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Thinking of moving into San Antonio’s center city? Join the crowd. I recently moved back here from Austin, where I lived for a year. Before then, I lived in Seattle, so 10 years have gone by since I left San Antonio. My two sisters and their families are here, so I knew more than most when I started my apartment hunt.
I set out to find an apartment that was just right: right location, right size, and right price, with all the basic amenities and social ambience I was seeking. I ended up on assignment for the Rivard Report, commissioned to check out all the new urban core apartment developments and compare them for price, amenities and sense of community.
There are a growing number of choices if you have a job that pays a decent wage.
San Antonio is the fastest growing of the top 10 cities on the U.S. Census list. People say it’s the seventh largest city, but it’s really the 25th largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA). The fact is, all Texas cities are hot: Dallas, Houston, and Austin are outpacing the rest of the country, too.
San Antonio’s continuing growth positions it to advance on the MSA list over the next decade. That would put it right behind number 21 Denver, one of the hottest U.S. cities for attracting educated workers seeking a great urban lifestyle. Read this recent New York Times story exploring Denver as a hot destination for talented Millennials.
Back to San Antonio. People are going to keep coming here. More good jobs are being created, and that means more people who can pay market rate for their apartments. Market rate is going up, slowly but surely. The cost of living here is still far below other cities, but so are wages, so it sort of equals out. For locals, it seems like San Antonio is getting more expensive as it evolves.
Bottom line: ditch your gas bill, your time-consuming commute, and put that money and psychic energy into your new life in the center city.
I’m not the only one who has left Austin and headed south on I-35. Many of us simply cannot afford to stay there; we’ve been priced out. That same phenomenon is evident in other destination cities that offer that highly desirable combination of cool and tech: Austin, Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, to name four.
I’ve lived in Seattle and I’ve lived in Austin, and I am done with hip cities, where you are made to feel lucky that you’ve been selected to live there. For me, the allure of such places has faded with the rising price of everyday life, starting with the cost of an apartment. It’s hard not to feel like a pretender living in these cities, even if you stay awhile.
San Antonio might become such a place someday, but I doubt it. San Antonio is different. The long overdue upswing here comes at a cost, of course, but the upside greatly exceeds the downside.
San Antonio is still relatively affordable: A studio apartment can be rented for about $1,000 a month, and while I have not been in the market to buy, home prices remain relatively low, especially if you’re willing to look at old homes with good bones that need fixing up.
Artists and musicians are moving here in droves from Austin and other more expensive cities. New parks and museums are opening. The Pearl is filled with au currant bars, shops and restaurants. There’s a buzz of revival in the historic downtown (Mark Twain, after all, once said San Antonio was one of only four unique cities in America), the Spurs are enjoying their best-ever season, and UNESCO recently named the Alamo and four Missions a World Heritage Site. San Antonio’s arrow points straight up.
A dozen-plus apartment complexes – what developers and planners call “multi-family developments” – have been built in recent years or are under construction now. Make no mistake: renting a studio or one-bedroom apartment in a new development that includes a workout facility, party room, pool, and other common amenities, is not the same as renting a small piece of an older house divided into apartments.
In most of the new apartment complexes, a one-bedroom apartment costs between $1200-1400, which is anywhere from 20-40% more than you would expect to pay for a unit found in a period house or building on Craig’s List. Plenty of people are living in Southtown, Dignowity Hill and other inner city neighborhoods, paying $600-800 a month for one bedroom in a shared apartment in a house that is 50-100 years old.
The editors at the Rivard Report sent me to almost every new multifamily development in the urban core. What I found is a more upscale environment than I expected: on-site security, 24-hour workout facilities, an outdoor pool with nearby fire pits and gas barbecue grills, indoor club rooms and lounge areas with pool tables and shuffleboard, rooftop spaces, and basically, just about anything else laughing couples could be photographed enjoying at sunset for marketing brochures.
If you have the money, the choice of places to plug-in your electric car and store your bike are growing, but each offers a different package for the price. What follows is a review of those developments that target an economic demographic of relatively affluent young professionals and well-off retirees looking to downsize and live in new neighborhoods that offer walkability.
Some people loathe these new developments that are out of the price range of many. We expect criticism and comments, and look forward to hearing from you, whether you live in one of these developments, aspire to do so one day, or loathe the very idea. Just don’t ask us to mediate with your landlord.
It all began in and around the Pearl on Broadway. River North and Midtown, or whatever you choose to call the Broadway segments north of downtown, are arguably the most active areas of the central city for out-of-town migrants or people moving in from the suburbs. A street once known for its sketchy motels, cheap drive-ins and diners and fast food franchises is slowly but surely becoming a showcase street and main gateway into downtown and points south. It still has a long ways to go, but what a different world it is now than the one I left in 2006.
The Can Plant
In terms of location, surroundings and quality, The Can Plant is without peers. Built in the heart of the Pearl, The Can Plant is in walking distance to a bakery; a coffee shop; a bookstore; a growing number of bars and restaurants; locally owned boutiques; the Culinary Institute of America campus; and the Hotel Emma.
Units have high ceilings, stone floors, with washer/dryer included. The aesthetic is a bit chilly and “artist-lofty,” but the building materials and appliances are of high quality. The Can Plant has a nice L-shaped pool with gas grills, a standard gym and a smallish lounge area with a Starbucks machine and a shuffleboard table.
Other complexes offer more flossed out common areas. Does that really matter? Depends. If you dream of creating a South Texas Melrose Place, there’s so many places to hang out in and around the Pearl; it’s easily the most social and nightlife-oriented complex I visited. That comes at a price. It’s at the upper end of pricing ($1,320 a unit and up). There is an onsite pantry store called Larder housed in the luxury Emma, but it’s fairly expensive and niche.
Each weekend the Pearl hosts the city’s most vibrant farmers market, and the San Antonio flagship Central Market is only a few miles up the road for those who obsess about proximity to a great grocery store.
The vibe of the Pearl is bustling and fairly commercial, so sometimes I can imagine it would feel as if you were living in a hipper version of the Shops at La Cantera. If you are someone who plans on biking regularly to downtown (there’s a bike path along the Museum Reach) and plans to mainly eat at restaurants and get take-out, the Can Plant is the most desirable place to post up in San Antonio.
A half-mile south of the Can Plant and even closer to the San Antonio Museum of Art is 1221 Broadway. A stone’s throw to the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River, 1221 was the first of the new apartment developments to open and signal a new day in San Antonio. It’s a sprawling multi-building complex with 300-plus units, three workout facilities, two outdoor pools, two lounge areas and 500 parking spaces, more than half of them covered.
It’s among the largest of the complexes I visited and it certainly feels the largest, almost like living in public housing in a successful Scandinavian country. I don’t mean this as a dig. The complex has a sophisticated breezy vibe to it; there are several courtyards and the units open up to outdoor walkways and catwalks. The gyms are also a cut above the competition. There are fewer commercial tenants in this complex than I would expect, but there is a nice beer hall/commissary called GS1221 that sells pints and growlers of dozens of microbrews.
1221 is also on the lower end of pricing (one bedrooms go for as “little” as $1070). Like the Can Plant, it’s a few miles from Central Market, but right now that’s the price to pay for living along the Broadway corridor.
Tucked back on Roy Smith Street directly between 1221 and the Can Plant, the River House has a softer, less “industrial aesthetic” than either of its neighbors. Wood floors instead of polished concrete, lower ceilings and lighter-hued cabinets give the River House a sunnier vibe. Smaller than the 1221 and somewhat hidden off Broadway, River House is the quietest of the Midtown options. It lacks the bustle of the Can Plant, and the refined spaciousness of 1221, but it does have an infinity pool overlooking the river and a private dog park.
The River House is the closest to the river, giving it a more bucolic atmosphere that recalls the King Williams neighborhood. The cost for a one bedroom is $1,200 and up, putting it right between the Can Plant and The River House. It’s the empty nester’s preferred choice: close to the action, but safely removed from the party.
Just north of the Pearl, catty-corner on Broadway, are 1800 Broadway and the Mosaic. Both complexes have a decidedly different interior aesthetic, flashier and more luxe places with the feel of an extended stay corporate suite (marble/granite, plush carpets, chandeliers, etc.). Behave yourselves.
1800 Broadway is almost directly across the street from the entrance to the Pearl complex and kitty-corner to the hallowed greasy-spoon roadhouse Sam’s Burger Joint (formerly Billy Blues, a remnant from the old San Antonio, that was known more for its post-war drive-ins such as Burger Boy and the Bun n’ Barrel).
1800 Broadway is on the upper end of pricing for these Broadway corridor complexes – around $1400, but often with one month free rent upon signing, which reduces the monthly rate by more than $100 a month for a one-year lease – and it shows off its higher price with novel amenities like electric car charging stations, plush carpeting in the bedrooms, poker tables in the lounge areas, and a crossfit gym.
The interior design is a bit more generic and cookie-cutter than the aforementioned Broadway trio, and the venue really does feel like temporary housing for relocating professionals. Brown Coffee, an excellent coffee shop, is located in the building, along with a bike shop with services and repair and a good selection of bicycles. 1800 is a good option if you want a more rigorous fitness regimen in-house, and more comfortable interior flourishes.
One block up and on the other side of the street is the Mosaic, a near-twin to the 1800 in some ways. Prices for a one bedroom run from $1,000-1,600, and the interiors have a similar cushy, bright, track-lit vibe. The most impressive feature of the Mosaic is the rooftop pool that features panoramic views of the city, a hot tub and a genuine feeling of being somewhere other than San Antonio. The building includes dining options: SOBRO Pizza Co., with a wood-fired pizza oven, and Tacos and Tequila, a yuppie-ish taco and tequila bar.
The Mosaic and the other developments are minutes from the San Antonio Museum of Art, Brackenridge Park, Brackenridge Golf Course, the San Antonio Zoo, the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, the DoSeum and the Witte Museum.
If choosing between the 1800 and the Mosaic, I would probably go with the 1800 because of price/fitness options, but the Mosaic’s rooftop pool may be the nicest of all the complexes I visited.
Off Broadway to the east toward Fort Sam Houston, behind the DoSeum, are two more complexes – The Brackenridge and The Beverly.
The Brackenridge at MidTown
A large stucco and stone building that could easily be an oncology center or a telecommunications headquarters, the Brackenridge at MidTown has a more suburban feel than its Broadway corridor neighbors. The word “lavish” is used on the website and there is a largesse in its spaces, as if a wealthy athlete’s mansion was converted into a multi-use apartment complex. The pool is multi-terraced, and there’s an al-fresco kitchen, an “entertainment” kitchen, a horseshoe pit, private pet park, gym, game entertainment lounge, and all the other usual amenities.
The units have laminate flooring and, for a price, can be upgraded to granite countertops and stainless steel fixtures. The location of the Brackenridge, while close to all the desirable things in the neighborhood, feels sunken and removed compared to the previously covered complexes. Things will change, but right now, it’s on the wrong side of Broadway. Mahncke Park, Government Hill and surroundings still have a ways to go before all the blight gives way to urban renewal.
That said, the Brackenridge, with its slightly lower prices and seclusion, will be appealing to some.
Right next door to The Brackenridge, the Beverly is the most unusual complex on or near Broadway. A renovated complex from the 1960s, the Beverly has a retro charm that management plays to the hilt, with black and white photographs of hip people poolside, smoking and drinking.
The units and amenities are smaller and more modest, with laminate flooring, granite counters and stainless fixtures. What the Beverly offers, by far, is the best price in this area. One-bedroom units can be had as low as $900 a month, $200-500 less than the others. Given such a pricing edge, the Beverly rates high. But make no mistake: life at the Beverly is not life at the Can Plant or 1221.
Is Broadway too refined for you? Too Northside? That leaves you with the burgeoning Southtown district, south of downtown and in the heart of a bustling enclave of artists, studios and galleries. Southtown is both a state of mind and a collection of distinct places, each with its own identity: the historic Lavaca and King William neighborhoods, and the happening Blue Star Arts Complex. Southtown is home to First Friday, the King William Fair and Parade during Fiesta, Beethoven Hall and many other traditions. It’s grittier, more organic, less developed, and alive with “for rent by owner” housing units that are half the price of a swank Broadway studio. Just don’t expect central A/C and heat, or any communal amenities.
Blue Star Arts Complex
The Eagleland Reach of the San Antonio River, the first stage of the linear park wildscape, starts here.
One of the original mixed used developments in Southtown, the Blue Star Arts Complex has developed into the lively epicenter of the San Antonio art scene and the beloved First Friday event. Blue Star has 58 apartments most of which are one bedroom, loft-like spaces that range largely in size and price ($845-$2890 and 650-3400 sq. feet). There are currently only two very large, more expensive units available and there is a substantial wait list, so when the smaller, more affordable units became available they are usually rented within a day or two.
Blue Star apartments do not have many of the amenities the new complexes boast, such as high-end gyms, resort-style pools, lounges and game rooms. The units have concrete floors, ten-fifteen foot ceilings. Some units have dishwashers and washer/dryer connections but there is also an on-site laundry mat. The real draw of Blue Star is living in a thriving hub of food, drink and culture. Akin to the Can Plant, there are several restaurants, bars and coffee shops in the complex, including: Halcyon, Blue Star Brewery, Stella Public House and the new sushi and champagne bar Sukeban. There’s also upscale market, Provision, selling local goods and craft beer, Mockingbird handprints and the Blue Star bike shop. The complex routinely has openings, events and other happenings and is still arguably the most desirable place to live in Southtown if you can get in.
Blue Star owner James Lifshutz has plans to expand its residential offerings this year with a 25-unit addition.
Right behind La Tuna and across Probandt Street from the Blue Star Arts Complex, Cevallos Lofts is a massive complex with a huge courtyard (and yes, a “resort” style pool that’s spectacular) that aesthetically is like the Broadway complexes. Cevallos has a particularly acute Extended Stay suites vibe – it even has a business center – and its common areas are multi-checkered and multi-colored, giving the impression of a Kid’s Clubhouse. Nonetheless, this is a very fresh and clean complex.
Apartments have laminate flooring, granite countertops and stainless fixtures. There are some amenities, such as free Internet, and all units have private balconies. Situated across Probandt from the Blue Star, residents at the Cevallos Lofts are a five-minute walk to gallery openings, craft brew houses, a coffee shop, a gelato and panini emporium, and lots of artists’ studios. Living in a more bohemian part of town, however, does not translate to cheaper rates. A one-bedroom unit at Cevallos Lofts runs from $1250-1300 a month.
Just north of South St. Mary’s Street on César Chavez Boulevard is the newly-opened Agave on the former site of KWEX-TV Univision. The Agave, inside and out, is a cut above, with more attention paid to design and to exterior and interior finishes. It occupies a quiet, beautiful stretch of the river known as the South Channel that connects the downtown River Walk to the Eagleland Reach and the Mission Reach.
Units feature sleek accoutrement – frameless glass showers, oblong kitchen islands – that give them a vaguely Scandinavian flair. There are electric car chargers in the garage and what has become a de rigueur destination pool. The Agave is a five-minute walk to the Southtown restaurant scene, or the recently-opened H-E-B South Flores Market. Prices for a one-bedroom unit run from $1,135-1.270.
Peanut Factory Lofts
The Peanut Factory Lofts is midway between the Cevallos Lofts and the Agave. The Peanut Factory was, indeed, a former peanut processing plant. The central factory building has been left intact, complete with the silos where peanuts were stored. You can actually live in the old complex. The silos have been turned into circular one-bedroom lofts with the original concrete flooring and brick walls left exposed, graffiti included at no additional cost.
The old building units are a bit more than the newer ones at $1,300, but they have the most unusual interior aesthetics of any of the complexes I visited. I found the Peanut Factory’s old units a charming alternative.
In addition to the usual gym and pool, there are a few surprises such as a food truck park. The Peanut Factory is a bit expensive (especially given that Cevallos and Agave are closer to restaurants and bars, and have nicer pools), but if you want to live in a complex with the usual conveniences and a more eccentric living space, the Peanut Factory is a good option.
On the corner of Santa Rosa and Houston Streets, the Vistana is the only complex I visited that is definitively downtown. It is also not an open-air complex, but a large, urban 15-plus story apartment building that feels like a living space in a more cosmopolitan city like Chicago.
The Vistana aesthetic is fairly antiseptic and its vastness and relative low occupancy give it a kind of empty quality, which may be appealing to someone who wants to live in serenity and relative anonymity. The Vistana is easily the most hotel-like of all these complexes and there’s a deck pool and a 24-hour fitness center, but not much else in the way of amenities.
This is, of course, a function of being in downtown and having limited space. The Vistana is the only complex that gives you a “city” experience. It’s one-half mile away from the River Walk. Groceries and other practical amenities will require heading north or south, but if you’re moving to San Antonio from a “walking” city (New York, San Francisco, Denver) the Vistana might be a good option. One-bedroom apartments are $1,200 and there are often one month free/$1,000 off deals going.
A few miles north from the Broadway corridor on Hildebrand is City Vista. A massive, sprawling beige complex perched on a hill near the University of the Incarnate Word, City Vista has (true to its name) some of the best views in San Antonio.
The complex boasts some of the nicest amenities of all the complexes I visited, including: a resort style pool (of course), entertainment rooms with a full kitchen and pool tables and multiple courtyards. Prices range from around $1,250 to $1,800 and the building quality is in the upper echelon of these new complexes.
City Vista, though very close to Brackenridge Park and the Zoo, is the least walkable complex in terms of restaurants, grocery stores, etc., as Hildebrand is not a particularly pedestrian-friendly road and the complex is about a mile from Broadway. If you’re looking for great views, proximity to Brackenridge Park and a quiet, high-end apartment that feels a bit suburban, City Vista is a good option.
1111 Austin Highway
Austin Highway feels a bit like the Broadway corridor before all the recent developments, marked by wide roads, old diners and cheap eateries, drive-in motels and strip malls. However, it’s also developing, albeit at a much slower rate. There’s the well-liked tandem of Nosh and Silo (casual and upscale extensions of the same ownership) and convenient staples like gyms and large grocery stores nearby, and the beautiful and stately McNay Art Museum down the street, but there’s nothing like Pearl Complex or the vibrant Southtown area.
The 1111 Austin Highway apartment complex is trying to position itself as an alternative/competition to the complexes on the Broadway corridor and Southtown. The two-year-old complex has units with 10-foot high ceilings, granite countertops and stainless fixtures. There’s a lap pool, an “Entertainment” pool, fitness centers, yoga studios and gas and charcoal grills. The units are a bit more spacious than some of the ones in more urban areas, with one bedrooms measuring in at a spacious 750 square feet.
The quality of the building materials does feel a bit cheaper than some of the nicer complexes, however the prices do not reflect such economy construction nor the more remote location. One bedrooms range from $1025-1320, which is roughly the same range as 1221 but in an arguably less desirable area.
1111 Austin Highway’s greatest drawing power is that it’s the only complex on this list that’s districted in the coveted Alamo Heights School District. Thus, 1111 may be a good option for a young family moving to San Antonio who wants to send their kids to an esteemed public school.
The Gardens at San Juan Square
About three miles southwest of the Blue Star Arts Complex is The Gardens at San Juan Square, a unique and affordable development catered towards lower income and working class people. With one bedrooms priced at around $600, this is by far the cheapest of all the complexes covered. There are, of course, reasons for such a low price. The complex is much more modest than many of the more upscale spaces, both in terms of the interiors of the units and the amenities. Interiors have a definite budget feel in the materials and amenities such as the pool and fitness center feel less like a resort and more like a motor lodge.
However, The Gardens boasts two singular features: work/live spaces and the digital bibliotheca. The work/live spaces rent for a mere 716 dollars and have an office area on the ground floor and a one bedroom apartment on the second floor. Current tenants include everyone from PR agencies to gourmet chocolatiers. The digital bibliotheca is a state of the art digital library with over 40 top of the line mac desktops, tablets that can be loaded with books and other media and checked out and conference and game rooms. The desktops have a wide array of useful programs installed: library databases, language learning software, video-editing and desktop publishing software and more.
Even though it’s a bit remote, The Gardens at San Juan Square is a terrific option for a young self-employed or telecommuting professional that wants to keep their overhead low and have access to high-level digital facilities.
The Flats at Big Tex
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.
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 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.
Inside the multi-story 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. 490-sq. ft. studios will start at $1,065, and 700-plus sq. ft. one-bedrooms will start at $1,200.
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 at Big Tex should be a great option for people wanting river views and an art-oriented lifestyle.
Right across from the Big Tex is Southtown Flats, another large complex in an increasingly crowded neighborhood, set to begin move-ins in early April. The Southtown Flats announced themselves with pizzazz in late February by hosting an open house at La Tuna and lighting the large neon sign on their roof that jubilantly spells out SOUTHTOWN. Southtown Flats will feature all the expected amenities for such upscale new developments and then some: resort style pool and grilling stations, lounges with catering kitchen, media centers and dining areas, an in-house curator to curate the on-site gallery with work from local artists, fitness center and yoga studio, dog run and a roof deck with outdoor kitchen, fire pit and movie projector wall.
The interiors of the units follow a familiar style of these new complexes: polished concrete floors on the ground floors, vinyl wood laminate on the second and above floors, quartz countertops and stainless steel fixtures. One bedrooms will range from $1120 per month to $1400, putting Southtown Flats in line with prices for the nearby Big Tex and Agave.
Half a mile south of the Can Plant is the Rivera, yet another major apartment complex in the Broadway complex. They aren’t touring the complex yet but preleasing has begun and move-ins apparently will begin in late March and early April. According to the website and my correspondence with the leasing managers, one bedrooms will range from $1140 to $1600 depending on the layout. Ceilings will be 10’ and the units will all have stainless steel appliances and granite in the kitchen and bathroom. Common amenities will include outdoor dining area with a wet bar, resort style pool, fitness center and a rooftop terrace.