Construction of more than 250 apartments on the Westside will be completed by the end of 2014 – the latest addition to what will be 539 units in the mixed-use, mixed-income San Juan development.
During an on-site presentation Thursday morning, San Antonio Housing Authority President and CEO Lourdes Castro Ramírez announced a partnership that will encourage entrepreneurs and small businesses to relocate or open up shop in more than 12 live/work units as part of Phase 3 of the San Juan Redevelopment Plan.
"This represents a more comprehensive approach ... It's not enough to just provide affordable housing," Ramírez said of the $63 million master plan. "Especially when we have control of such a large footprint (of land), we can change the economy and trajectory of neighborhoods."
In addition to having store fronts facing the highly trafficked stretch of South Zarzamora Street, SAHA has partnered with the Westside Development Corporation (WDC), a nonprofit development authority, and The NRP Group, one of the nation's largest multifamily developers that is highly active in San Antonio and Texas, to offer future business and residential tenants support and economic opportunities. The third phase of the plan, The Gardens of San Juan, includes 4,000 square feet of commercial/retail space and will be completed in December 2014.
Project leaders hope the development will help lift the predominately low-income Westside community and spark new investment in the surrounding commercial and residential areas. The redevelopment project sits on the former 40.88 acres of the San Juan Homes public housing project. The 458-unit had become a poverty-stricken haven for crime, much like the downtown Victoria Courts public housing development had become before its redevelopment as Victoria Commons.
The partnership will first seek out businesses to locate at San Juan, then provide resources like technical assistance to get tenant businesses to the next level, aid in Small Business Association accreditation, connect with the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and ultimately encourage entry into the Business Empowerment Program, which connects small, minority and women-owned businesses/startups to local mentors from established business and City resources.
"We need your help to find those businesses that will fit here," said former District 3 Councilwoman Debra Guerrero, vice president of governmental affairs for NRP, to the business and community leaders gathered for the day's announcement and hard-hat tour. "Spread the word ... there is opportunity in the heart of the Westside."
Tailor, barber, accountant, attorney, printer, artist – the development is open to suggestion as to what kinds of businesses owners would work well in these spaces. The only limitation is that there can be no commercial kitchen. But even for restaurants, certain exceptions could be made.
"Maybe a bakery wants to open a satellite shop and sell stuff (cooked elsewhere) out of one of these store fronts," suggested Tomás Larralde, SAHA business opportunity manager, speaking to the project's flexibility. "We'll reach out to Westside businesses first, but we also want to get some from outside ... anything that encourages activity will be considered."
Interested businesses should contact the NRP Group to schedule a tour of the live/work lofts and discussion with SAHA/WDC. Larralde expects the units will be pre-leased before their September 2014 completion date. Visit www.GardensatSanJuanSquare.com, www.saha.org, or www.nrpgroup.com for more information.
Just down the street is a typical, car-centric strip mall – er, "plaza" – called Empire Plaza. It's littered trash and businesses flank a large empty parking lot void of any landscaping or shade. It's not where you want to be on a hot summer day – or on a beautiful spring day for that matter. It's the polar opposite of the mixed-use development nearing completion just down the street. There's a Rent-a-Center, right next to the plasma donation center. There's a pay-day loan store right next to a grocery market. Arlan's Market is the only refreshing part of the plaza, but you have to go inside the store to feel it.
"Now is not the time to leave," said Arlan's Market General Manager Bobby Lopez. Formerly a Handy Andy's store until the chain was acquired in 2012, Lopez said the Westside market continues to be the "slowest volume store" of the Arlan's Market chain. Traffic dropped off when the San Juan Homes public housing project was demolished. When redevelopment started, SAHA and WDC approached the market with their plan.
"We have very loyal customers," Lopez said of the decision to keep the store open in its current location. "And there is such positive energy in the neighborhood now ... hope is in our grasp."
The momentum of the neighborhood can be felt in community meetings, but observable results will likely come in small doses once the project is complete.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a "destination place," said WDC President Leonard Rodriguez. "We want the rest of San Antonio visiting this (San Juan) retail strip." By bringing new jobs and new business to the neighborhood, Rodriguez said the project will create an "environment to flourish."
San Juan Square Phase I, completed in February 2008 for a total development cost of $14.9 million, consists of 143 multi-family units with 46 public housing, 91 affordable and 6 market units.
San Juan Square II, competed in May 2010 for a total development cost of $17.3 million, consists of 144 multi-family units, with 48 public housing, 91 affordable and 5 market units.
Phase III, to be completed in December of 2014 for an estimated total development cost of under $32 million, will consist of 252 multi-family units with 63 public housing units, 31 project-based voucher units, and 158 affordable tax credit units.
The third phase also includes construction of the Clubhouse which includes a pool, recreation area, lounge, etc. – amenities you might expect at modern, urban developments like 1221 and 1800 Broadway.
"We're very proud of the developments on the Eastside," said Guerrero with a smile. "But we did this without the Choice (Neighborhood) or Promise (Zone)."
*Featured/top image: Live/work units under construction at the San Juan development. Photo by Iris Dimmick.