The University of Texas at San Antonio is preparing to open a community resource center on the West Side, a walk-in-type space envisioned as an element of its downtown campus expansion.
A wide-range of services will be offered, including college admissions advising, adult education programs, small business support via the UTSA Institute for Economic Development, and arts and cultural programming.
The location hasn't been announced. In an interview last week, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said the space will be leased from an existing building embedded in the Wets Side, separate from the downtown campus footprint, and will open in the fall.
"It's really our attempt to realize our part of this, our important partnership (with the West Side), by making our institution more available," Eighmy said.
Eighmy said the center is the result of conversations with West Side organizations and advocates, and elected officials, who have requested the university engage with the West Side.
In the next 10 years, UTSA plans to quadruple the size of its downtown campus, a massive multimillion dollar effort in which new buildings will be built east, on the other side of Interstate 35, and west, right up against the West Side community. The plan shows an elevated pedestrian park alongside the vehicular railroad bridge on Buena Vista Street that connects far west downtown with the neighborhoods. The park would include basketball courts, and other outdoor amenities, open to the public.
Some activists have expressed concern UTSA's expansion could usher in the gentrification of the West Side. Amid those concerns, the city of San Antonio has asked UTSA to conduct an economic impact analysis as a condition of selling city-owned properties along Frio Street critical to the university's expansion. The study by The National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders has already begun, Eighmy said.
He said the results of the study will help inform the programming at the community center and campus.
Eighmy said UTSA is also looking to open a similar resource center on the East Side.
Ten years ago, when I started writing about downtown for the San Antonio Express-News, the scope of my coverage was relegated to the core, where the tall buildings were.
The strategy worked in 2009. Back then, no one was talking about the gentrification of the center city neighborhoods. It hadn't become the issue it is today.
Now it's clear neighborhoods such as Government Hill and the near West Side, among others, are heading toward a character makeover. So far, I haven't heard anyone challenge this assumption.
I've only heard arguments from neighborhood and cultural preservationists on one side, and from those who back massive development on the other, on whether such large-scale change is good or bad for San Antonio in the near and distant future.
Which is why we need to talk to you.
If you live near downtown, we want to know your story—whether you're a homeowner or renter, whether you've lived in the neighborhood for 30 years or three months. For now, we are most interested in Government Hill; Dignowity Hill; Denver Heights; all of Southtown, including the Lone Star District; all of the near West Side, from Zarzamora Street on in; Five Points; and Tobin Hill. But if you live close to these communities, let's talk anyway.
Why? We want to better understand what's happening. Help us grasp, even if just a little better, how your community is changing, and why. Our job is to gather and disseminate your stories in a way that's fair an accurate so that San Antonians can form their own well-informed opinions about the evolving downtown area, and the policies of our local government.
Email or call me, anytime:
In an attempt to begin to reactivate Guadalupe Plaza on the near West Side, which has had a fence surrounding it since 2016, the city and a nonprofit contracted to oversee the public space have opened it up once more from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Also, the city will begin to host movie nights at the plaza starting Oct. 12 with a screening of "Selena."
The efforts are short-term solutions while the city continues to gather community input, which began with a public meeting in late August, for a more permanent plan that the city hopes to reach in December.
However, many of the more than 100 who attended a public meeting Tuesday night on the future of the plaza put city officials on the spot, asking why a chain-link fence, which has surrounded the plaza since August 2016, is still up.
The second meeting on the future of the Guadalupe Plaza on the near West Side on Tuesday night produced a constant dialogue that was sometimes heated among the more than 100 community members who attended.
The meeting, hosted by the city of San Antonio, was held on the plaza's theater space, as attendees shared their personal history with the plaza.
The fence was erected by the nonprofit Avenida Guadalupe Association, which holds the lease on the plaza, and six other city-owned properties in the vicinity, through 2029.
The fencing was first put up by AGA in 2016 as a temporary measure for a Diez y Seis de Septembre event, but stayed up to the keep out heroin addicts who would frequent the plaza, said Gabriel Velasquez, the association’s executive director.
"The heroin situation was off the chart," Velasquez said.
In May 2017, the association was granted a certificate of appropriateness by the city to surround the plaza with a fence, even though the fence went up nine months prior. Some in the audience, mainly members of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, wondered why the fence is still up, considering the fact that the certificate expired four months ago in May.
"It is devastating that the solution to criminal activity is a fence," said Sarah Gould, a local historian who was recently tapped to develop the Westside Community Museum, a project scheduled to open next year in the old Ruben's Icehouse at Guadalupe and South Colorado streets, a stone’s throw from the plaza.
"There has to be a design solution that doesn't make the community feel like criminals," Gould said.
Veronica Garcia, interim assistant director of the Center City Development and Operations Department (CCDO), said the fence remains up because there was never a community input process, which the city is now in the middle of. The meetings so far, she says, have been inconclusive in terms of an agreement on the fence, and the plaza's hours of operation.
For fiscal year 2019, the city provided the AGA, which began leasing the plaza in 2009, with $142,000 to help pay for salaries related to the management and maintenance of the plaza. Also included in the upcoming budget is $100,000 for programming and security, which the CCDO will manage.
The city does not charge the AGA rent on the lease.
In August 2017, the City Council awarded $304,500 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for "plaza facility improvements," which can include a fence, Garcia told attendees. On Sept. 30, the contract was renewed for another 90 days, and those funds will be used for whatever solution the community meetings produce, she said.
The plaza remains open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, but can be closed for private events.
Two more meetings are scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Oct. 29 and Dec. 4, the locations of which have not been determined.
Armadillo Boulders, a rock climbing gym in the Tobin Hill area, opened this past weekend, and also gives people a place to do yoga and sip cold brew from tap.
"We wanted to break down the barriers or the obstacles of the sport to people,” co-owner Michael Cano said. “It’s not an alternative fitness thing. It’s a lifestyle fitness. So it’s just like going to the movies or going (to play) putt-putt.”
There are no ropes, harnesses, certifications or 50-foot climbing walls at Armadillo Boulders, 1119 Camden St. Instead, all of the walls are under 30 feet, and after a five-minute safety course, anyone can scale them.
The facility is the result of a three-year endeavour by Cano and his longtime friend Joe Kreidel. Both men are San Antonio natives and graduates of Clark High School.
Kreidel was living in Tucson, Arizona, when he came home to visit family and realized there were hardly any indoor climbing facilities in San Antonio. He emailed Cano, who was living in Brooklyn at the time, to gauge is interest in opening a climbing gym.
“I was surprised at how quickly Michael was on board,” Kreidel said. “I think it was quickly apparent to both of us that it was a pretty clear path forward.”
The two men made the move back to the city with their families about two years ago and spent much of that time driving around the city, eating barbecue, drinking coffee and searching for the perfect location for their business. Finding a building with 50-foot ceilings, however, proved nearly impossible and they narrowed their original plans for a rock climbing gym to be solely about bouldering.
“We want to be a fantastic bouldering gym," Cano said. "We didn’t want to be mediocre at ropes and mediocre at bouldering."
A former industrial building at Camden Street fit the bill. They nearly doubled the size of the original ceiling and had the walls built by Vertical Solutions, a Salt Lake City-based company which Kreidel and Cano deem the best climbing wall builders in the industry.
From there, every aspect of Armadillo Boulders was created to give people a curated experience.
They left the natural birch walls unpainted so the colored climbing holds, which indicate difficulty levels, readily stand out. Kreidel resets a portion of the wall routes twice a week, giving people new bouldering problems to solve. Within a month, every wall at the facility will have been changed.
“So if you climb in July and you climb in August, it’s going to be a new gym,” Cano said.
There are also homages to San Antonio throughout the facility. All of the walls are named, including the "dancer" wall, because it resembles a folklorico dancer’s swaying dress, and "Wall-ito," a smaller, 16-foot kid’s wall adorned with a hula hoop and pool noodles. It was used by a group of 15 kids who attended a 9-year-old boy’s birthday party at the facility on opening day.
In a more secluded part of the gym, the only paint on the walls depicts the Virgin Mary.
“It’s nine feet tall and I think the craftsmanship is incredible,” Cano said.
They also paid close attention to other details in the gym, as well.
For instance, guests can sip on Element Kombucha and Pulp coffee on tap. And parts of the wood cutting tables, marked with saw burns, were repurposed to border the front desk.
Kreidel and Cano also teamed up with the Southtown Yoga Loft to offer yoga classes, and has a fitness area.
"There’s also a lot of people who are going to be members who aren’t going to climb much," Kreidel said.
They hope that with multiple fitness options, Wi-Fi and tables on which to enjoy coffee, Armadillo Boulders can become a community oriented space for people.
Armadillo Boulders is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. every day with additional members-only hours. Day passes are available. For more information, visit the website here.
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron