Former Mayor Lila Cockrell and San Antonio Museum of Art Kelso Director Katherine Luber walked out of CPS Energy's downtown headquarters wearing big smiles Monday afternoon after the public utility's board voted unanimously to support a gift of more than three acres of land, including a large building, to SAMA.
CPS Energy's 82,902 sq. ft. former operations center just west of the museum on West Jones Avenue will become office, exhibit, and educational space. The land will become part of the museum's master plan to expand its presence across the avenue with inviting green space and a sculpture garden along the San Antonio River's Museum Reach.
"We realize that CPS Energy has a unique opportunity to help the museum," said CPS Energy Board Chair Nora Chavez. "By conveying approximately half of the property to the museum we can enhance the recreational and cultural role of the museum in a significant way. The City, CPS Energy, our customers, and the museum will all benefit from this transfer."
Former Mayor Cockrell, 93, was an ex-officio member of the CPS Energy board during her time as mayor and also served as a board member and chair afterwards. She now serves on SAMA's board – in addition to countless other civic endeavors that keep her on the move most days and evenings.
"The museum does a great job of using its existing space but the museum is expanding," she said. "The exhibits and educational activities are increasing, but we don't have space for some of our wonderful collections."
Office space for SAMA staff is currently scattered throughout the museum, so the new building gives SAMA the opportunity to consolidate.
"It will be a win-win," Cockrell said of the land gift. CPS Energy moves unused property off its books and SAMA gets a long over-due expansion of its Museum Reach facilities. "I'm always watching everything (the CPS Energy board) does with great pride ... this utility is one of San Antonio's great jewels."
The building's foundation, at 326 W. Jones Ave., was laid in 1920 and CPS Energy bought the land and building in 1925.
"It allows us to use the space for those administrative functions that are often lost in the shuffle. So it's an incredibly generous gift," Luber said.
While the museum might renovate the building in the future, SAMA is not looking into any major renovations in the short-term, Luber said, which is in very good condition as-is. "It's the most economical way for now ... we're very thrifty."
With a seemingly endless schedule of construction on nearby apartment complexes, including the recently completed River House and a six-story project designed by Alamo Manhattan on property owned by developer James Lifshutz in the preliminary design phase, SAMA likely will experience an influx of new neighbors in search of nearby green space and cultural activities they can walk to in a matter of minutes.
*Featured/top image: SAMA Kelso Director Katherine Luber points to the museum's new property donated by CPS Energy. Photo by Scott Ball.