Courtesy / George Gervin Youth Center and Foremost Development
City Council on Thursday approved the sale of about 10 acres of vacant land on the Eastside to the George Gervin Youth Center for $430,000. The nonprofit community support organization has plans for a $65 million mixed-use development that has been 20 years in the making, said State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-120), who has been leading the effort as the center's special projects coordinator.
Land and closing costs will be offset by a $450,000 economic development grant, which Council also granted Thursday. The incentive agreement includes language that "provides protections for the City should the developer be unable to produce a viable project," according to City documents.
The property, less than one mile south of the AT&T Center, and an adjacent 10 acres owned by the Gervin Center will host an estimated 500 market-rate apartments and about 28,000 square feet of retail space collectively called Echo East.
The low-income area has not seen this kind of investment since the AT&T Center was completed in 2002, Gervin-Hawkins told the Rivard Report after the Council vote. And while there may be a small element of affordability at Echo East, "this is not an affordable housing project."
"I see the potential for a true, vibrant entertainment district coming alive over there," she said.
People have asked her if the Eastside can handle such a development, Gervin-Hawkins said. "To be quite frank with you, that's an insult. This community can have what every other community can have."
There's an assumption that Eastside residents can't afford to live or shop in an up-scale development, she explained, but "the market is there. What has happened is no one looked at that area as a diamond in the rough."
Gervin-Hawkins pointed to the 300 market-rate apartments planned for the Red Berry Estate as an example of other recent investments in the area.
Echo East will focus on attracting professionals who work in the area, including military personnel from nearby Fort Sam Houston, doctors at Brook Army Medical Center, and teachers at the University of the Incarnate Word's Bowden Eye Care and Health Center. A lot of these employees currently live outside of the Eastside, and even outside of San Antonio, she said, "because there hasn't been any upscale development close to work so they can walk or ride their bikes."
A $30,000 market study from Meyers Research commissioned by the Gervin Center demonstrates that demand, she added. "I am convinced that our market study is right on point."
But a City analysis of that study disputes that claim.
"An initial review of the study seems to suggest a number of assumptions that may not be reliable, either because the comparable properties considered are not actually comparable or because significant time has elapsed since the study was completed, rendering the assumptions outdated," reads the analysis performed by the City's Neighborhood and Housing Services staff.
Despite these concerns, Council approved the economic development grant and added a clawback provision to the agreement so the City can get its money back if the project doesn't meet certain standards.
Foremost Development, a Michigan-based company that has previously worked in San Antonio, is partnering with the nonprofit. Its co-founder Terry Bailey told the Rivard Report after the vote Thursday that he feels "very comfortable with our assessment of the property," pointing to Meyers Research's extensive experience in the field.
Now that the land has been secured, his team can begin to raise the capital needed and start more specific market studies that will inform rent, unit size, and other factors, Bailey said.
"Up to this point, we've had a conceptual idea of what we want to provide," he said. "The next step is to get into [the] details."
The five- or six-year project will be completed in three phases, the first of which will yield about 136 apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail space, Bailey said. The development team and nonprofit will then conduct more market studies to ensure the Phase 2 and 3 align with changing demand.
"We are committed to meeting with the neighborhood associations and the owners and vendors in the area," he said, adding that his company has developed several projects larger than 500 units in San Antonio and elsewhere.
At first, there was significant backlash from surrounding communities to the project, Gervin-Hawkins said. But she and her team have been able to address concerns and "basically we ironed all of those things out."
Gervin Center officials are familiar with housing developments, she said, as they have worked on single-family homes and multi-family complexes before.
The center, named after Gervin-Hawkins' brother, former Spur and basketball Hall of Famer George Gervin, is all about improving quality of life, she added. "This development takes it to a whole new level.
"This project is more than just bricks and mortar. It’s about transforming a community."