years before she died of breast cancer in 2007, artist and philanthropist Linda Pace knew she wanted to build an exhibition space for her world-class contemporary art collection that would be free and open to the public.

She just didn't know what it would look like.

London-based architect Sir David Adjaye designed Ruby City at 150 Camp St. PHOTO BY ED REEVE

Pace was introduced to noted architect Sir David Adjaye by a mutual friend, London-based filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien, and the two agreed to collaborate on the project. She only met Adjaye in person three times—once in 2006 in London, and twice in 2007, when Adjaye made two site visits to San Antonio.

Before Adjaye's first San Antonio visit, Pace dreamt of the art center and she shared with him her vision of a red-hued, Kremlin-esque structure. The sketch was one in a series of dream drawings she had produced.

"It was very intense," said Kelly O'Connor, the Linda Pace Foundation's head of collections and communications, who was Pace's studio assistant in 2006. "You are sharing things like your dream and your vision. She was pretty focussed and very purposeful in her intent. So while it was a short-lived time, it was very authentic and well thought out.'

Pace's sketch was meant as a starting point, and not to be interpreted literally, O'Connor said.

More than 10 years later, the two-story crimson Ruby City is nearly complete at 150 Camp St. just off South Flores Street near the South Alamo intersection. As O'Connor sees it, it's Pace's final artwork realized by Adjaye, who's based out of London and New York.

"He was very much a part of the process," O'Connor recalled. "It wasn't like an afterthought that he was going to end up doing it. She knew at that point he would be helping Ruby City come into fruition."

In a lecture scheduled for Tuesday night at Laurie Auditorium, Adjaye will talk about his brief collaboration with Pace, about how her vision and collection helped shape his design for Ruby City, which Architectural Digest named one of the 14 Most Anticipated Buildings of 2019. He'll also dive deeper into the architecture. The talk is scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Much attention has been given to Adjaye's other works, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. The lecture Tuesday night is Adjaye's chance to shed more light on the Ruby City story, O'Connor said.

"He wants to take this opportunity to disseminate this information that really hasn't been made available to the public," she said.

Linda Pace's vision of Ruby City, which she sketched before Sir David Adjaye's first visit to San Antonio. COURTESY LINDA PACE FOUNDATION

The $15.6 million art center is scheduled to open to the public in October. Between now and then, more interior work has to be done inside the 14,472-square-foot space, including the build out for a three-channel Julien film installation. The interior's HVAC and humidity control systems also need time to adapt to South Texas conditions.

"It takes a little while for that system to get tightened up," O'Connor said.

The space will house Pace's collection, including works by local artists such as Cruz Ortiz and Ana Fernandez, in three second-floor gallery spaces.

During his visits to San Antonio, Adjaye drew inspiration from the Spanish colonial missions, specifically the way natural light enters the old churches through windows, a design element he incorporated into Ruby City. The museum's exterior is composed of 16-foot-tall cast concrete panels fabricated in Mexico City that have crushed red glass baked into them.

Ruby City is one component of an overall campus, which includes Chris Park, named after Pace's son Chris who died at age 24, and the exhibition space Studio inside the park—all on Camp Street. And the end of February, Julien's 1989 film "Looking for Langston" will be screened at Studio.

After his lecture, Adjaye, along with Julien, will return to San Antonio in October for more programming centered around Ruby City's opening.

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

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