Flats at Big Tex: Living and River Views Along the Eagleland Reach

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Graffittied and worn, one of the original Big Tex Grain Co. buildings will be incorporated into the mixed use development on the San Antonio River. Photo by Scott Ball.

Graffitied and worn, one of the original Big Tex Grain Co. buildings will be incorporated into the mixed use development on the San Antonio River. Photo by Scott Ball.

The former Big Tex Grain Company, a long abandoned industrial site best known for its weathered silos that stood sentinel above the San Antonio River, will soon take on new life as The Flats at Big Tex, a 336-unit, apartment complex that winds along the riverbank below the Blue Star Arts Complex.

The project is pre-leasing now online and will soon include an on-site leasing office. The first units will be open for occupancy in March, and completion of construction and the official opening is expected to happen by late summer.

The development of multifamily projects has shown no signs of slowing in the corridor that extends from Broadway through Southtown. With each new project coming on-line, consumers are seeing an increase in variety, location, ambience and price points. The Flats at Big Tex will rank as one of the more unique projects, a narrow, curving development along the scenic Eagleland Reach with an inviting main street created by the space left between the riverfront buildings with the complementary off-river residential structures.

The Flats at Big Tex were designed by Alamo Architects, and built by The NRP Group in partnership with local developer and property owner James Lifshutz, who also owns the neighboring Blue Star. NRP also developed the nearby Cevallos Lofts at 301 E. Cevallos St. across Probandt.

The Big Tex property’s trademark signage and tall grain silos, graffiti included, were stabilized with a new foundation and, where needed, a new sheathing of corrugated metal. The silos will overlook what might be the most ambitious clubhouse/outdoor swimming pool complex in the urban core.

The squat, iconic silos that lined the river’s path where the First Friday art walk was born were mostly demolished last year, although several silos were left standing and have been partially restored for future use.

Graffiti covers the base of large Big Tex Grain Co. silos. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Graffiti covers the base of large Big Tex Grain Co. silos. Photo by Scott Ball.

Industrial complexes in cities across the nation are typically five or six stories tall, said Irby Hightower, the project’s lead architect. Big Tex was essentially comprised of a long row of stout silos with the taller, main structure in the center. The river was once lined with industrial sites and viewed more as a back-door open sewer than a valued waterway and living artery through the city.

The property offered creative opportunities along with engineering challenges.  Hightower and his design team retained the elongated character of the silos to take full advantage of river-view properties. Smaller, thoughtful details also contribute to the project’s nod to the former granary. Portions of The Flats, for instance, were constructed using brick purchased from D’Hannis; the same company that sold to Big Tex.

About 5,500  sq. ft. of river view restaurant space will serve as the main entry point for the complex, with room for a coffee shop or other storefront business next door. The commercial tenant’s lease is yet to be finalized, but Mark Jensen, vice president of The NRP Group, said it will be a “fun and approachable” space for residents to dine on a regular basis and casual enough for pedestrians to drop in while strolling along the nearby river pathway.

The general ethos and design of The Flats is to serve as an extension of the dynamic Southtown neighborhood, rather than a separate, upscale gated development. The two-story leasing office, with polished concrete floors and  stressed metal display walls, was designed to showcase the work of Southtown artists and feels more like an art gallery than an office space.

A portrait of Mary Heathcott. Photo by Josh Huskin.

A portrait of Mary Heathcott. Photo by Josh Huskin.

The proximity to the Blue Star Arts Complex and the general artistic atmosphere of Southtown will play a prominent role in the ambience and character of the Flats. 

“I think everyone at Blue Star is excited about having so many new neighbors to engage with our contemporary art and programs,” said Mary Heathcott, executive director of the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, who will curate the artists displayed at Big Tex. “We’ve had a residential community at Blue Star, which has been a really supportive to our mission, and now it will be multiplied many times over. We plan to directly engage them to be here all the time. We want them to be a part of everything.”

Inside the multistory townhomes and apartments, tenants will find polished concrete floors, bedrooms with carpeting, 9 and 10-foot ceilings, and large, double-paned windows. The river-facing units will have stellar views of the Eagleland Reach, the King William houses and downtown landmarks such as the Tower Life Building and the Tower of the Americas.

Inside a one-bedroom apartment at Big Tex. Photo by Scott Ball.

Inside a one-bedroom unit in The Flats at Big Tex. Photo by Scott Ball.

Unlike most multifamily developments where only a few different floor plans are offered, the property’s contours required the architects to adopt a greater variety of floor plans to maximize the use of space. The choices range from 490-sq. ft. studios that start at $1,065 per month; 700-plus sq. ft. one-bedrooms starting at $1,200; all the way up to 1,840 sq. ft. three-bedroom, three-bath townhomes for $3,420. The three-story townhomes have their own garages and dog-yards that open onto the river. As of this writing, there is only one left.

The public spaces at the Flats include the pool complex, and the clubhouse with a designer kitchen, a  lounge with gaming tables, and a large open space and patio for parties and private events. The fitness center includes a cardio room and a flex studio suitable for yoga classes and available to third-party instructors. There are two dog parks, and a bicycle storage locker and repair center.

The Flats, while not completely finished, will compete with the Can Plant at the Pearl, the new Agave on César Chávez Boulevard, and 1221 Broadway for the upper end of the apartment market. If the design and development team succeed, they will expand the community that already has made apartments scarce in King William and Lavaca and extend the options farther down the river. As the Flats at Big Texas fill, people will start to wonder when the dormant Lone Star Brewery will be reborn as a mixed-use development.

View of the Eagleland Reach of the San Antonio River and King William Historic District from an apartment at Big Tex. Photo by Scott Ball.

View of the Eagleland Reach of the San Antonio River and King William Historic District from a unit in The Flats of Big Tex. Photo by Scott Ball.


*Top image: Graffiti-tagged and worn, one of the original Big Tex Grain Co. buildings will be incorporated into the mixed use development on the San Antonio River. Photo by Scott Ball.

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24 thoughts on “Flats at Big Tex: Living and River Views Along the Eagleland Reach

  1. It’s great how they destroy the backyard vista of homes on guenther, and give the river a downtown canyon feel having been built right up to the easement. You can look right into your neighbors back yards!! Awesome. Not. James L. should be ashamed.

    • Was an abandoned factory full of graffiti and needles more to your liking? The way the sun bounces off bad graffiti and used syringes was breathtaking!

  2. I recently spoke with a friend who is a Southtown resident and we both agree that the design of these apartments are quite plain, uninspired and underwhelming. Also, it seems that the cost-cutting route was taken with the materials used. I’m surprised that Alamo Architects are involved with this development. I do not mean to be so negative but this is an important development along our iconic riverwalk. They are not yet finished with construction so maybe the aesthetics will improve as construction concludes. One positive is the increased retail/restaurant presence Big Tex will provide.

    • I concur. I live on E Guenther, so we’ve got a pretty good view of what’s being constructed. Irby Hightower is such a talented individual, so I was surprised to see his name attached to these lifeless, sad looking apartments that look like they could belong in a housing project. And they’re over-priced to boot!

      • L, It seems premature to base that judgment on the color of insulation before the riverfront buildings are clad with exterior brick and metal, the chain link fences come down and the landscaping goes in. I toured the project and believe it will prove very attractive to people considering the Agave, Can Plant and other well-regarded projects. Just saying…-RR

        • Robert, I hope you’re right. However, even though it is still in the construction phase, other new apartments in the same construction phase, for example along the Museum Reach and the new apartments across the street from this area on Cevellos—all look(ed) reasonably more attractive during this period of construction. It’s my own opinion (and Benjamin’s apparently), but just looking across the street from this development at the new apartments simultaneously being erected (also chain link fence, no landscaping, etc.), I’d definitely say those look significantly better than the featured Flats apartments. Make no mistake, I do not oppose apartments on the River. For such a valuable asset, my expectations would be for something very unique and special. Right now, I do not see that, whereas I have with other new developments being built in the core.

    • Ben you poop on every project.

      Walking the river this morning past Big Tex my wife commented on how nice the project has come alon, and I agree with her. The navy blue and grey exterior looks nice. Atleast it’s not beige or tan? The angles look very nice walking along the river. Sure I would have loved to see more glass and native stone, but that’s not being realistic.

      Bravo so far!


  3. I agree. This development would have been better suited on a plot facing Probandt, Flores, Alamo, etc. I hope the city does not promote any new development this close to the river side in the future. As a Southtown resident, I hope to be proved wrong by the finished product, but as of now I am afraid that we took a step back amidst several other steps forward.

  4. Don’t think its much about color. No matter what is done to those apartments, they were built in the wrong place, especially the two story garage. Not sure why they decided to place that ugly two story garage near the river/trails.
    What is scary is that Mr. JL also owns property at Hot Wells. Please keep those ugly structures away from our beautiful Mission Reach.

  5. This belies the question of who exactly are these apartments being catered to, and who is purchasing these apartments at that price point? All along the broadway, southtown corridor you see this development of multi-storied apartment complexes seemingly going up over night. Is this what we want our urban core to become an exclusive enclave of only apartment style living, or should there be more single family homes being built to attract families back to the urban core? I live in Cibolo, I drive forty minutes to and from work during the week. My wife and I would like to move closer to our jobs but the cost of owning a home close to downtown compared to what we have now does not make sense. Seeing these prices and what they are offering makes me realize that maybe that dream of moving back to downtown won’t be happening anytime soon.

    • Just curious, when you consider “the cost of owning a home close to downtown” compared to that of owning a home in Cibolo, do the costs you consider include transportation or just the house? 80 miles of driving per day has a cost, and that is part of the cost of living in Cibolo, which would be fully or partly off-set by living near work.

      Considering the occupancy rates of apartments in and around downtown, seems like the developers are meeting a demand, and they are doing so with higher density development that makes urban living urban, not by trying to making urban living suburban. Suburban development in the urban core has the same deficiencies as suburban development in the suburbs. If your desire is a large house on a large lot, then you’ll find plenty of choices in the suburbs. If you want urban living, the large lot, gated communities, and cul-de-sacs are going to be trade-offs.

      The best house I ever lived in had no yard whatsoever, but was a 3-minute walk to a dozen different restaurants, three bakeries, a dozen retail stores, hundreds of square miles of forest with open access to the public, and a casual 20 minute bike ride to work. The house was expensive, but I hardly ever drove. I’ll take that over the suburbs any day.

      And here’s the good news, urban San Antonio is getting closer to that environment everyday by being more urban and less suburban.

    • You need to factor in transportation costs and time costs. You *won’t* get the same house in the urban core that you have in Cibolo, because that’s not urban living. People complain about the “small houses” for “high prices,” lack of yards, garages and the trappings of suburban life but it’s all about location. In the Urban Core, you’re paying not for the space but the proximity. No one should expect to find a 3000SF (or even 2000SF) McMansion anywhere near downtown, esp. not for the price you’d pay beyond 1604.

      That said, if proximity for low cost is what you want, check out Tobin Hill, Alta Vista, Lone Star, Roosevelt, and similar areas. There are properties in these areas which include a house, yard, and more and still reasonably close to downtown. You will pay more per SF than you will outside 1604, and it’ll be older, but consider the time spent commuting. How much is that worth to you?

      We took a chance on Lavaca back when all our outer-loop friends said we were crazy, buying a very run-down 1600SF house on a large lot. Fourteen years later (and a lot of sweat later), we couldn’t be more thrilled.

    • There are tons of existing homes in the urban core of San Antonio. More single family homes need to be built? What about saving one of the many existing homes? There is every imaginable combination and size of existing homes anyone would ever need. From one bedroom to… you name it.

  6. Maybe it is just me but those rates seem rather high for the space you are getting. I know most of it is due to location obviously but how long do developers intend for people to keep renting these spaces out at those prices. Yes I know people come and and go but so does the “trendiness” of areas such “Southtown”. I don’t have anything against the neighborhood, in fact I grew up there and my parents still live there. I just wonder what’ll happen to places like these if they ever go through a period where they aren’t able to find people to occupy them.

    • Obviously it’s just you, as the most expensive townhomes are almost all rented out.

      Pay around 1k for a one bedroom to live around The Rim, Stone Oak, Alamo Heights, Med Center, or the downtown core. There are still plenty of inexpensive (but still very nice) garage apartments for rent in the area.

  7. My personal opinion, San Antonio’s urban core is becoming gentrified and is catered to the wealthy at the expense of residents whom have lived in the area for decades, even generations.

    • Why would residents who already live there rent an apartment?

      When the neighborhoods you talk about were first built they weren’t for the lower class or much of the middle class.

    • I’ve only seen the exterior of these from the river but the pricing listed here has me thinking about more affordable apartment rental options currently downtown and not far – and how these options will likely disappear with the construction of the downtown San Pedro Creek segment (unless there’s planning to try to ameliorate this).

      I don’t know what sort of availability they have at the moment, but I’m thinking specifically of the Towne Center Apartments and the Soap Works Apartments – center city housing off Martin Street and close to San Pedro Creek currently starting at roughly $500 a month (if advertising is accurate) and with price ranges more in keeping with many downtown and starting salaries, non-profit and otherwise.

      Changing San Antonio’s parking requirements – particularly as a trade-off for retaining or building additional workforce affordable housing units (50%-100% of the area median income) – could be policy tools for San Antonio to explore.

      Especially with properties along our downtown public creekways and near public parks, where affordable housing options have been removed in San Antonio in recent years, but also with new housing addressing San Antonio’s bounty of empty surface parking lots downtown (including at existing apartment complexes) as well as near VIA transit centers. Access to better public urban design doesn’t necessarily have to equal high rents.



  8. Having been a Lifshutz tenant in the past, I’m curious as to how long it will take for things in these apt’s to start breaking down. Cutting corners in construction is this guy’s middle name. Now he gets to charge exorbitant amounts of money for it! If anyone is considering these, try to find former or current tenants of the apt’s on Guenther/Alamo or Blue Star for advice.

  9. Did these also get funds from the public coffers? The Riverwalk extensions are really sidewalks for developers–The Apartment Canyon Reach, both North and South. How about restricting private access to the public walks to those entities that provide a service to the public?

  10. I do not understand: “The squat iconic silos that wind the river’s path where the First Friday Art Walk was born…”

    First Friday was born among the merchants along South Alamo Street near St. Mary’s on the 90s–not along the rivers path, not even in galleries, and decidedly north of Blue Star.

  11. It seems nice enough but they’ve built an apartment complex in a kinda shady part of town without securing the complex in any way. My vehicle was stolen from the garage there because there’s no gate and anybody can get into the complex without needing a fob, key, or access code.

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