This rendering shows a view of the project from Broadway Street and Pearl Parkway.
This rendering shows a view of the project from Broadway Street and Pearl Parkway. Credit: Courtesy / GrayStreet Partners / Gensler / DWG / Big Red Dog / ARUP

After months of tinkering with the design and incorporating feedback from officials, a local development firm on Wednesday received preliminary approval from the City’s Historic and Design Review Commission to start work on a 20-story building that will feature floors of retail, office, and hotel space.

GrayStreet Partners will need to get final approval from HDRC, which is expected to consider the project again in the fall, and permission from a separate group in order to build more than twice as high as the maximum height allowed by zoning.

The Board of Adjustment is slated to review the request during its May 21 meeting, GrayStreet Development Director Peter French told the Rivard Report. Technically, he will be asking for permission to build a 19-story building at 1603 Broadway St., French said, as the 20th floor will be used for mechanical equipment, not amenities.

Commissioner Curtis Fish, the representative for District 1 that includes downtown, said it “makes sense [to place] additional height and scale” next to the two highways that intersect there.

A few local architects and some commissioners during a previous meeting voiced concern that the glassy design and height of the building may be unfit for the commercial corridor that connects downtown to the Pearl, which is a mixed-used development on the site of a former brewery, and the city’s larger Northside.

The new design incorporates more structural elements that break up the proposed glass curtains. That and other changes, as well as renderings that more accurately depict the building’s height, swayed the commission to approve the project with some stipulations.

The building will be different heights on different sides. The sides of the building that face Broadway Street, Pearl Parkway, and Avenue B will be lower and predominantly brick and wood with large windows, while the more prominent sides adjacent to Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 281 will be metal and glass.

“We’re purposely keeping the street edge along Broadway lower for a better pedestrian scale” and the sides next to the highways higher, said Jim Shelton design director for the local office of Gensler, the San Francisco-based international architectural firm hired by  GrayStreet. “It’s better than doing just a large block of a building.”

A 15-story building could achieve the same density, French added, but the quality of design would suffer.

Development regulations are more stringent in the River Improvement Overlay (RIO) 2 district, where the project will be located, but this particular property differs significantly from others in RIO-2 because it’s further away from the river, more industrial, and located close to the highways, French said.

Rather than the highways acting as the gateway – or barrier – between downtown and midtown, Shelton added, the mixed-use tower can act as a “gateway building” to draw more people and activation to the area.

A spokeswoman for the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce voiced the chamber’s support of the project as did an architect and a few others in the real estate community. No one at the meeting Wednesday spoke out against the project.

If granted final approval by HDRC and the Board of Adjustment, the building will have two levels of underground parking, three levels above-ground parking, ground floor retail, four floors of office space, two floors of “amenity space” such as a pool or gym, and eight floors of hotel rooms.

This is essentially phase one of major projects GrayStreet has for the area, French said. Across Broadway Street in the Government Hill neighborhood, the developer purchased 23 acres for apartments, condos, single-family homes, restaurants, bars, retail, offices, parking, and greenspace.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com