Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a resolution to support the University of Texas at San Antonio in constructing its business school downtown on County property once the university secures funding.
UTSA has asked the Texas Legislature for $126 million to fund the relocation of the College of Business, which is currently at the university’s main campus in Northwest San Antonio. Construction on the downtown school could begin as early as 2020, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said in September, and is part of an 10-year, $200 million growth plan to add 10,000 students and new facilities to the university’s campus in the center city.
The County’s 2.6-acre property is bounded by San Pedro Creek, Nueva Street, and Dolorosa Street and connects to 4.6 acres of land the City of San Antonio last week approved to sell to UTSA for nearly $7.4 million. The School of Business would be located between the forthcoming National Security Collaboration Center and School of Data Science, which recently received $70 million from the UT System Board of Regents and $15 million from San Antonio philanthropist Graham Weston.
“We are immensely grateful to Judge Wolff, Commissioner Elizondo and all the Bexar County Commissioners for supporting the expansion of UTSA’s Downtown Campus,” Eighmy said in a news release Tuesday. “The entire endeavor is a model for how government, education and industry can all work together to maximize economic opportunity and drive our mutual goals forward.”
In the resolution, Bexar County vows to take “active steps” to ready the downtown property for UTSA’s proposed use. That includes clearing a jail operated by private prison group GEO and the fire marshal annex, and devising a plan to jointly use the County’s Information Technology Department building.
Albert Carrisalez, UTSA’s director of governmental relations, said building the business school in the center city is part of the university’s goal to grow the downtown campus’ student population and number of colleges headquartered there. Right now, about 4,000 students attend classes downtown, and the university would like to see that increase to 15,000, he said.
“We’re very excited to go into discussions about this parcel of property for the College of Business,” Carrisalez said.
Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) said developing the business school downtown would benefit the surrounding community. It would also safeguard the future of Casa Navarro, the historical landmark and former home of Tejano political leader José Antonio Navarro that sits next to the County property, as the resolution states its access to the San Pedro Creek will be protected.
“As we were developing the San Pedro Creek concept, we came up with several ideas of accessibility to the Casa, but nothing definite,” Elizondo said. “We now feel that this this a tremendous step.”
Jerry Geyer, speaking on behalf of the Citizens Advisory Committee of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project and Casa Navarro at Tuesday’s commissioners court, said UTSA’s new business school would be “a wonderful addition to our community.”
“We applaud both the City and County for taking this action,” Geyer said. “It’s an excellent step of urban planning, and it’s something that will be here for lifespans.”
Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said he would like to see UTSA become involved in discussions regarding community issues and concerns raised over gentrification and housing issues. Students coming downtown could help create affordable housing, he said, but developers need to keep students of all income levels in mind.
Calvert said he wants the County to provide incentives to lower construction costs and keep student housing downtown affordable so students can live near campus.
“Not only can you build more student housing as part of this development, you can also get them their first starter homes,” he said. “We want them to stay in the [urban] core to contribute to the vitality of downtown and everything happening in various industries.”
UTSA and Bexar County must form a real estate agreement by Nov. 30, 2020, according to the commissioners court’s resolution.