With Little Neighborhood Support, Others File Suit to Stop Eastside Brewery

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The press conference on the Hays Street Bridge

Bekah S. McNeelIt’s the same song, and what are we on, the 5th … 6th verse now? This time, with gusto!

The next phase in the saga of the proposed Alamo Brewery project has begun. After opponents to the brewery failed to receive support from the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association and unsuccessfully petitioned the City, they have resorted to suing the City of San Antonio for breach of a memorandum of understanding, and for ignoring the petition brought before City Council to bring the sale of property to a vote.

Which means, yes, your tax dollars are about to be put to work fighting this lawsuit.

From what I gleaned from the two Thursday press conferences, I’m with Trey Jacobson, economic development consultant to Alamo Brewery: “I’m not hearing anything new.”

The press conference on the Hays Street Bridge

The Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group wants the land along Cherry Street between Hays and Burnet to become a city park. The Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association and the City of San Antonio have voted to allow Alamo Beer Company to build a microbrewery on the empty lot. Considering that the neighborhood’s two landmark parks, Dignowity and Lockwood, are in need of plenty of attention themselves, the day the Parks and Recreation department decides to divert money from other deserving projects to turn this derelict parcel into a park is unlikely.

[For more history of the debate see previous Rivard Report coverage from the time of the August City Council vote to approve the sale of property to Eugene Simor, and Express-News downtown blogger Benjamin Olivo’s primer on the subject.]

Now, with the help of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group has enlisted local attorneys Amy Kastley and Elva Treviño to challenge the City in a district court.

According to Gary Houston, a member of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, this lawsuit was something members had hoped to avoid. In a traveling press conference, held first on the Hays Street Bridge and then reconvening on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse, members of the restoration group, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and a handful of people from the neighborhood declared their intent to reclaim the property from the private sector.

Petitioners pile onto a Daisy Tour Bus to shuttle to the courthouse for their next press conference.

The group was unwilling to stop for interviews at the bridge, but waited for their moment on the courthouse steps – theatrical, but completely unnecessary for filing a lawsuit. Once there, Nettie Hinton took the microphone to claim the Eastside does not need the economic investment of the brewery. She heralded the Eastside Promise Neighborhood (EPN) Grant and all of the improvements being made to the area, and how the brewery is out of line with the kind of development the neighborhood needs.

“A brewery and a brewpub is not that kind of progressive development,” Hinton said.

I have read the EPN’s implementation plan. I’ve read their research findings. I’ve sat in meetings with their talented director Henri Muñoz. At no point in the discussion of the  $24.6 million allotment was there any discussion of building, maintaining or promoting a new park. But here is something we did talk about, straight from the implementation plan:

“The success of the resulting Eastside Promise Neighborhood (EPN) Plan will be enhanced by six factors: 1) the City of San Antonio has rediscovered and is reinvesting in the Eastside…”

When the City decided to sell the land –  which no one else had the means to develop, that sits empty and was likely to continue to do so indefinitely, they were doing just that: “reinvesting in the Eastside.”

Alamo Beer Company owner Eugene Simor is not a named defendant in the lawsuit, but the planned Alamo Brewery is a target. He issued this statement:

“The Alamo Beer Company is disappointed to learn that a small group intends to file a lawsuit against the City of San Antonio.  This legal action will undoubtedly waste taxpayer resources to answer charges that have been repeatedly scrutinized and conclusively dismissed during the public process pertaining to the proposed brewery development.  It is unfortunate for this community and those that advocate for Eastside development that a few individuals will go to extreme and counterproductive lengths to slow a major redevelopment project that is widely supported and embraced by nearby residents and businesses following a year-long community outreach effort.  Alamo Beer continues to proceed with its plans and looks forward to a successful project.”

Hinton openly accused the City of dirty dealing, and insinuated that this could be the tip of the iceberg on the City’s misdeeds.

Those opposing the sale of land to Alamo Brewery on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse.

“The City Attorney has advised that no agreements have been violated by the Alamo Brewery Plan at the Hays Street Bridge,” said District Two City Councilwoman Ivy Taylor.  “For almost three years, we have been focused on economic development, investment and revitalization in East San Antonio.  This $7 million dollar project is a welcome step forward.  A year of dialogue and negotiation on this project occurred before the Esperanza Center got involved.  The affected neighborhood association has endorsed the plan and we intend to move forward.”

A few of my Eastside neighbors were among those who stood Thursday on the courthouse steps. They said they are opposed to the brewery for various reasons, mostly having to do noise, traffic, and a general enjoyment of parks and nice sidewalks.

Beatriz Valdez voiced her concerns about the kind of clientele that the brewery would attract, saying that the brewery will, “bring the kind of business we don’t need.”

This has been a favorite line of misinformation fed by opponents of the microbrewery. They allow people to believe that patrons will be a bunch of drunks careening around the neighborhood. No matter how many times they hear that microbreweries are regulated by laws prohibiting them from selling their wares like in bars or grocery stores, they keep insisting that the brewery is going to attract drunks.

Between speakers the group commenced a call-response chant.

“Whose bridge?”

“Our bridge!”

My husband and I use the bridge almost every day. He commutes over it. We both run over it. I had never seen any of these people on the bridge until today. I didn’t see many people using the bridge at all actually, until Boneshakers, a bicycle bar, opened up next to the bridge on Austin Street.

According to Houston, the protest group, “represents a broad cross-section of people from the neighborhood,” and mentioned that, “there are others” who support their position. That’s simply not true. The majority are not from the neighborhood.

Opponents would have the public believe the neighborhood does not want the brewery. I live in the neighborhood. I’m a member of the neighborhood association. When the restoration group and the brewery presented their ideas to us, we voted for the brewery.

When I asked Elva Treviño, one of the lawyers representing opponents, about this vote she said, “The neighborhood didn’t vote for this.”

“I was there. They did,” I replied.

Treviño answered, “The neighborhood association is not the neighborhood. The neighborhood association is infiltrated with newcomers, and Eugene Simor went to them, and so did people from the City. There was some backroom dealing going on.”

Bekah S. McNeel lives in Dignowity Hill, about five blocks from the proposed brewery site. Read her stories, “Where I Live: Dignowity Hill” and “The G-card: Defining Gentrification in Dignowity Hill.”

Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.

11 thoughts on “With Little Neighborhood Support, Others File Suit to Stop Eastside Brewery

  1. Bless these misguided soul’s hearts. I have a little experience about being next to a brewery. My photography studio is in the Blue Star which has a microbrewery. I see many cyclists, runners and basically good people around the place. I don’t hear excessive noise and I feel that the business is good for the community. I also personally know Eugene Simor and believe him to be one of the good guys. Let us hope that our city, which has a long history of breweries, can survive this without killing another good business which is local, positive and part of an urban renaissance. Shame on the HSBRG.

  2. As opposed to expensive streetcars, Randal O’Toole points out in his study that it was microbreweries that spurred the revitalization of Portland. There are 50 of them in Portland. If we want to help downtown areas like this, we should encourage microbreweries like this.

    • Portland is very different from San Antonio. Every city has its own personality with a different approach necessary for each one. The microbrewery may not be the right decision. These people are obviously fighting for something they care about and I commend them for using all available resources even if it does come at taxpayers expense. I totally agree with Lissa and Juan and disagree with the overall attitude of this article.

      The City of San Antonio is in great need of a park and maybe, in order to resolve this, a partnership between the city, the brewery company and the neighborhood organization to use the land for a pub and a brewery. Restore the bridge, develop sections for park use and rights of way for bicycles on the bridge. I’m sure some kind of agreement can be reached!

  3. This article has some startlingly cynical statements, not about breweries, but about parks.

    “Considering that the neighborhood’s two landmark parks, Dignowity and Lockwood, are in need of plenty of attention themselves, the day the Parks and Recreation department decides to divert money from other deserving projects to turn this derelict parcel into a park is unlikely.”

    Some of us in this town are working hard to keep the city’s parks moving forward. Dignowity is getting attention, but rebuilding a park, or building a new park, looks very different than building a brewery. Historically, it has been dedicated citizens who push for the money strapped city to develop a new park. And yes, a “derelict parcel” can be turned into a park and it wouldn’t take forever. You should attend some of the playground builds or the creek cleanups or the savannah installation at hardberger Park or similar mass volunteer events. Why, I bet one big volunteer project on Martin Luther King Day could make a world of difference on that derelict lot. Most derelict lots are created by derelict or overwhelmed owners, not the city, so don’t give up on our abilities to reverse long term neglect.

    Breweries are part of San Antonio’s history and microbreweries are a part of San Antonio’s new urban landscape as well. Our brewers make good beer and I drink my share. But going to a park is another thing entirely, not limited to “customers” and a park provides jobs too, and it creates a place for scout projects and it grows over time, bot botanically and culturally. A San Antonian won’t have to be of drinking age to go to a park, and a park would be a reasonable complement to opening up the connection recreated by the restoration of the bridge.

    Elsewhere in the city, we are working hard to create linear parks along waterways, and succeeding after years of persistent effort. The east side needs lots of reconnecting as well. and a brewery/restaurant is just not what meets the standards for a durable asset available to all ages and beliefs. Yes, a park would need maintenance and patrols, and it would need champions. At least some of the people who have protested would go on to become champions for that park. Don’t disrespect that ambition.

    Not too many years ago, a prior dist. 2 councilwoman got lots of criticism for trying to propose selling an acre of city land. Now, after the city agreed to establish a park where people had worked years to restore the bridge, all of a sudden it is OK to sell off the prospective park. What drives a city to make such a shift, while at the same time spending millions on new parks on the other side of town? Naw, I don’t think it is a lack of city funding…

    I don’t live in the city limits of San Antonio, but I work on the city of San Antonio parks, and they need lots of love and attention. I honestly believe that Alamo Brewery would be equally welcome elsewhere in town, but that the “derelict parcel” of land is important to develop, precisely because of its location. the protests clearly identify that there are prospective defenders and champions of that place. Pity it had to become a lawsuit, we could be organizing an MLK project to restore that land and enlarge the welcome that is already established by the restored bridge. And we could be spending our city’s monies to build up that park and heal that landscape.

  4. I live in Dignowity Hill and have done so since 2007 when we moved into the neighborhood after investing in restoring the house we currently call our home. I have served as president of neighborhood association since 2009. I’ve been involved from the start in the very public vetting process of the Alamo Brewery project and what the Hays St Bridge Restoration Group was proposing. The neighborhood association leadership made an intentional and deliberate decision to ensure that an opportunity would be given both sides to present and make their case. In the summer of 2011 both Alamo Brewery and the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group made presentations at meetings hosted by the Dignowity Hill NA. These meetings were open to the public and were publicly announced. In July 2011 after listening to both presentations the neighborhood associated voted in favor of supporting the brewery project.

    In August 2011, the city then followed up with 2 more community meetings to get additional input from the community to see how the brewery project would fit into the Eastside Re-investment and Dignowity Hill neighborhood plans. Again, there was general support for the brewery project from the neighborhood residents and other Eastside community members.

    I make these points to set the record straight for those that are insisting that the brewery project somehow was worked up in some backdoor deal without broad community input. That simply is not true.

    The restoration of the Hays Street Bridge was a wonderful achievement by a committed group of individuals. Those folks should be rightly recognized and honored for their accomplishment but they don’t own the bridge and neither will the brewery operator. The bridge has always been public space and will remain public space. And because the bridge is a public space and city owned property was involved, there was over the course of a year an open and fair public process that ensured that the community had a say one way or another. From neighborhood association meetings, to community meetings organized by the city, to hearings before the city’s planning commission and before city council, citizens had several opportunities to voice their support or opposition.

    Those folks that are in opposition of the brewery certainly have a right to voice their concerns and it’s certainly their right to seek a legal recourse. However, putting out misinformation about the integrity of the vetting process around the project and insinuating that this is the work of some “nefarious newcomers” group is totally disingenuous at the very least. The reality is that the old neighborhood is changing and it’s changing in a positive direction because of newcomers who are bringing much needed new energy and vibrancy to a neighborhood in the mist of transition. Newcomers along with long time residents are creating a synergy of ideas that is leading to improving the quality of life for the neighborhood.

    In the end the notion of private investment around an under utilized historic structure that could potentially spur other investment on the Eastside was more compelling an argument for the majority of neighborhood residents than putting another park in the neighborhood. For the last 3 years the city has focused its attention in bringing new and renewed investment to the Eastside making slow but steady progress. Legal action against a potentially catalytic economic project such as the brewery sends the wrong message to developers, investors and yes, newcomers looking at the Eastside.

    Juan A Garcia
    President, DHNA

  5. I am a cyclist. I am someone who lives near the Hays, loves my city, and wants good things to come here. The Hays is a favorite place for cyclists to go on rides to take a breather. I have been using it pretty frequently since I learned of its existence. It has been well utilized by the cycling community, as I know people who use it almost every day.

    The sentiment from many in my community (young, downtown dwelling cyclists) is that we want economic development and jobs to come to San Antonio, and support the brewery at that location. The only reason why some of my friends and I aren’t thrilled about this development is because of the plan to place tables on the bridge itself. I know that this was an issue that was voted on.

    I love the Hays Street Bridge, and think that it is an important part of history. I think that it is a great idea to build a brewery here. Let’s just not take the hard work that was put into restoring it to literally make money on it. I wish that Alamo Beer would give up the desire to use the bridge and keep the pub inside the brewery.

  6. And one thing about those “2,800 signatures.” I was one of them. I went to the bridge on the 4th of July, and it was packed. A young woman approached me and asked if I’d like to sign a petition supporting “historic preservation” in the area. I briefly looked at the brochure she had, but it was a madhouse and I was with a group of friends. Given her apparent affiliation with the Esperanza Center, which I generally support–as well as the no-brainer cause–I happily agreed to sign. At no time did she mention anything about opposing the brewery. I was already aware of the Alamo plan, and I supported it fully, at least partially because I know plenty of folks who live in the area and also support it. If I had known that that’s what the petition was about, I never would’ve signed. I imagine that there were many more like me. Certainly, I should take full responsibility for signing something without reading the fine print (or much of any print at all), but I also think we should acknowledge a bit of misrepresentation as well as the social difficulty of telling a nice young person that you don’t like their cause, especially when it’s affiliated with others that you generally support.

    Boneshakers has done wonders for the area. You have a bunch of good folks populating a space–especially at night–and that makes it a safer and more welcoming environment for everyone. The “brewpub” will do the same. This isn’t going to be a bar with $1 Lone Star tallboys. I don’t believe that it will attract the “wrong element,” whatever that means. (I love some $1 Lone Star tallboys myself, and I don’t make much trouble!) My bet is that it will bring in a bunch of people to create an active social space in a now relatively depopulated spot, making it safer and more inviting for all involved, including the many of us who like to hang out, run, and bike on the bridge.

    There are already a lot of great parks in this city, but many are half-abandoned. (Think of Crockett Park over on Main–virtually dead at all times of the day and night, and a very sketchy place to stroll by oneself after dark.) The new commercial development will make that a greater public space, one that people will actually use because there will be more pedestrian traffic. The point is getting more people into these areas. I think the brewpub will do just that, adding to the bridge as the beautiful, publicly enjoyed resource that it is.

    All of that said, I do recognize the position and frustration of the opposers. They’re likely good people with a well-grounded political perspective as well as a sense of betrayal. But, I think this is one issue that won’t go their way. There are so many other worthwhile causes in this city, and I hope they turn to one of those soon. More than likely, I’ll support them.

    • Well said Mike. When one side has to rely on deception, misrepresentations, and false characterizations to make their case, you know their point of view is inherently flawed.

  7. A brewery is a great idea for that spot. It will bring jobs to the area, and increase property values. What these activists don’t realize is that nice neighborhoods are a result of, not devoid of, economic development.
    They also don’t seem to have ever thought that in begging for the city to spend money in the area, they took a chance that they might not get exactly what they want. You can’t always put the genie back in his bottle.

  8. I really can’t think of a worse place for park than that lot. It sits in a sump, straddles busy railroad tracks, sits next to an elevated freeway, the underside of which serves as ad-hoc home for the city’s mentally ill and/or terminally addicted, and, worst of all, the would-be park is fronted on three sides by the bare windowless walls of warehouses, which means there’d be nobody in the neighborhood to watch over the park.

    The park would quickly become a place to be avoided after dark. We have enough of those sorts of places here in the East Side.

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