Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Among the crowd gathered for a tour of a 1950s-era warehouse converted into contemporary lofts were working artists eager for a look at a development soon to join the burgeoning downtown housing market.
“Welcome to The South Side,” said James Lifshutz in his greeting at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) event held Wednesday inside the gallery of his latest development, where the work of about 20 artists from San Antonio and around the state was also on display.
Lifshutz, the mastermind behind the Blue Star Arts complex and more recently Hot Wells, is well-known for his support of the arts and as a champion for the city’s South Side. On this sweltering evening, the real estate investor stood inside his latest project: an abandoned warehouse that’s being formed into one-bedroom studio apartments with attached maker spaces.
Designed by Alamo Architects and still under construction at 2450 Roosevelt Avenue, The South Side features an industrial vibe and open-concept floor plans between 450 and 900 square feet, surrounding an in-house gallery space. It was designed for a “community of San Antonio’s thinkers, dreamers, and doers,” according to a description online.
The development’s 65 units will begin leasing in August and will rent for about $1,000 a month or less. Some units have attached maker-spaces, or studios, designed for artists who want a live-work lifestyle.
“This is an affordable and cool alternative to all the new units in Southtown and River North, which all have some units in the affordable price range, but most costing over $1,400,” Lifshutz said. “To a lot of people, that makes a difference.”
The South Side, a nondescript warehouse situated between a lumber wholesaler and grocery distributor warehouses, is located on a stretch of Roosevelt that is decidedly industrial near the Mission San Jose and Riverside neighborhoods. The former food processing facility’s most recent tax appraisal valued it at $2.1 million.
But the housing development is also steps from the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River and a few minutes’ drive into the center city. So it’s ideal for people who want to live downtown, Lifshutz said, where there’s access to bus routes, hiking and biking along the river, and a short commute to downtown.
With a vision to bring more of a community feel to the area, when Lifshutz purchased the long-vacant building in 2017, he also acquired a shuttered cantina across the street.
Plans for a hybrid bike shop and restaurant at the riverside location came to a halt when the prospective operator, local cycling enthusiast Tito Bradshaw, was killed in April while riding his bike on the East Side. Lifshutz is seeking another operator and said the intersection of Roosevelt and Riverside Drive is getting more interesting.
“With the river improvements, now is the time for the near South Side,” Lifshutz said Wednesday.
More improvements are to come for the area long plagued by poverty and decline despite its proximity to a downtown booming in recent years with new industry and development.
Of the 64 street, bridge, and sidewalk projects in the City’s 2017-22 Bond Program, one is $8 million in improvements slated for the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue south of U.S. Hwy. 90 to Southeast Loop 410. Soon, City funding will be combined with money from the state and result in a complete “reimagining” of Roosevelt, Lifshutz said, and the neighborhood that was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.
“It’s your path from downtown to the Missions,” he said. “So bond improvements, this [development], the bar – it just feels like there’s a great opportunity for other good things to happen, and that’s what I’m hoping for.”
Austin-based artist Charles Ben Russell, whose ink-on-wood piece titled The Ark, was displayed in the gallery during the open-house event, said he had never visited that side of town before.
He came as guests of local artists Justin Parr of Flight Gallery and artist Jeff Wheeler, the two curators of the exhibit. “I’m totally into this idea,” Parr said. “I agree we need cheaper spaces. It makes sense.”