H-E-B Briefs King William Neighbors on Expansion, Proposed Block Closure

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Arsenal Street Bridge: pedestrians welcome. Cars, not so much. Photo by Monika Maeckle

Monika Maeckle

About 80 people packed the back room of the Blue Star Brewing Company Wednesday evening for the King William Association‘s (KWA) general membership meeting.   The crowd turned out to discuss the pros and cons of H-E-B’s proposal to close one block of Main Street between Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Arsenal Street.

The meeting was intended as a briefing on the proposed closure, which is part of H-E-B’s plan to expand its downtown headquarters campus, but it came as the City of San Antonio starts its review of four proposals submitted for a $1 million city incentive to attract a grocery store downtown. That’s a hot topic in any conversation about downtown development, and last night was no exception.

H-E-B submitted one of the four competing proposals for the city’s $1 million incentive. It proposes opening a small store on land the company owns at the corner of South Flores Street and Cesar Chavez Boulevard.

Opinions were mixed about the proposed closure. Residents voiced concerns about traffic, parking and pedestrian safety. (Full disclosure: My family is building a house on East Arsenal Street, so we have an interest in the outcome. We don’t oppose the closure and obviously support the opening of a grocery store in the area.)

Would closing Main Street for one block improve or make worse traffic in the neighborhood? That remains to be seen.

“Change is coming if you haven’t noticed,” said KWA President Deb Mueller before handing the microphone to H-E-B’s Director of Public Affairs Dya Campos.”It’s all around us. I hope we can approach this in a cooperative manner.”

Campos provided a brief overview of the proposal to close Main Street from Cesar Chavez to East Arsenal Street, noting that the initiative is not linked to the company’s grocery store proposal and would be sought regardless of who wins the city incentive.

A-Proposed H-E-B grocery store. B-Closure of Main Street between Cesar Chavez Boulevard and East Arsenal Street C-Possible closure of Arsenal Street Bridge to vehicles. Map via Google and Rivard Report staff

A-Proposed H-E-B grocery store. B-Closure of Main Street between Cesar Chavez Boulevard and East Arsenal Street C-Possible closure of Arsenal Street Bridge to vehicles. D- Culinary school/test kitchens for H-E-B staff. Map via Google and Rivard Report staff

Campos said H-E-B has already purchased the entire block of South Flores Street between Cesar Chavez and East Arsenal.   Plans and renovations are underway to convert the corner building at South Flores and East Arsenal where it becomes El Paso Street to a culinary school that would house the company’s test kitchens, allowing H-E-B partners to test recipes for their store brand.

The proposed grocery store, to be located at the southeast corner of South Flores and Cesar Chavez, would offer dry goods, fresh produce and meats, and prepared foods.  Campos said Central Market would serve as a “commissary” to the downtown store, suggesting that many of the offerings would be prepared at the Broadway location and transported downtown.

The store would include an outdoor patio and sport a “fresh design, in keeping with the neighborhood,” said Campos.  The Commander’s House, a city-owned senior center that offers affordable hot lunches to neighborhood seniors three days a week, a program underwritten by H-E-B, would remain intact.

While the crowd appeared overwhelmingly in favor of an H-E-B grocery store in the neighborhood, concerns were raised about the closing of Main Street. According to Campos, H-E-B partners constantly must navigate speeding traffic on Main Street as they traverse the street from the parking lot. One resident underscored pedestrian safety issues on Main Street, mentioning that wrecks and accidents are common. “We should support this,” he said.

Campos cited the company’s continued “need to grow” as a reason why one block of Main Street should be closed.

“How does closing Main help with your need to grow?” asked one resident.

“Our largest conference room at corporate headquarters only holds 25 people,” said Campos, who stated unequivocally that H-E-B has no plans to relocate its downtown headquarters.

Residents agreed that buses, trolleys, and delivery trucks racing down Main Street are a problem.

Arsenal Street Bridge:  pedestrians welcome.  Cars, not so much.  Photo by Monika Maeckle

Arsenal Street Bridge: pedestrians welcome. Cars, not so much. Photo by Monika Maeckle

The possibility of closing the iconic Arsenal Street Bridge to vehicular traffic and making it a pedestrian-only walkway also was raised as a possible solution for discouraging through-traffic down Pancoast and Washington Streets. Closing the Arsenal Street Bridge would deter motorists on South Alamo Street from using Beauregard Street and other neighborhood streets to cross the river on East Arsenal in front of  H-E-B headquarters.   If the Arsenal Street Bridge were limited to pedestrians, this might avert more dense traffic south of the H-E-B Arsenal.

The closure makes engineering sense, according to lawyer, engineer and former San Antonio River Authority General Manager Fred Pfeiffer, who resides on Washington Street. He told a small group after the meeting that the bridge has a limited weight-bearing capacity of 36,000 pounds and was never intended to support commuter traffic. Pfeiffer said the possibility of closing the Arsenal Street Bridge to vehicles first was raised in the 1970s when the San Antonio River Walk renovation was undertaken, and a fewer motorists used the crossing.  At the time, the measure was defeated.  This time around might be different.


Follow Monika Maeckle on Twitter @monikam or at the Texas Butterfly Ranch.


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20 thoughts on “H-E-B Briefs King William Neighbors on Expansion, Proposed Block Closure

  1. Central Market would serve as a ‘commissary’ for this new store on S. Flores, not vice versa. Prepared foods would be done at Central Market to stock this new store.

    Regarding the street and possible bridge closure. Not only NO, but HELL NO. With all due respect to Fred Pfeiffer (who is an amazing resource for us), just because something makes engineering sense does not mean it makes common sense. Closing the Arsenal Street Bridge forces traffic onto Guenther and Pancoast. Don’t start taking away our east/west interfaces. Our north/south interfaces through downtown are all being taken away from us. Losing two north/south streets on Main Plaza has had a deleterious effect on many of us. We are rapidly approaching the situation with institutional encroachment that has chopped up the Tobin Hill district. Just because our largest corporate headquarters wants something, doesn’t mean we have to acquiesce to their every wish. What’s next? When they grow even more in 10 years, we start selectively closing blocks of S. Flores?

    Living in an historic district means making smart deals with all of those who live and work in it. I love H.E.B. and want them to stay headquartered here. I just do not want what has happened to Ft. Sam Houston to happen to King William.

    I keep harping on this and will not relent: WE NEED THE SAME KIND OF SERIOUS DESIGN CHARRETTES THAT HPARC HELD AT SUNSET STATION for the area bounded by Durango/Chavez, I37, IH35/10 and Hwy 90. Our two historic districts, Lavaca and King William are undergoing huge stressors. We are in jeopardy of being the 8 blind men describing the elephant. Where is Councilman Bernal? Where are the master planners? We have amazing architects and planners in our midst. We’d best get to work with them and CoSA and make real, cohesive decisions, rather than just bending to the whims of our corporate friends.

  2. Diego Bernal could not make it to this meeting but an office staff member represented him and advised neighbor to attend a Coffee w the Councilman to discuss any subjects that were discussed last night or any other subjects this Saturday or visit his office…

    While I’m excited for the H-E-B’s grocery store proposal I have sorta agreed with Mary about closing streets we use to get through or to our neighborhood. Arsenal St. Bridge is my favorite bridge in the city and I’m sure there are older bridges in other countries that are still in use today so I don’t see there being a problem for continued vehicle use, only a problem for my neighbors who live close to the bridge because of the traffic that passed through there. Hopefully the community can come to a civil agreement with H-E-B and the City.

  3. I agree with Mary Nethery on the closing of the bridge. The east-west interfaces are truly important. I live just south of the Guenther/so. Alamo intersection, on an east-west running street between so. Flores and So. Main. We’ve got the 1010 So. Flores development finishing up and I imagine the increased traffic both on my narrow, short street (with most residents parking on the street) and that on Guenther as a result of increased population will be a bit of an immediate neighborhood challenge, but couple that with commuter pressure should the Arsenal st. bridge be closed and I think we will have created the makings of an actual quality of life threat for this neighborhood.

  4. Thanks for this solid article, Monika. Closing downtown streets didn’t make sense when it happened at Main Plaza (and has felt disastrous for traffic flow) and doesn’t make good sense now. Streets are named Main for a reason – main arteries of movement. With respect to HEB, a great neighbor, this idea could be terribly complicating for our neighborhood. Has anyone surveyed how many vehicles pass along Main every morning and evening? A huge number. Residents who live downtown prefer feeling connected, not boxed in and compressed. S. Flores is already mightily clogged and narrowed, S. Alamo has been narrowed and closed for too long, Good luck to King William Street if this goes through. Couldn’t Arsenal Bridge be strengthened instead of closed? Then good luck to the mad traffic on Washington Street. This idea will have more far-reaching impact on all the streets around us than anyone is seeing right now. We cheer the cooking school in progress, the sleek and simple downtown HEB would be terrific. But where will all the Main Avenue buses & trolleys go? And emergency vehicles? S. Flores? Help!

  5. I’m very concerned that the King William Association will acquiesce to whatever HEB wants, in part because KWA’s primary fundraiser (the King William Fair) may not happen without HEB’s support. Without a doubt, HEB has been a great neighbor, but it isn’t always a great neighbor, as those that remember the smaller store closures near Southtown will recall.

    Mary and the others posting before me make a critical point – there is no evidence that anyone has conducted a comprehensive study of what any street closure will do the neighborhood.

    Quite frankly, there are basic health and safety issues in the neighborhood, that Main does not share because of its width. On Mission Street, for example, there is unrestricted parking on both sides of the street, but not enough space for two-way traffic. It’s generally not a problem until the ambulance tries to get to your house.

    Back on Main, are there speeding cars? Yes. Is there too much cut-through traffic, especially heavy vehicles like 18-wheelers? Yes. Should we encourage alternative transportation in the historic district? Yes. Are too many cars parked in the bike lane? Yes.

    But we know from experience that an action often has an unintended reaction that is neither positive nor helpful to the neighborhood. One example would be the speed bumps on Guenther that simply moved the speeding cars to the other streets.

    A comprehensive plan is long over due. It would be wonderful if HEB and KWA approached COSA to coordinate such a plan. Until such a plan is conducted, I will oppose the street closure.

  6. We must not let a powerful institution build a wall between us and Downtown. The promise of less traffic and quiet separation is seductive, but we choose to live here not just because of the beautiful homes and gardens but to be part of an active community that can’t thrive walled off from the rest of the city. If we are pushed onto busy roads in order to get around a large tract of private property then we are recreating part the suburban model that I for one want to escape. For us to have a walking talking community we have to protect the traditional grid pattern of streets. Streets that were designed for people to live comfortably without being forced onto roads that are too obnoxious for comfortable use by pedestrians and bicyclists. Do we really want to make our neighborhood a divided set of little enclaves or do we want to support the urban model that created this beautiful neighborhood to begin with? We do have problems with noise, zoning, and traffic, but this wall will solve none of these problems… in fact it makes them worse. Forcing more traffic onto South Alamo, South Flores, and Guenther will make more noise not less. In addition this wall undermines the city’s commitment to bike sharing with the B-cycle program… the best bike route to Downtown will no longer be available. Let us look to the great model of walkable streets that we must protect to preserve our community not to the car centered model of huge private tracts of land that separate us from each other and from what is becoming a thriving walkable Downtown.

  7. Amazing conversations starting. Lots of great thoughts here and glad to see those weighing in. Please voice your opinion loudly and frequently across social media. We may just have a chance where we really did not on the recent street name debacle which is perhaps not near as far-reaching a result as this closure would be. Commission and build a beautiful bridge or something. I was thinking about how Incarnate Word manages with their odd campus and how Trinity has built across Hildebrand. No one heard them asking for street closures I don’t think. I know a new bridge is not historic, but surely there are better ways of doing this than by simple, painful division. I love my idea of having an Alice Waters type HEB test garden at The Commanders House. A Test Kitchen surely needs a Test Garden. I did this really sweet little garden there for Bexar County Master Gardeners. It’s mostly gone now. I had student-at-risk volunteers and it was really fun. We did rings of crape myrtles to match existing crape myrtles planted in rings. The kids had a blast and surely there are many more of our kids that could come visit what might just be an urban revolution. Rather than splintering us, let’s build fertile soil and a new kind of Victory Garden and a much more holistic connection to our corporate neighbors. It could be such a fab gathering place and make that part of S. Flores truly “Calle de Las Flores”. Mr. Kallison had planted palms along a big big swath of S. Flores. Most of them are gone. We have a real opportunity to do something truly genius here and worth every bit as much as a million dollar incentive.

  8. If the problem is pedestrian safety crossing S. Main, can’t they build a pedestrian bridge linking the two sides? Put a stop sign + crosswalk? or a light if traffic is so heavy?

    • Why can’t HEB request that the street between Arsenal and Cesar Chavez be a reduced speed zone or maybe use the type of crosswalk that requires the vehicle to stop. At UTSA Downtown we have 7,000 students crossing the street several times a day to attend classes. We have crosswalks that work quite well. We must not let a large tract of private property block access to Downtown.

      • Gary

        A mutual friend told me you might be interested in writing your own article about this neighborhood issue. If so, the Rivard Report would gladly work with you.

        • I might put something together about urban neighborhoods, street patterns and why blocking access with freeways, private compounds, and closed streets is following the suburban model that breaks up communities. I will be back from vacation in a couple of weeks. I think this really undermines having a vital Downtown. Late June?

    • The way to fix Main for speeding cars is to put in a 4 way
      stop sign at Arsenal and Main, then another at Gunther and
      Main, and if necessary one in the middle of block at HEB,
      parking lot and Main. HEB and the city know about stop
      signs…. this just shows this is about turning Main into
      private property not about safety.

  9. HEB’s briefing was a suprise to me, having received only a couple hours notice of it, hidden in a weekly eblast from KWA. But the idea of the street closure has been perculating, perhaps in the context of relocating the federal courthouse. I believe Mary may have posted some older Express News coverage at the Facebook page devoted to Saving Main Street.

    Also, the proposed street closure is not part of the Lone Star Plan, which City Council approved in March: http://lonestarcommunityplan.files.wordpress.com/C1273DB4-207E-4467-B50E-FC60F031210B/FinalDownload/DownloadId-76D0F2C1618386195324035AF97C3C73/C1273DB4-207E-4467-B50E-FC60F031210B/2013/03/lonestarcommunityplan_draft_032113_reduced.pdf

    Page 60 of the plan notes the significance of the B-cycle station on Main, which would probably be impacted by any street closure.

    Recommendations regarding the Commander’s House appear at page 79. The facility would certainly be enhanced by the simple removal of barbed wire.

  10. This comment came in via email from Tony Hearn:

    H E B has many smart “partners.” Surely “they” can come up with an alternative to proposing closure of an important public city street. The iconic old “arsenal” should not become the anchor of a bulging corporate monstrosity in a pleasant inner-city neighborhood. Why take something that is lovely – the current H E B headquarters – and turn it into an eyesore and inconvenience for residents of an innocent (an appreciative) neighborhood? Why? Apparently because “partners” are not thinking beyond their box. There is MUCH space in H E B ‘s giant (an successful) sweep of the Texas countryside. H E B is certainly not confined to its space bordering on the scenic river walk! And, certainly, respected partners, lay off taking aim at the Arsenal Street bridge! Hey, guys and gals at H E B: look around! Stop even thinking about closing South Main Street! You may be creating enemies you won’t want, causing some to load up an arsenal against you! Think, rather, about buying and renovating an unused city block in another part of town! Spread yourself around. You are liked! H E B is a good neighbor. Let’s keep it that way! —Tony Hearn http://www.tonysjournal.com/voices.htm

  11. When you are sick, you seek a doctor. When you have legal needs, you hire a lawyer. This is a design problem that can be solved. Where is the urban planner, architect or landscape architect? San Antonio has huge talent in the design category. All the design criteria can be met. Other cities have done it. The vehicular traffic can coexist safely with pedestrians and bicyclists. The solution doesn’t have to be all or nothing, open or closed. Numerous solutions have proven to be effective eleswhere. The problem needs good analysis by qualified professionals. Then the options can be discussed and decided.

  12. Gary Woods. I would love an opportunity to speak with you. Lewis Fisher and I are going to walk the Commander’s House site next week and begin discussions about all the possibilities. There are so many more creative solutions for this property. We must insist it become a real park. The chain link fence needs to come down. The limestone wall on S. Flores needs to be restored and the iron put back on top. This area could be as cool as The Pearl. Remember it’s a block away from San Pedro Creek.

    With all our marvelous chefs, surely someone could put in a Chez Panisse style restaurant utilizing the produce from a huge community or Test Garden. The culinary school at the HEB Test Kitchen could train their students in the art of food production. Now that’s a sustainably yummy concept. All this talk of street closures is sooooo last c.

    Please start talking about this across all social media. No one is really talking about it in the EN. We can do so much better when we demand intelligent dialogue and sustainable solutions. Just imagine a gorgeous park, those big porches, a very cool new HEB, bike access, a big bunch of raised beds designed by local architects. Really, the possibilities are very FRUITFUL.

  13. Mary, I would like to get a chance to walk the grounds of the Commanders House. Our local treasure locked behind chain link and a parking lot. Thanks

  14. I love the idea of an HEB store in the neighborhood and maybe the closure of streets will promote more people to stop using their cars and walk around or use the transportation system more often.

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