In Praise of Open Streets and Avenues

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South Main Avenue residents have placed signs on their lawns in protest of H-E-B's request to close the street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

South Main Avenue residents have placed signs on their lawns in protest of H-E-B's request to close the street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Don Mathis Headshot

I joined more than 800 members of the community who signed the petition at to keep South Main Avenue open. What's more, if there was a petition to reopen Main Plaza, I would sign that, too.

To keep a downtown alive, people need a way to get there. Hindering traffic is not the avenue to a vibrant downtown.

Main Avenue was once a major artery through the heart of San Antonio. Then portions of it were it closed and it essentially became a VIP amenity at the Bexar County Courthouse. The street dead-ends for county official parking. I know our esteemed members of the judiciary need a place to park, but let them hoof it just as those they call for jury duty.

Northbound South Main Avenue dead-ends into authorized parking for Bexar County and Main Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Northbound South Main Avenue dead-ends into authorized parking for Bexar County and Main Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

When Main Plaza was open to traffic, I didn’t mind a shut-down every now and then for the occasional festival. But now that it’s blocked, when surrounding streets are closed for pavement or utility repair, as South Alamo Street is now, traffic is snarled.

In Spanish, soledad means loneliness or solitude. Dolorosa means grief or sorrow. And I don’t think I am alone when I express my sorrow that I can’t drive by the intersection of Soledad and Dolorosa Streets anymore. Also, the northbound traveler on Dwyer Street must now detour several blocks east to Navarro Street.

I used to drive straight down South Main Avenue to attend worship at the Celebration Circle in the Jump Start Theater (home of the Reverend Rudi Harst). I had to change my route to dog-leg around to S. Flores Street and back again. Because of the traffic congestion, I now take the PanAm Expressway. There are others who avoid downtown altogether due to driving conditions.

View from the Majestic Tower Apt, looking East down Houston Street. Photo by Kara Gomez.

View from the Majestic Tower Apt, looking East down Houston Street. Photo by Kara Gomez.

If Main Avenue was an artery, then Houston Street was a vein. But the city-inflicted vascular disease has clogged our blood vessels. About a dozen years ago, Houston Street was narrowed and sidewalks were widened. The one-way street became a two-way street, which caused additional blockage.

To make matters worse, none of the surrounding streets have been adapted to the closures and impediments of Main Avenue, Soledad and Houston streets. Now the city wants to close down another portion of Main Avenue and give it to a multi-billion dollar corporation.

I live on North Main Avenue and I am here to tell you, it is alive and well. My part of Main is undergoing a building boom.

Take a look north of downtown around San Antonio College and the Tobin Hill neighborhood. Main Street Pizza & Pasta recently reopened after a fire this summer. The first phase of Tobin Lofts, on-campus student housing, opened this fall. The complete renovation of Scobee Planetarium at San Antonio College is scheduled to open early next year. And the Locust Street Professional Building is nearing completion, too.

South Main would thrive just as well if the City would adopt a "hands-off" attitude as opposed to the city's $1 million incentive payment to H-E-B to build a downtown grocery store. While the incentive was open for anyone to apply, H-E-B is now the likely recipient.

Most of us who have a stake in the outcome believe the proposed de facto trade-off of giving H-E-B the block of  S. Main Avenue between East Arsenal Street and East Cesar Chavez Boulevard in appreciation for a small urban grocery store is a bad deal.

[Read Robert Rivard's perspective on allowing and extending the closure here. Read long-time resident Michael Nye's piece on opposing the closure here.]

South Main Avenue residents have placed signs on their lawns in protest of H-E-B's request to close the street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

South Main Avenue residents have placed signs on their lawns in protest of H-E-B's request to close the street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

I know H-E-B has been a good neighbor. And they have received many tax breaks for the many contributions they have made. But there is no reason to treat this industry giant as if it were in need of welfare. We should keep in mind that H-E-B is such a good neighbor because we are such good customers. It is our money that H-E-B spends to benefit our community.

There are many other location options for the grocery store.

H-E-B could acquire the plot on the edge of Alamo College's property on Sheridan Avenue. The block of Sheridan from S. Flores St. to S. Main Ave. could be closed for a huge grocery store – with plenty of parking.

What about that large empty lot at Flores and El Paso? It goes all the way to the Butter Krust Bakery. H-E-B could build a large store there and wouldn’t have to close any street at all. A drive in that neighborhood reveals many possible locations for a supermarket.

Empty lot at South Flores and El Paso Street which currently serves as overflow parking for Amols' party supply. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Empty lot at South Flores and El Paso Street which currently serves as overflow parking for Amols' party supply. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

San Pedro Creek is an up and coming area, and H-E-B could lead the way to development along the restored waterway if it would build on any of the vacant lots surrounding this green belt. It would be convenient to I-10 traffic, too.

It would be short-sighted, indeed, if we closed off a block of S. Main Avenue and assigned the property to a private entity when a better resolution can be found just a few blocks away.


Don Mathis served as president of the Texoma Poetry Society in 2011 (a Sherman member of the Poetry Society of Texas). And in 2010, ‘Dionysus Don’ was crowned champion of the McKinney Poetry Slam. Don is very involved in the poetry community in Bexar County. He is a founding member of the San Antonio Poetry Fair and participates regularly with Sun Poets and La Taza writers’ group. His poetry has been published in anthologies, periodicals and has appeared on local TV and national radio. He currently works for St. Philip's College.


Related Stories:

The Case For Keeping South Main Avenue Open

The Case for Rethinking South Main Avenue

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

The Feed: Two Guys Aim for Downtown Grocery Stores

Small Footprints, Big Impact: How to Make a Million Dollars Stretch across Center City

State of the Center City: More Housing, Fewer Vacant Buildings

No to Downtown Subsidies: The View from District 9 and Councilwoman Chan

10 thoughts on “In Praise of Open Streets and Avenues

  1. There are many abandoned buildings downtown that are big enough for any size grocery store. HEB just doesn’t want to do it, and will only begrudgingly do it if they get a big handout. They obviously don’t believe in downtown san antonio and aren’t the right people to build a store here. There are other solutions such as the pearl farmers market, greenling, and the talk about a week-round farmers market truck.

  2. well said my brother I had no idea they were f***ing things up that bad.
    you know the flores location would be better it nearer to all the housing
    judson candy, the blue star lofts, the old st Benedict hospital, not mention king william

  3. Thanks for another perspective!

    H-E-B has said it wants the street closure regardless of the grocery outcome. Yet the 1999 Downtown Neighborhood Plan called for mixed-use, high-density development on H-E-B’s property, while calling for improved “travel by foot, bike, car, and public transit.” Those plans were reiterated in the 2012 Downtown Transportation Study and the 2013 Lone Star Community Plan.

    The Lone Star Plan also calls for “increasing access to the grounds [of Commander’s House] and enhancing services and programs offered.” Why? It fits the Mayor’s SA2020 vision.

    H-E-B never contested these publicly vetted and council approved plans – until now.

    There’s no doubt that H-E-B has been a great San Antonio citizen, but it’s still a privately held corporation that can change plans quicker than AT&T. For example, in 2008, H-E-B told the community it was closing its store on South Presa for office space. In 2009, it sold the property.

    What price are the citizens of San Antonio willing to pay to abandon over 15 years of planning and dreaming of a better tomorrow? Closing Main, no matter how big the stick or how big the carrot, is too large a price to pay.

  4. It’s beside the point here, but has any SA poet pointed out that here one may stand on the corner of loneliness and sorrow?

  5. Craig, I was just going to mention that!

    Don may have found the center of the compass!

    Don, thanks for your wonderful, thoughtful piece – your loving comments about open streets, movement, connection, are most appreciated. What a pleasure to be able to FLOW from one place to another in a city we love!

    I’ll sign that petition to reopen Main Plaza too!

  6. Again, when you are posting an article with an opposing view on the same topic, I request you cite this in your blurb. Robert Rivard wrote one the other day in favor of closing the street. It’s less confusing to cite, Concerned citizen says, ‘…..’ I am getting a little whiplash from the RR.

  7. There are many “empty” lots on S. Flores which could be used to build a large grocery store. Area residents have said that they want a bigger store than the glorified convenience store currently proposed by HEB. A store on S. Flores would be close enough to be convenient to King William while not adding to the traffic in that historic residential neighborhood. It would be another stimulus to the already thriving S. Flores area. The surrounding neighborhoods would find it more accessible than the Main location. Don Mathis brings up a lot of ideas about traffic arteries and S. Flores would be an excellent location with no street closures necessary.

  8. I spent the afternoon at Mariachi Corazon at Main Plaza, so I have to say I would never want that part of the street open again. The Plaza is lovely and is a true gathering place.
    But I do strongly agree that South Main should be kept open.
    IMO, there’s a huge difference between closing a street to create a public plaza and closing a street to hand over to a private company.
    Keep Main Aveenue open.

  9. Emily Edwards, featured in the introduction to Lewis F. Fisher’s seminal work ‘Saving San Antonio: The Precarious Preservation of a Heritage’, was raised at the Ursuline Academy, then went off to study at the Arts Institute of Chicago, taught theater in NYC, came back to SA, co-founded SACS, saved the San Antonio Riverwalk, and then went off to Mexico, studied with Diego and Frida, wrote three famous books, including ‘The Painted Walls of Mexico’ at Diego Rivera’s urging, had a child and finally returned to SA and taught theater at Brackenridge High. This was quite astonishing for someone born in her day. I think daily how she would approach this new scheme.

    This is part of the puppet show and play she and her friends wrote and performed at City Hall when the commissioners were voting on whether to concrete over the San Antonio River in all of downtown.

    “Yes they loved you for our beauty
    For your winding streams and trees,
    For our skies of deepest azure,
    And your ever welcome breeze.

    So each built strong to hold you,
    First the missions, grand and bold,
    Then a city of unequaled beauty,
    And this gift, too, was gold.

    At the end of Scene One, the impatient Mr. San Antonio declared:

    But wife–there is no telling
    What she withholds from me
    This income is too slow,
    I want more Prosperity.”

    I will post a link to the remaining verses. It’s quite bold and visionary that women had the ‘right brain’ holistic concepts that charted the course of our human path further along the sleepy little river. I applaud you, Don Mathis. This is beautifully written. The first time I drove by myself into SA from the ranch to the Ursuline and SSA, I got lost and went all the way gloriously down Main Avenue and stumbled upon King William. It became my favorite north south route for years. Swooping past all that architecture and in the middle of acequias and creeks. Great vistas and great trees. Emily would want Main Avenue open to breathe.

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