Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed 42 bills to punctuate the 84th Texas Legislative Session, but one Father's Day weekend veto, in particular, landed a blow to San Antonio's growing wave of promising Eastside redevelopment. HB 1255 would have allocated at least $132 million to the renovation and redevelopment of the G.J. Sutton State Office Complex.
Local and state officials are now regrouping and looking into developing some sort of public-private partnership (P3) to give the abandoned and deteriorating 110,000 sq. ft. building new life.
The bill was filed by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) and was intended to spur consolidation of several state agencies that would have brought more than 700 state employees to the Eastside. Councilmember Alan Warrick II (D2), who represents the district in which the state-owned building complex is located and much of the Eastside, said he was disappointed in the governor's decision, yet optimistic about what kind of doors it might open for mixed-use development.
"We have an opportunity here to do a P3 and to do a larger project than what the state was suggesting," Warrick said Tuesday evening. "It's short-sighted to not have any mixed-use (plan)."
Warrick had traveled to Austin to advocate for McClendon's bill last month. While he supported the state-funded project, he now sees that more options are opening up.
The complex seemed like a prime target for redevelopment given its proximity to EastPoint – an Eastside district that has been awarded multi-million dollar federal grants to improve infrastructure, neighborhoods and schools. Several multifamily developments, including the Crockett Street Urban Lofts and Merchant's Ice Lofts, will bring 530 new apartments to the Eastside.
Warrick's ambitions for the property are even higher.
"I can see a $200-300 million project with a little help ($40-50 million) from the state -- more than just office space," he said, mentioning restaurants, an entertainment complex, music venue, or even a grocery store as possible future tenants.
Warrick welcomes the opportunity to explore more innovative plans and said he will be "actively looking for partners that are really there not just to profit off the community but to redevelop the community." Because the property is state-owned, Warrick and the City's role will be to facilitate any deal between the state and any interested private parties.
According to the Texas Facilities Commission, through which the funds would have been allocated, a new facility could accommodate 293,000 sq. ft. of office space the state currently leases in other buildings. The City estimates that the G.J. Sutton proposal would have saved the state $4.3 million in leasing costs per year. The state is currently paying $375,000 per year to maintain the building as-is: vacant, save for the bat infestation, and in need of substantial foundation and structural work.
However, that didn't seem to be a fast enough rate of return for Gov. Abbott, who called for further analysis on how best to redevelop the property.
“To keep Texas fiscally strong, we must limit unnecessary state debt and spending. Debt service can burden the state's budget and limit the economic freedom of future generations,” Abbott wrote of the veto. "All debt and spending to construct new facilities should be approved only after a project has been carefully scrutinized to determine that tax dollars are spent in the most cost-effective manner.”
Meanwhile, Abbott approved legislation earlier this month that gives $32 million to the General Land Office for development of a master plan and strategy for the operation and improvement of the Alamo complex – even though there is no plan of any kind yet.
Local architectural firm RVK Architects had drawn up five different plans for the G.J. Sutton property, all of which include new office building construction and a parking garage.
Mayor Ivy Taylor, who represented District 2 when the building was vacated in 2013, also expressed disappointment Tuesday, but was confident that the site will be redeveloped. Some way. Some how.
"The City is committed to working with the Governor and the Texas Facilities Commission to find the best solution for the property, including the use of a public-private partnership or other innovative solution," Taylor stated in an email. "We will work with the state any way we can to accomplish the goal of redeveloping the site in a way that benefits both the state and the community."
Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) also sent out a statement:
"I agree with the Governor's desire to accomplish this project in the most cost-efficient way possible. A public-private partnership (P3) could be good for the City, good for the neighborhood and good for taxpayers."
G.J. Sutton Complex's History
Built in 1912, the brick masonry industrial complex was once home to the San Antonio Machine and Supply Company (SAMSCO). Other on-site structures may date back to as early as 1885, according to the San Antonio Conservation Society, and the "six-story concrete building constructed in the second quarter of the 20th century is not architecturally significant and is not in keeping with the historic character of the complex."
SAMSCO sold the property and moved out, demolishing much of the original complex, in 1965 – according to AIA San Antonio's book, "San Antonio Architecture: Traditions and Visions." The State of Texas hired Ford, Powell, & Carson in 1975 to renovate the buildings for office space.
In 1982 the complex was named posthumously for Garlington Jerome (G. J.) Sutton (1909-1976), the first black elected official from Bexar County, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Sutton also ran his family's mortuary, Sutton and Sutton Funeral Home, with his brother Samuel which became the oldest black-owned mortuary in San Antonio.
Due to critical structural damage and a bat infestation, the state moved its 220 employees out in 2013. It's been vacant ever since.
“There are those who would like to see it not just sit there, to see something happen with it,” McClendon told the Express News earlier this year. “You know how long and how much the residents have been trying to boost up that building? It’s really a beautiful building.”
*Featured/top image: The G.J. Sutton building at 321 Center Street. Photo by Scott Ball.