The Historic Design and Review Commission (HDRC) approved a plan Wednesday to demolish the former Dollar General store located at 323 W. Commerce St. to make way for a plaza and creekside paseo along San Pedro Creek.
The demolition will be the first to occur under the larger San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, which will transform 2.2 miles of what is essentially a concrete ditch into a linear park that provides connections to destinations in the urban core. This particular site plan provides design continuity and accessibility along the creek, allowing visitors to traverse the creek and street levels.
HDRC also gave conceptual approval for the plaza design, with the condition that the creek design team returns to the commission with more design information. Project planners will also have to complete an archaeological investigation once the structure is demolished.
The Dollar General sits on the west bank of the creek, with the east side of its foundation cantilevered, or hanging over, the creek. Neighboring men's clothing shop, Penner's, sits on the east bank. Both structures are owned by the Penner Brothers LLC, which will sell the Dollar Store property to the San Antonio River Authority. The River Authority is managing the creek project.
The vacant building will become a grassy "island" with Cyprus trees, said River Authority Watershed Engineer Kerry Averyt. Project designers envision a low bank paseo lined with several shade structures in the area connecting the plaza to the rest of the linear park. Trees will also be planted along the walkway that will eventually grow up to street level, Averyt said. A rendering of the potential design was presented, but was not submitted to the City for review or made available for publication.
The channel between Penner’s and the Dollar General is the narrowest part of the entire San Pedro Creek project, so the proposed design involves widening and deepening the creek in that area, Averyt explained. Visitors will be able to walk under Commerce Street along the creek or access the street level from a series of nearby stairs or ramps.
"There's still some work in progress to the final look," Averyt said, and the River Authority aims to bring those designs back to HDRC by October.
The structure, built in 1953, was first occupied by F.W. Woolworth Co. and was designed by local architectural firm Peery & Tuggle. Allison B. Peery was a leader in modern design work in San Antonio and later worked as site plan coordinator for HemisFair ’68. In 1988, the building was mistakenly recorded as sitting in a historic zoning overlay. With the error clarified by the City the River Authority received approval to move forward with its plans to raze the structure.
San Pedro Creek Improvements Project planners have not yet submitted a demolition application with the City, but are hoping to do so soon, Averyt said. Once the River Authority submits the paperwork and gains City approval, he said, City staff will determine a demolition date and seek bids from construction sub-contractors to complete the job.
Meanwhile, the commission approved several amendments to Chapter 35 of the City Code relating to the River Improvement Overlay (RIO) Districts, including design requirements for a new RIO District (RIO-7) relating to San Pedro Creek. The new overlay district will set design objectives specifically for the areas in and around the creek as it continues to transform and, thus, impact nearby businesses.
Most of the code amendments for the RIO-7 District involve simply changing the word "river" to "creek" or adding "San Pedro Creek" instead of "River Walk," for example. But there are more notable differences related to overall design principles, such as height requirements for nearby buildings.
"Some of those areas (along the creek) are less defined and less controlled (with guidelines), so (the creation of RIO-7) helps consolidate all of this," said HDRC Chairman Michael Guarino. "It's about time for this to show up."
Top image: Dollar General at 323 W. Commerce St. in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.