Construction crews work on the School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center at 506 Dolorosa last week. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

In December, UTSA began expanding its downtown presence with the construction of a six-story building on Dolorosa that will house its new School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center.

The $90 million, 167,000-square-foot building is being built south of City Hall at 506 Dolorosa—on 2.5 acres along San Pedro Creek—and is slated for completion in July 2022. UTSA purchased the property from the City of San Antonio on Dec. 15.

In addition to classrooms, labs and research space for students and faculty, the new building will also have a street-level cafe and an event venue for the public.

GOOGLE | HERON

The School of Data Science is expected to house 6,500 data science students inside 86,000 square feet of space in the new building, which includes its Open Cloud Institute. More than 70 faculty members specializing in cybersecurity, cloud computing, data analytics, and artificial intelligence will also be there.

The National Security Collaboration Center (NSCC), which is currently located on UTSA’s main campus, is envisioned as a "hub for government, university and industry partners in the cybersecurity field." Those partners will collaborate on efforts such as network security, cyber training and workforce development, attack-and-threat modeling and mitigation, and artificial intelligence.

The data science and cybercesurity schools are expected to collaborate with the city and county, whose offices are nearby, and with downtown’s growing tech district on Houston Street.

"There is no other place that has built an ecosystem combining the community’s business strengths and research expertise in data science, information management and cybersecurity like our ecosystem here in San Antonio," UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said in a press release.

Design rendering for UTSA School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center by Whiting-Turner | Jacobs | Overland.
Design rendering for UTSA School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center. Courtesy UTSA

The building is being funded by $70 million from the Permanent University Fund, approved by the University of Texas System Board of Regents, $5 million from UTSA’s own institutional funds, and $15 million from developer and philanthropist Graham Weston. A block north, Weston co-built the new Frost Tower, downtown’s first new office tower in decades, and has plans to populate west downtown with more than 1,000 apartment units in the near future, anchored by an envisioned 32-story apartment tower on Soledad Street.

For Weston Urban, part of those plans include renovating the former Continental Hotel property at 322 W. Commerce St. into housing potentially for UTSA's "future students, faculty, and staff."

"The UTSA School of Data Science will be at the heart of the thrust of new innovation over the coming decades," Weston said in a press release. "We can be a national leader in this field—one of the few schools that really separates itself from the pack. This is going to change the face of what UTSA is, and my prediction is UTSA is going to be famous around the country and the world in data science and cybersecurity."

For UTSA’s part, the university is primed to develop adjacent parcels on Dolorosa, including adding the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Careers Building, an extension of the College of Business on the main campus, west of San Pedro Creek, on land where the former Bexar County jail is currently being demolished.

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The university is requesting funding through the UT system, tuition revenue bonds, and private donors. UTSA has the land under contract with Bexar County, and will be purchased once the jail is demolished.

There are no plans for UTSA third development on Dolorosa, 702 Dolorosa, which the university plans to purchase from the city in early 2022.

There is also no timetable or update for UTSA's other ambitious expansion plan: the expansion of its main downtown campus just west of Interstate 35-Interstate 10.

Related UTSA articles
» UTSA data science school, national security center construction expected to begin in December
» UTSA campus to connect to West Side community in university’s expansion plan
» Weston Urban purchases iconic Toudouze building, eyes synergy with UTSA expansion

Related Weston Urban articles
» Development Profile: Weston Urban’s 32-story apartment gets initial design OK
» Weston Urban buys former Navy Club site on River Walk
» Continental Hotel sold to Weston Urban for mixed-use project

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

HERON FILE PHOTO

San Antonio’s emergency housing assistance program, which has helped more than 28,000 households with cost-of-living expenses since last April, could expand to cover six months of rent or mortgage payments for residents struggling during the pandemic.

If ultimately approved by the City Council, the changes would apply to households who are in arrears with rent or mortgage payments, as well as cover the current month’s debt and one future month. Currently, the program pays up to two months of rent or mortgage payments for families or individuals making up to 80% of the area median income (AMI).

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Cash grants, which are offered now in the third month of assistance, would be removed as an option under the revised program. Instead, the city wants to funnel more applicants to case management, connecting them to social services, such as SNAP benefits or childcare programs, depending on the need.

The revisions, which the council’s Culture and Neighborhood Services committee will discuss on Monday, coincides with a $46.7 million boost in rental assistance dollars as part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in December.

The city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department is proposing the changes after the program’s recipients overwhelmingly said in a survey conducted from early November to Jan. 1 that they needed more months of rent or mortgage covered.

Households who have already taken advantage of the program are also eligible, and would have their previous month added to the six-month total.

"If someone was approved for two months, they can get up to four additional months of assistance," said Vero Soto, director of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department (NHSD).

Currently, the program pays up to two months of rent or mortgage, and includes SAWS, CPS Energy, and internet bills, and up to $300 in cash for household making up to 50% of the area median income (AMI). In the third month, they receive $500 cash, only. Families or individuals making between 51% and 80% AMI only receive rent or mortgage assistance (no utilities) for the first two months, and $250 in the third month.

City of San Antonio

The revised program would essentially offer the same benefits, but for up to six months, and with no cash option.

City of San Antonio

To date, the city has approved emergency housing assistance for slightly more than 28,000 San Antonio households, which equals 75,362 people. Of that total, 85% make less than 30% AMI.

[ Scroll down for a chart showing AMI levels. ]

A total of $70.5 million has been spent in the program as of Jan. 30. Last year, from April to Oct. 1, the city allocated roughly $86 million toward housing assistance. The incoming federal dollars, which the City Council is expected to formally accept in mid-February, will boost the program’s total to roughly $133.6 million.

[ View the city's Covid-19 emergency housing assistance program dashboard for more data. ]

One of the main reasons the city is moving away from providing cash assistance, which had been offered through a national nonprofit called the Family Independence Initiative, is because the new infusion of federal dollars can only be spent on rent and utility aid.

Instead, applicants will be set up with a "benefit navigator" in the city's Department of Human Services, which will offer case management for the individual or family. The housing assistance program’s application will be augmented to include questions that will give city staff a better idea of the applicants’ needs.

"We really want to focus on things we cannot offer through the (housing assistance) program," Edward Gonzales, NHSD assistant director, told the Housing Commission on Wednesday.

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During the Housing Commission meeting, Commissioner Taneka Johnson asked whether families could receive cash assistance in the form of a gift card.

"Yes, we would consider a gift card cash assistance," Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said. "We have access to those through our referral system. Once they get to a benefits navigator, that assessment may include a recommendation to include a gift card."

Last week, the City Council agreed to include $2.2 million in funding from the state’s emergency rental assistance program, which the city will use to assist families who live inside Bexar County, but outside San Antonio’s city limits.

After the council’s Culture and Neighborhood Services Committee meeting on Monday, there will be an opportunity for public comment on Feb. 8. The full council is scheduled to consider the revisions on Feb. 18.

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Previously published
» San Antonio receives $46.7M from Covid-19 stimulus for rental assistance
» San Antonio's housing aid program surpasses 20K families served
» City Council adds $24M to housing relief, but lessens benefits per San Antonio household

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

FOLO MEDIA FILE PHOTO

By Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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

People wait in line at Las Palmas Library on the West Side as early voting began on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.
People wait in line at Las Palmas Library on the West Side as early voting began on Tuesday. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

By Sanford Nowlin | San Antonio Current

A Bexar County district judge has ruled that the county's elections department must open 18 additional Election Day voting locations and post all polling sites on its website.

Further, the ruling requires the department to reimplement its volunteer deputy registrar certification program and publicize the new polling locations within 21 days of the election.

Without those changes, the county stands to violate the Texas Election Code, Judge Karen Pozza said in an opinion handed down Monday.

Pozza's ruling came in response to a lawsuit by voter mobilization groups MOVE Texas and the Texas Organizing Project, which argued that the county hadn't done enough to ensure voter access during an election that's likely to inspire record turnout amid a pandemic.

Pozza agreed, saying Bexar County must increase its number of Election Day polling sites from 284 to 302, the same number it operated during the 2018 midterm election. It's not required to expand the number of early voting sites beyond the current number of 48, however.

"Voter turnout is negatively impacted by increasing the time and distance it takes to get to a polling place, as well as voter confusion when locations are closed," the judge wrote. "Voters of color are especially sensitive to and impacted by increased distances."

MOVE Texas Executive Director H. Drew Galloway said other Texas counties have responded by opening additional voting sites, and in some case of Houston's Harris County added drive-through voting.

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"This is a moment, because of the pandemic and the situation we're in, where we need to innovate and expand access to the polls in ways we never have before," Galloway said.

Early voting began on Tuesday and will run until Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3.

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

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

SCREEN SHOT | KSAT

By Nina Rangel | San Antonio Current

During a Wednesday night briefing, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said local bars that haven't already reclassified as restaurants will be able to reopen at 50% capacity at some point next week.

Most of the 3,000 bars in the county have already reclassified as restaurants, allowing them to reopen so long as they serve food. An emergency order filed Thursday by the judge will allow the remaining 425 to begin serving again.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an Oct. 7 order allowing bars in many counties to reopen, but only in cases where county judges opt in. On the day of the order, Wolff said he needed a week to analyze the public health implications of the change.

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During that time, a subcommittee of the Covid-19 Community Response Coalition recommended new safety measures, which Wolff said will apply to the reopening. Those include removing bar stools, increasing circulation of outdoor air and limiting on-premise standing and congregating as much as possible.

While the group recommended occupancy of newly reopened bars reach no more than 50% capacity both inside and outside, Wolff said the outdoor requirement would violate Abbott’s order, making it unenforceable by the county.

While Wolff plans to file his order with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on Thursday, it’s unclear exactly when it will go into effect. During the briefing, the judge said he hopes it can go into effect early next week.

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

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

HERON ARCHIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brigid Cooley is a Heron intern this fall. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Mesquite newspaper. She can be reached at brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

This segment of San Pedro Creek Culture Park​, between West Houston and West Commerce streets, will feature a 250-foot-wide waterfall. V. FINSTER | HERON

When it's completed in March 2021, the next segment of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park will include a plaza in front of the upcoming Texas Public Radio headquarters inside the Alameda Theatre; a garden facing a 250-foot-wide waterfall; and walkways 18 feet below street level lined with murals depicting the area's history.

HERON | GOOGLE

The $75 million segment, from West Houston Street, next to the Alameda, to West Nueva Street, is currently under construction.

The channel is being widened from 15 feet to between 25 and 30 feet, depending on the location of the creek. The difficulties, according to San Antonio River Authority (SARA) Senior Engineer Kerry Averyt, come from reconstructing the street bridges on Nueva, Dolorosa, Commerce and Houston Street—to accommodate the widening of San Pedro Creek’s channel—and archaeological diggings in Calder Alley, which runs parallel to the creek behind the Spanish Governor’s Palace.

Each time the construction team digs below six inches into the ground in that area, Averyt said, an archaeological investigation is launched, led by Raba Kistner, an engineering consulting firm. The last investigation, which began in September, took two to three months. According to media reports, archaeologists found thousands of artifacts—cattle bones, ceramics, a cannon ball—that Averyt said were eventually curated by the University of Texas at San Antonio’s (UTSA) Center for Archaeological Research.

“This is a critical part, one of the most difficult parts (of the project),” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. The majority of the funding is coming from the county. In December, the county commissioners approved $60 million toward this segment of the project. The $75 million price tag is a 20 percent increase from initial estimates, Averyt told commissioners two months ago.

Overall, the total project has cost roughly $178 million.

Walkways are being constructed using steel rebar casings that will be drilled into the ground, on the sides of the newly expanded channel. The rebar casings will then be filled with concrete and act as the walkways’ foundation, Averyt said.

A community gathering plaza for performances and other events will be located across the creek from the Alameda Theatre. COURTESY HDR, AND MUÑOZ AND COMPANY
A 250-foot-wide cascading wall of water will flow between West Houston and West Commerce streets. COURTESY HDR, AND MUÑOZ AND COMPANY

From Houston south to West Commerce, construction on Texas Public Radio’s (TPR) new headquarters inside the Alameda Theatre is happening at the same time as the park’s. Construction teams for both are coordinating on design and timing.

In this area, a 250-foot-wide waterfall will be powered by a water pump, which will perpetually send water 15 feet down into the creek. The engineering philosophy behind the project, Averyt said, was to improve the creek’s water quality by oxygenating the water, while creating a breeze that will cool down the area. To make room for walkways and the waterfall, a Dollar General store on Commerce was purchased and demolished by the river authority to make room for the widening of the creek channel.

Calder Alley, which runs parallel to the creek, is located behind the Spanish Governor's Palace. COURTESY HDR, AND MUÑOZ AND COMPANY
San Pedro Creek Culture Park below Calder Alley at night. COURTESY HDR, AND MUÑOZ AND COMPANY

From West Commerce to Dolorosa, murals along Calder Alley will depict the history of Bexar County and San Antonio, according to SARA Art Curator Carrie Brown.

Paths and grassy knolls line this section of San Pedro Creek Culture Park, which is located between Dolorosa and West Nueva streets. COURTESY HDR, AND MUÑOZ AND COMPANY

Between Dolorosa and Nueva, UTSA’s College of Business and its new School of Data Science will eventually flank a sculpture garden and murals on the creek. Those buildings are expected to be completed in the next 2-3 years, and the river authority and UTSA will coordinate on their respective construction projects, Averyt said.

In this same stretch, Bexar County will spend the next 15 months vacating inmates from the Central Texas Detention Facility, and will eventually demolish it and the former Bexar County Fire Marshall building to make room for the project, Wolff said.

A segment of San Pedro Creek taken during a tour on Feb. 15, 2019. V. FINSTER | HERON

The project includes reconstructing each bridge in the three-block stretch.

The Commerce Street bridge is being reconstructed in two phases, with the eastbound lane currently closed to traffic. The east and westbound lanes of Commerce will be finished by November. Construction on the Houston Street bridge begins in November; both lanes will be closed to traffic to replace water system and electric utilities. Dolorosa bridge will be reconstructed will come after Houston. During the next segment of construction, the Nueva Street bridge will be reconstructed. In total, eight street bridges will be replaced by the end of the project, according to the San Pedro Creek Culture Park brochure on the project. Staircases will connect the sidewalks to the creek at each bridge, including ADA accessible ramps.

The entire length of the creek will be walkable without having to go onto the street.

Judge Nelson Wolff (center) speaks at the end of a tour over the second segment of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park Feb. 15. He's flanked by County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (left) and project manager Kerry Averyt. V. FINSTER | HERON

For this segment, Bexar County is using a $35 million reimbursement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from its Mission Reach project, which was received under the condition it be used for flood mitigation, Wolff said. Bexar County Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an additional $25 million, while in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago, he said.

As the project progresses, Wolff said he thinks the cost will go “way down,” explaining the later phases of the project are more focussed on environmental restoration.

The next segment, from Nueva to East Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard, is currently under design. Other phases, from Chavez to past Cevallos Street, are either being designed or planned.

The first segment of San Pedro Creek Culture Park, located along Cameron Street, between the flood inlet tunnel behind Fox Tech and ending at Houston Street, opened in May 2018.

Previously published
San Pedro Creek project moves forward with $60 million in fresh funding

Contact Gaige Davila: 956-372-4776 | gaige@saheron.com | @gaigedavila on Twitter

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