About 80 people packed the back room of the Blue Star Brewing Company Wednesday evening for the King William Association‘s (KWA) general membership meeting. The crowd turned out to discuss the pros and cons of H-E-B’s proposal to close one block of Main Street between Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Arsenal Street.
The meeting was intended as a briefing on the proposed closure, which is part of H-E-B’s plan to expand its downtown headquarters campus, but it came as the City of San Antonio starts its review of four proposals submitted for a $1 million city incentive to attract a grocery store downtown. That’s a hot topic in any conversation about downtown development, and last night was no exception.
H-E-B submitted one of the four competing proposals for the city’s $1 million incentive. It proposes opening a small store on land the company owns at the corner of South Flores Street and Cesar Chavez Boulevard.
Opinions were mixed about the proposed closure. Residents voiced concerns about traffic, parking and pedestrian safety. (Full disclosure: My family is building a house on East Arsenal Street, so we have an interest in the outcome. We don’t oppose the closure and obviously support the opening of a grocery store in the area.)
Would closing Main Street for one block improve or make worse traffic in the neighborhood? That remains to be seen.
“Change is coming if you haven’t noticed,” said KWA President Deb Mueller before handing the microphone to H-E-B’s Director of Public Affairs Dya Campos.”It’s all around us. I hope we can approach this in a cooperative manner.”
Campos provided a brief overview of the proposal to close Main Street from Cesar Chavez to East Arsenal Street, noting that the initiative is not linked to the company’s grocery store proposal and would be sought regardless of who wins the city incentive.
Campos said H-E-B has already purchased the entire block of South Flores Street between Cesar Chavez and East Arsenal. Plans and renovations are underway to convert the corner building at South Flores and East Arsenal where it becomes El Paso Street to a culinary school that would house the company’s test kitchens, allowing H-E-B partners to test recipes for their store brand.
The proposed grocery store, to be located at the southeast corner of South Flores and Cesar Chavez, would offer dry goods, fresh produce and meats, and prepared foods. Campos said Central Market would serve as a “commissary” to the downtown store, suggesting that many of the offerings would be prepared at the Broadway location and transported downtown.
The store would include an outdoor patio and sport a “fresh design, in keeping with the neighborhood,” said Campos. The Commander’s House, a city-owned senior center that offers affordable hot lunches to neighborhood seniors three days a week, a program underwritten by H-E-B, would remain intact.
While the crowd appeared overwhelmingly in favor of an H-E-B grocery store in the neighborhood, concerns were raised about the closing of Main Street. According to Campos, H-E-B partners constantly must navigate speeding traffic on Main Street as they traverse the street from the parking lot. One resident underscored pedestrian safety issues on Main Street, mentioning that wrecks and accidents are common. “We should support this,” he said.
Campos cited the company’s continued “need to grow” as a reason why one block of Main Street should be closed.
“How does closing Main help with your need to grow?” asked one resident.
“Our largest conference room at corporate headquarters only holds 25 people,” said Campos, who stated unequivocally that H-E-B has no plans to relocate its downtown headquarters.
Residents agreed that buses, trolleys, and delivery trucks racing down Main Street are a problem.
The possibility of closing the iconic Arsenal Street Bridge to vehiclular traffic and making it a pedestrian-only walkway also was raised as a possible solution for discouraging through-traffic down Pancoast and Washington Streets. Closing the Arsenal Street Bridge would deter motorists on South Alamo Street from using Beauregard Street and other neighborhood streets to cross the river on East Arsenal in front of H-E-B headquarters. If the Arsenal Street Bridge were limited to pedestrians, this might avert more dense traffic south of the H-E-B Arsenal.
The closure makes engineering sense, according to lawyer, engineer and former San Antonio River Authority General Manager Fred Pfeiffer, who resides on Washington Street. He told a small group after the meeting that the bridge has a limited weight-bearing capacity of 36,000 pounds and was never intended to support commuter traffic. Pfeiffer said the possibility of closing the Arsenal Street Bridge to vehicles first was raised in the 1970s when the San Antonio River Walk renovation was undertaken, and a fewer motorists used the crossing. At the time, the measure was defeated. This time around might be different.