Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The nearly 2,600 stories Rivard Report reporters, freelancers, commentators, and editors wrote in 2019 created a chronicle, of sorts, on the end of San Antonio’s Decade of Downtown and the beginning of the next decade’s catchphrase.
The past year has seen immense change in San Antonio. There were things to cheer and jeer; ideas that were maybe ahead of their time and developments that were long overdue. It was difficult to single out one thing that really capped the Decade of Downtown, so the Rivard Report compiled a list of the people, things, and ideas that have come and gone during 2019.
COME: A boom in development. From the far Northside with ground broken for Vicinia to Lower Broadway, Brooks and beyond, development exploded across San Antonio in the form of residential and commercial expansion, including the opening of Frost Tower, the city’s first major addition to the skyline in 25 years.
AND GONE: Historic buildings and homegrown businesses. The long-vacant G.J. Sutton Building was demolished to make way for more development on the long-overlooked Eastside, while corporate buyouts meant both long-time favorites, Whataburger and Schlitterbahn, are now owned by out-of-towners, and USAA sold off its investment and real estate divisions.
COME: More jobs. This year saw a series of major economic development announcements in the form of new investment by Toyota, which also led to more manufacturers moving into the area (AW Texas, Navistar), and expansion by Canadian baked goods maker, FGF Brands.
AND GONE: CEOs. After more than a year of fending off a proxy attack, Argo CEO Mark Watson stepped down, and after a year of ups and downs at USAA, CEO Stuart Parker announced he’s retiring. Leaders at Geekdom and Rackspace also moved on in 2019.
COME: San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. The climate plan was an ambitious 2019 initiative, which called for the city to effectively abandon fossil fuels by 2050. That sparked a tug-of-war between environmentalists who want climate action now and some business groups focused mostly on the costs of acting aggressively as they jostled for City Council votes. After several delays, and the leak of a final, watered-down draft, City Council approved the plan in October. However, now the City must articulate how it will make progress on its target of going carbon neutral by 2050.
AND GONE: The Cenotaph in its current location. For nearly 80 years, the Cenotaph, also known as the Spirit of Sacrifice, has stood in its current location on Alamo Plaza. Sculpted by Italian artist Pompeo Coppini in honor of the Texan revolutionaries who died fighting the Mexican Army, the Cenotaph’s relocation was one of the most controversial elements of a $450 million Alamo redevelopment. Despite a chorus of “Not one inch!” from an army of angry modern-day Texans, the Cenotaph is set to be moved to a new spot 500 feet south in early 2020.
COME: The Safe and Sick Leave Ordinance. Originally passed in 2018 and set to be implemented Aug. 1, the embattled ordinance got another nod of approval by City Council in October 2019 after a commission made revisions intended to prevent legal challenges. However…
AND GONE: The Safe and Sick Leave Ordinance. The new law was put on hold after a coalition of business groups challenged it in court. A judge ruled in their favor and tabled the issue until a court date set for September 2020 or the Texas Supreme Court rules, whichever comes first.
COME: Potential school district sanctions. Texas Education Agency sanctions could be coming for Harlandale ISD, but when is still up in the air. In late June, TEA officials notified Harlandale that the agency intended to replace the elected board with an appointed board of managers. Harlandale officials appealed the announced sanctions in August, just days after Superintendent Rey Madrigal announced his retirement, but the district is still waiting to learn the result of its appeal.
AND GONE: Four district leaders. Superintendents in Harlandale, South San Antonio, Southside, and Randolph Field ISDs have either retired or resigned in the past year with disagreements with board members or TEA sanctions playing major roles in some of those decisions.
AND GONE: Wondering how we’re going to pay for it. Alamo Promise just announced more than $2 million in private donations and commitments from the city and county to help fund Alamo Promise.
COME: Ruby City. After a decade of dreaming, envisioning, and construction, Linda Pace’s dream house for her contemporary art collection finally opened to the public, winning plaudits from architecture fans far and wide for “starchitect” Sir David Adjaye’s design. With the hiring of a new director, Elyse Gonzales from California, San Antonio now looks forward to glimpses of the more than 800 artworks Pace collected during her lifetime and the Foundation has continued to collect since she passed.
AND GONE: Katie Luber. As director of the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) for eight years, Luber was credited with doubling museum attendance and membership. While enduring budget challenges and resultant staff reductions, Luber oversaw an important exhibition of Viceregal Mexican art, and the acquisition of a six-ton scholar’s rock from sister city Wuxi, China. Her career arguably culminated in the Tricentennial exhibition Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Painting from the Museums of Madrid, during which she played host to the King and Queen of Spain. Luber was hired away to lead the venerable Minneapolis Institute of Art, a 126-year-old institution more than three times larger than SAMA.
COME: Binding arbitration. The firefighters union invoked its hard-fought right to call for binding arbitration in July after traditional labor contract negotiation sessions and private mediation talks with the City broke down. The panel of arbitrators is expected to deliver its decision on the terms of the contract in early 2020.
AND GONE: Sheryl Sculley. After serving as city manager of San Antonio for 13 years, Sculley retired from the city government in February. She is widely credited with professionalizing the municipal corporation, but she had her detractors, including some (such as the fire union) that said she became too powerful and was paid too much.
COME: City Manager Erik Walsh. All five of Sculley’s assistants and deputy city managers applied for the top job. City Council also interviewed a handful of outside candidates but ultimately landed on Walsh, a native San Antonian with experience dealing with police and fire unions among other city functions.
AND GONE: Hays Street Bridge apartment complex. A developer agreed to scrap plans for an apartment complex next to the historic Hays Street Bridge after the City agreed to a land swap in June. With community input, the City now has preliminary plans for a park at the bridge that tells the story African Americans in San Antonio and the role that the bridge and railroad industry played in that history.
COME: Voting anywhere you want. Last summer, Bexar County commissioners approved a $12.5 million purchase of new voting machines to replace the 17-year-old system that the county had been using. Because commissioners also voted against leasing extra scanners for a year, they effectively adopted the voter center model, where voters can go to any location on election day to vote.
AND GONE: Finding your assigned precinct. And waiting in line to vote there on Election Day.
COME: Contracts with three operators of rentable, electric scooters. The City Council in December approved contracts with three scooter-share companies – Bird, Lime, and Razor – as the exclusive operators of rentable, electric scooters in San Antonio and downsized the city’s fleet from what once stood at more than 16,000 vehicles to just 3,000.
AND GONE: Four previous operators, including Lyft. The rideshare giant, which an evaluation committee for the city originally ranked as its top pick for one of the three contracts, would announce shortly thereafter it was pulling the plug on its local scooter program as well as in several other U.S. markets. Lyft’s rideshare competitor, Uber, also once had a presence in the San Antonio scooter scene. The company’s micro-mobility arm JUMP, however, exited in June. While those companies voluntarily withdrew, Blue Duck Scooters and Spin were not granted contracts and will be forced to depart the city on Jan. 12.