A City of Lost Breweries Should Welcome the Alamo Brewery to the Eastside

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Hays Street Bridge alive with people and nearby commerce.

By Robert Rivard

Few people in San Antonio, I’d hazard, could drive a car or ride a bike to the Hays Street Bridge without a few wrong turns or a pre-trip glance at Google Maps. I was there only a few days ago on my bike, and like always, I was the just about the only one there. Underneath the elegantly restored historic span is a wasteland of empty space, dilapidated warehouses and the distinct absence of social, cultural or economic activity.

Right now the Hays Street Bridge on the near-Eastside is San Antonio’s Bridge to Nowhere.

The 2010 reopening of the Hays Street Bridge drew a crowd, but today it mostly stands empty.

More people (476) like it on Facebook than visit it. Cyclists traverse it, but mostly as a shortcut, as a change of pace from their regular route, or for the chance to enjoy a seldom-seen view of downtown from the Eastside, arguably the best of all vantage points. What the bridge badly needs is a lift to its neglected surroundings to give people reason to visit and appreciate its preservation and perspective.

That’s why I’m surprised that anyone would oppose the efforts of inner city developer and entrepreneur Eugene Simor, founder and owner of the Alamo Beer Company,  to win final approval from City Council this week to locate and build a $7 million microbrewery adjacent to the bridge, and to incorporate some of the bridge’s public space into a place for people to gather, enjoy a brew, a meal and the company of others.

There are very few stories that include the words “Eastside” and “private investment” in the same breath, which makes it even more surprising that anyone from any other part of the city would oppose a project that has no other competing alternatives.

Artist’s rendering: Hays Street Bridge alive with people and nearby commerce — with ample room for cyclists.

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center recently organized a protest at the bridge, one that included a crowd of cyclists as if a brewery would somehow impede cycling. The Center’s protest is an 11th hour  effort to build opposition, given how long the brewery has been under development and discussion. The rallying cry, “Public views, not private brews,” belies the fact the brewery and its surroundings will be open to all. Another protest is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m., according to the center’s website. What the Westside organization wants to see in place of the brewery, assuming that preserving the current state of blight is not its goal, is unclear. We know what they oppose. What are they for?

District Two City Councilwoman Ivy Taylor supports the project. The neighbors, the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, has supported the project for more than a year. You can contact Councilwoman Taylor or any of her colleagues by email or telephone by clicking on her link, or you can attend Thursday’s City Council meeting to listen to arguments for and against selling a plot of city land to Simor to keep the project on track. Almost every other Eastside community group also supports Simor, as noted in a June 23 Express-News column by Brian Chasnoff.

Simor’s beer has been brewed for some years at the Real Ale Brewery in Blanco. Still, beer enthusiasts undoubtedly will view Alamo Beer as a more authentic local brew once it carries the “Hecho en San Antonio” imprimatur. The project also will link Dignowity Hill to other entertainment venues at the Pearl and downtown. Two local firms, Lake/Flato Architects and Guido Brothers, are designing and constructing the brewery.

Alamo Brewery Artist rendering

Blight versus rebirth: the Lake/Flato-designed Alamo Brewery.

“We hope to break ground by Thanksgiving and be manufacturing beer by next summer,” Simor said. “Over seven years we should build a workforce of 40 people in the brewery, and that doesn’t include people who will be hired at the restaurant.”

In a city famous for its breweries that operated when the Hays Street Bridge was erected more than a century ago, it somehow seems fitting that a 21st century microbrewery will help a neighborhood already on the rebound accelerate its redevelopment and attract newcomers and visitors with a new community amenity. Craft breweries have enlivened urban cores from Portland to Fort Collins. There is no reason why San Antonio can’t follow.

“People are being told the bridge is going to be closed and that I’m taking it over, all of which is absolutely untrue,” Simor said. “Hopefully all this attention might bring more people to the bridge even before the brewery gets there. If it wasn’t for the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center’s protest, hardly anybody else seems to be going over there these days.”

Simor is no newcomer to Eastside redevelopment initiatives. For years he operated as a limited partner in less-than-successful efforts to bring back to life the Friedrich Building and the Merchants Ice and Cold Storage Building. Give him and his partners credit for trying what most other developers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot tax incentive. Now, however, he is general partner of the Alamo Brewery project, and the scale makes it a venture much more likely to succeed.

Full disclosure: I’ve known Simor for 20 years, and for a brief time, Alamo Beer was a sponsor of the Third Street Grackles, the cycling team I helped found eight years ago.  I can count on one hand the number of privately financed, multi-million dollar developments I’ve seen launched on this city’s Eastside in the time I’ve known Simor. His project is a worthy one, and deserves unanimous Council support.

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.



24 thoughts on “A City of Lost Breweries Should Welcome the Alamo Brewery to the Eastside

  1. Bob

    Well said. There is a very lively discussion at the San Antonio Cycling FB page. You should check it out. Hope to ride with you guys on Thursday.

  2. On the cycling and running note (as someone who uses the bridge for such purposes, and as the spouse of someone who bikes to work over the bridge every day): there’s more room up there than a runner or cyclist would have on a sidewalk, bike-lane, or full traffic lane. So unless we are going to petition the city for 30ft wide sidewalks, bike lanes, and traffic lanes, I think we should be thrilled about the way the bridge space is allocated under the brewery proposal. And the runners, not the patrons of the brewery get the view. Sounds good to me.

    Plus, as a resident of Dignowity Hill…a restaurant within walking distance? An attraction to show off to visitors? Private investment in our neighborhood? Yes, please!

  3. I added you to the page, Bob. The discussion is absolutely rife with conjecture and missed facts. I have to defend the position of supporting the brewery underneath the bridge, but not having anything ON the bridge. For me it’s much more of a safety and function issue than anything else. Cyclists will have 11’4″ of room to safety traverse the bridge. That’s plenty of room provided they are somewhat experienced cyclists who are passing or traveling no more than three abreast in any given direction. But what about those that aren’t? Or people on B-Cycles who have never encountered another cyclist or jogger headed toward them and can’t negotiate the space? The illustration makes no indication that a barrier will be placed between the seating, biking/whatever, and pedestrian areas on that portion of the bridge. I’m not a fan of the Disneylanding of downtown that’s been happening even though, in full disclosure, I benefit from it in business. But this is more an issue of not understanding how little room there is on the bridge surface. All it will take is one kid on a BMX bike or one Cat 6 roadie going way too fast and hitting a person trying wobble out of their chair after one too many and we’ll see “No Bikes, Skateboards, Etc.” signs up there in short order. I am very excited to see the development of the Eastside. And I’m also not naive enough to think that Eugene (or his investors) would lose a dime, nice as he is (and he is, I’ve met him several times), to heed the belly-aching of some hipster cyclists who don’t share his vision of the bridge. Alas it will go on and do what it is going to do and, in the great tradition of San Antonio, be a hot topic of debate for non-decision makers who should probably be more concerned about the Big Tex or Lone Star developments taking away their ‘hood than some people eating and drinking on a lonely (most of the time) Eastside bridge. In the end it will be built and, like I’ve said on the San Antonio Cycling FB page, it will be our choice to patronize it or not and vote with our dollars and cents, versus ranting and raving into the ether of the internet.

  4. David

    Great post, exactly the kind of informed conversation that we should be having about this project rather than the fear and disinformation campaign being promoted by some. Perhaps a 5 mph speed limit for bikes, coupled with some demarcation between a bike lane and brewery guests will serve all groups. Right now the pole barriers at each end of the bridge signal to cyclists that the bridge is an historic scenic overlook and not an avenue for speeding. I have to admit, though, when I ride across the bridge I never stop long enough to observe how other road bike riders behave on the bridge. Might try that this weekend.

  5. Great title. It got me thinking about Frio Beer Company. Sure, Pearl and Lonestar are the breweries I’m assuming your title is referring to. But, what ever happened to Frio Beer? I remember around the age of 10 and visiting the brewery on N. St. Mary’s and thinking “what a strange looking Iguana”. Passing it today and seeing the Robert Tatum mural in a faded condition always makes me wonder what happened, now that I am of drinking age. I suppose it was a little ahead of it’s time; that or it tasted like piss. Anyone here know the story and care to share? Are there any other micro-brews that didn’t succeed in town?

  6. Bigley, A great fantasy of mine is to go back in time in San Antonio, cinch my horse on Houston Street, and sample the town’s saloons and eateries. Maybe visit the Chili Queens over on Military Plaza. What did Pearl and Lone Star taste like way back when beer was brewed by German and Czech immigrants? We know the modern stuff was not what most of us would call beer, but the original recipes must have been quite different. Same for Frio and, undoubtedly, some others I don’t even know were brewed here once. Maybe our friends at the Pearl can dig up some of those original recipes and ask Alamo Brewery to try them.

  7. As a Native San Antonian, I welcome ways to make our city a better place not only for the tourists that bring their money our way but those of us that would like to go out and enjoy some of the great historic places and have a meal/drink with friends. Keep up the good work of telling the stories of what is behind the headlines.

  8. I do understand the concern about the space on the bridge,but as of now there is no purpose of crossing the bridge unless we built the brewery.
    On the other hand,while researching the minimum space needed to build a bike lane/Pedestrian i found that it was from 10 to 12 feet for the bike and 4 to 7 feet for the pedestrian . I m not talking about Europe with cities like Amsterdam nor Copenhagen where both co-habite without any issues and where the bike lane are only 6 to 7 feet wide,and as you all know cyclist overthere are in a huge amount since overthere they use their bike daily ,not cause it s cool to ride but because it s a necessity and it s part of our cultur.
    on the bridge the spacing is 11.4feet for the bike and over 6 feet for the pedestrian,that is plenty room to “SHARE THE ROAD” as long as people are willing to do so.
    I m also wondering how people on the monday night ride are doing to be able to leave with a group of 20+ cyclist and using the new addition of the river behing Blue Star without having any issues with incoming runner”as we all shout when we see them” and other cyclist,to be more precised that lane is less than 12 feet wide! And we are all sharing it without “fighting ” about it nor having accidents.
    it s clear that i m for the Brewery,i do understand the concern about the brewery using 11 feet of the bridge ,but i do beleive that will only bring ‘GOOD” things to San Antonio.With a little bit of Imagination,we could all clearly see the connection of the Blue Star ,Pearl and the Alamo Brewery ,Tourists and local could walk or ride that triangle that connects those 3 brewery while enjoying public art and public spaces.
    i will see you all tomorrow morning with my notes and plan,
    Best regards

    • Went down the protest tonight. It was pretty pathetic. These people have no real idea of what they are trying to accomplish. they have no other ideas of how to improve the land and bridge and they can not communicate their real motivation for opposing the development nor can they give any real reasons of why it should be opposed at all. ive uploaded their speech to youtube, heres the link: http://youtu.be/iOtIPp26m48

  9. Thank you Bob for your article and truth in statement of “blight vs. Rebirth”…. There needs to be something to cross the bridge to and this neighborhood needs to be included in the progress of SA and Sa2020’s ideas for the future. As a marathoner and ironman, I run and ride over this bridge daily. There is never anyone there. It is abandoned and desolate. The neighborhood majority is for it and will be there tomorrow to show our support, as the people that live there, not the ideologues with misinformation that is incredulous as well as unsubstantiated.

  10. Robert, I think you’re suggesting a false debate. You make it seem like the people who are not in favor of the brewery getting special access to the bridge are therefore against the brewery completely. Framing the argument in that black or white dichotomy, to me, is part of the polarization and problem of this debate. To be clear, I think most people are happy to have the brewery in the area. The objection is over why the brewery gets to control part of the bridge. People perceive the money and effort that took place to revitalize the bridge as something that would make it for the community, not for private enterprise to piggy back onto for free. And furthermore, many people see the bridge as part of a larger plan of bike pathways to promote fitness, and if possible, lower the community’s body mass index and improve the city’s diabetes crisis. While it’s true that the bridge isn’t always busy, at the same time, most of the new bike pathways around town, such as the mission reach along the river on the southside, are also often empty. That’s a problem one could say but doesn’t mean the city should give up on it’s idealistic goal of improving the city’s health and access to these pathways. And finally, the great irony here is that almost $3 million dollars have been spent to fix up the bridge so that it’s no longer a place for drunk people to loiter around at night, and now after having done that, another $7 million dollars will be spent so that a different type of people can get drunk on the bridge. Is this progress?

    • mark, if you’ve been to the bridge lately, it sucks. honestly, the graffiti is back and i havent seen those so called bicyclists and runners its supposed to be attracting. The brewery will be a major step up.

      • As I mentioned, people aren’t using other bicycle trails on other parts of the city, but that doesn’t mean we should install stands along the trails to sell gorditas and lamb burger sliders either. Improving the city’s collective health will be a longterm goal. I see no reason to give up so quickly.

        Again, as with other people, I think you are falsely framing the debate. Everyone wants the brewery, however people don’t want the access to the bridge to change. To me, that is simple, and people are acting like the brewery can’t be built unless it has control of the bridge. If the brewery is built, but shares access to the bridge equally like everyone else, there still will be development in the area, real estate values will still (hopefully) improve. I don’t see how the brewery not having special access to the bridge is going to somehow kill this plan. What’s the problem with brewery building access to the bridge without having to have special control over it?

    • “Framing the argument in that black or white dichotomy, to me, is part of the polarization and problem of this debate.” Yet, you polarize when you write: “another $7 million dollars will be spent so that a different type of people can get drunk on the bridge.”

      Patrons of an upscale restaurant & brewery vs. trespassing drunks is, well, progress!

      • First, you didn’t seem to object to my comment that the actual debate is not being honestly constructed. Furthermore, I’m not sure what you’re objecting to in the second comment. In fact, you seem content that $10 million will be spent so that upscale patrons can get drunk on the bridge as opposed to the people of that community. I see this as a mild hypocrisy, even if I’m for the brewery. But replacing one group of people for another is not progress, that’s business as usual. Progress would building the brewery and allowing everyone equal access to the all the bridge.

  11. My grandparents live(d) over there. I remember being 4 or 5 when that bridge could be driven across in your car and begging my Grandma to drive over “the bridge”. After the bridge closed for years and fell into disrepair, i could see it from the freeway and always wished for them to reopen it….. Now it has and in a good way. I think this is a great idea for building this area of town to what it used to be. I saw a woman interviewed about this brewery opening up and she was all upset that it was gonna bring drunks in and cause drunk driving in the east side. I got news for you, I lived over there with my Grandma and saw a lot of 40oz. and such being drank while people were driving. I have no doubt these guys will bring in something positive to this community. I do however think that they should give back to the surrounding area by motivating with volunteers to CLEAN UP the homes and even put a new coat of paint on some of these homes. Its funny what a new coat of paint, flowers & bushes will do for someones pride in their home…

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