On the corner of Buena Vista Street and South Navidad Street on San Antonio’s near West Side stands the shell of a long-vacant building with a washed-out sign that read: Munguia Printers, Serving the Community Since 1934.
Soon that property could be serving startups in the city’s burgeoning tech scene.
Henry Cisneros, former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor, is turning the former print shop his grandfather and uncle ran into 8,000 square feet of office space for technology startups.
Cisneros said he hopes the project – known as The Shop Workspaces – can spur development on the historically poor West Side, which he says is perhaps the last section of the urban core to capitalize on the growing prosperity and heightening activity in the city’s downtown.
“We believe in the neighborhood, and we want to see some of the barriers to development on the West Side removed,” he said.
Munguia Printers went out of business years ago when the personal computer rendered most smaller print shops obsolete. Its heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s when Cisneros’s grandfather Romulo Munguia and his son Ruben printed anything from newspapers for local Catholic Church parishes to wedding announcements.
“As my grandfather passed and my uncle passed, they were not able to sustain the business,” said Cisneros, who is chairman of Cityview, an investment management and development firm focused on urban multifamily real estate, and a principal of the investment bank Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co. “The building ended up as a shell on the West Side.”
That’s when Cisneros said his cousins approached him about creditors to whom the business owed money. He wanted to carry on the family legacy by investing in the property and creating economic development that could benefit West San Antonio.
The new building will be a modern-looking, two-story structure with capacity to host as many as 25 smaller businesses.
No leases have been signed, as the redevelopment project is still in its early stages, but Cisneros said he envisions future tenants could be startups that have grown out of local co-working spaces, such as the startups at Geekdom.
The property, at 2201 Buena Vista St., is adjacent to homes, but there has been a recent surge in new commercial activity along the Buena Vista corridor.
Warehouse Five is a former factory on Buena Vista that has been transformed recently into a community of artists and entrepreneurs. Inside the building is coffeehouse Shotgun House Coffee Roasters. The Parish, a converted church, sits blocks away and offers studio space for visual artists.
Leonard Rodriguez, president of the Westside Development Corporation, said Cisneros’ project to develop tech office space is “noteworthy and praiseworthy.”
He said with the three universities on the western edge of downtown – The University of Texas at San Antonio’s downtown campus, St. Mary’s University, and Our Lady of the Lake University – the near West Side is due for reinvestment and rehabilitation of buildings that have suffered from decades-long blight.
“Watching San Antonio’s real estate increases, there’s certain affordability aspect to the West Side,” Rodriguez said. “The certainly attracts an individual who desires a more real or gritty experience. Opportunity is on the horizon for development and redevelopment in the community. So the timing is right as well.”
With people like Cisneros at the helm of new the investment, Rodriguez said he trusts that redevelopment on the near West Side will occur in such a way that will once again attract a professional class that left decades ago but also benefit the lower-income residents who have remained.
Geekdom Chairman Lorenzo Gomez, who grew up on the West Side, said bringing activity in the high-tech sector to West San Antonio will help break the incorrect perception that those who come from some of Bexar County’s poorest zip codes can’t make it in tech.
But apart from the broader issue of disparity among San Antonio’s long-segregated economic classes, Gomez said new office space in a less-developed part of the city that is within a 10-minute bike ride of downtown will give Geekdom’s early-stage entrepreneurs further opportunities to grow their businesses.
As space downtown, Southtown, the Pearl, and the near East Side at St. Paul Square fills up, renting office space in the urban core is becoming more expensive.
“The need for that middle tier of spaces for our startups to go is going to be so critical to the next stage of our ecosystem’s development,” Gomez said. “I’m really glad to see that [Cisneros] is going to take a space like that so the next company like [tech-centric service provider for health care professionals] Medspoke … or [marketing agency] Digiboost can still move somewhere close to the activity that’s going on on Houston Street.”
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said she is excited to see the redevelopment of a long-vacant building in her district.
“That it is intended to be a tech hub is really important for us here in the community,” Gonzales said. “I’ve always believed we have a very entrepreneurial spirit here on the West Side.”
But it’s also important that the revitalization occur responsibly with as little disruption as possible to current residents, she said.
“Little by little it’s transforming,” Gonzales said. “That’s really how we want it to happen. We really want it to happen slowly and organically.”