Broadway / Midtown / SoBro: What’s In a Name?

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The Pearl Brewery complex, as seen from "Midtown." Photo by Chrissy Breit.

The Pearl Brewery complex, as seen from "Midtown." Photo by Chrissy Breit.

When I moved to San Antonio in 1989, my daily commute down Broadway took me by declining auto dealerships, proliferating fast food franchises, and ever-present street walkers. There were a few pleasant exceptions along the way: the Witte Museum and a reviving Mahncke Park, to name two. The Pearl Brewery and ButterKrust Bakery were still in business.

As the years went by, Broadway became less and and less appealing. The bakery closed, then the brewery.  More dealerships moved to Loopland. Enter Kit Goldsbury. The 23-acre Pearl was saved from probable demolition in 2002 with its purchase by Goldsbury’s Silver Ventures. That purchase was the start of something so big no one back then could quite imagine all the possibilities.

Fast forward 25 years from my early commutes. Broadway is becoming a genuine boulevard, teeming in stretches with new community: pedestrians, apartments, bars, cafes, restaurants and retail. The new Children’s Museum opens in 2015. The area north of downtown bounded by the San Antonio River, North Alamo Street and Brackenridge Park and the Witte, and anchored by the Pearl, is now seen as a destination: A place to live, a place to be, a place that beckons.

Pearl Brewery complex entrance. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Pearl Brewery complex entrance. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Broadway is still a work in progress, but the drawing board promises much more in the immediate years ahead: condos and more well-designed apartments, a modern streetcar line, protected bike and pedestrian lanes, a canopy of new trees. Broadway is becoming its own community, a place with enough attractions and distractions to make locals and visitors slow down and savor life.

All “it” needs is a name to capture that magic.

What’s in a name? In a word: Identity. The Westside. The Eastside. Southtown. Downtown. Monte Vista. Jefferson. These are names that immediately convey identity, and leave no confusion on the part of the user or listener in a conversation.

What will we call the near-north sector of the city that has come back to life with such force it now attracts national media attention in the way of travel writers, food journalists, architecture magazines, urbanists and others? What do you think it should be called?

As tens of thousands gather along Broadway for the Battle of Flowers Parade today and the Fiesta Flambeau Parade Saturday evening, the Rivard Report would like to hear from you. What do you think this part of the city should be called? Just scroll to the bottom of this story and leave your comment, or post a comment on our Facebook page.

Broadway. Lower Broadway. River North. Pearl. Midtown. Museum Reach. SoBro. LoBro. Something else? Can I jokingly offer an irreverent alternative: SoHi?

Kelly Beevers, development manager with Hixon Properties, which is building the 261-unit River House multi-family project on the Museum Reach, said the district is still a part of the city with no commonly agreed-upon name.

“I don’t think it’s defined yet,” Beevers said. “There seems to be a distinction to the north of the highway and south. Midtown runs up at least to Mulberry, and south of the highway it’s River North. I think together it’s all most often called Broadway Corridor.”

What is evident in 2014 is that a number of well-defined places have come to life within the larger district, each with its own name. At the heart of the district is Pearl, now a symbol of a rising San Antonio. A decade after it welcomed its first tenant, the Pearl is helping to broaden the city’s profile beyond the Alamo and River Walk, Tex-Mex food and theme park attractions.

The Midtown Brackenridge Park District, a TIRZ, or tax increment reinvestment zone, lies farther north. A revitalized park, the expanded Witte, the coming Children’s Museum, and the area’s proximity to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens and the University of the Incarnate Word have inspired frequent references to the Broadway Cultural Corridor.

Midtown Land Uses from the Midtown Brackenridge TIRZ Master Plan.

Map of land uses within the area in question from the Midtown Brackenridge TIRZ Master Plan (Created March 25, 2011). Click image to enlarge. Click here to download master plan.

“For me Midtown north of the freeway works, from Pearl to Hildebrand,” said Irby Hightower, a principal at Alamo Architects, a prime consultant on  the Midtown Brackenridge master plan. “The only problem with that designation is it means Alamo Heights must be Uptown.”

Hightower said the name Midtown came from locals already living near the park, but the working group settled on Midtown Brackenridge Park because the City of San Antonio already referred to the area of the city in and around Alta Vista and Beacon Hill as Midtown.

Those historic neighborhoods, located in what is really the original Northside of the city, date back to the second half of the 19th century. Click here to read the Midtown Neighborhoods Plan.

Midtown is north of River North, a TIRZ established in 2006 (see map below) that lies south of the I-35 freeway and is bounded by St. Mary’s Street on the west and Avenue E to the east. It reaches even farther southeast to the Bonham Exchange. The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, on the southwest corner and set to open in September, will be River North’s main cultural anchor.

Andrés Andujar, now the CEO of the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corp. is widely credited with naming River North.

“The first name idea for River North, when we started the area’s  thinking process – before the City, before the TIRZ –  was Rio Norte,” Andujar said. “That was 2004-2005, a time when we were doing Spanglish interpretations that have multiplied – Vistana, Alteza, Cascada, etc. So I decided on River North…I like River North for that District.”

Then there is a hybrid alternative.

River North TIRZ boundary map.

River North TIRZ boundary map. Click image to enlarge. Click here to download PDF.

“Lately, I find myself defaulting to River North Pearl,” said David Adelman, a principal with AREA Real Estate, which recently re-opened Taco Land on West Grayson Street and is a partner in the award-winning 1221 Broadway project. “One challenge is that River North is not distinct enough or far enough from the Central Business District to be considered a ‘midtown’….there is not enough of a divide.  To that end, the Pearl can definitely be considered Midtown due to the separation by the freeway.”

The Museum Reach of the San Antonio River is another distinct zone within the larger district, taking its name from the San Antonio Museum of Art to the south and the Witte Museum to the north. The so-called Park Segment of the Museum Reach stretching through Brackenridge Park north to Hildebrand Avenue remains unfinished, but the Urban Segment stretching south to the Downtown Reach is completed.

“My preference of the terms commonly used are either Lower Broadway or Midtown,” said Bill Shown, managing partner for Silver Ventures, owner of the Pearl.  “In part this is a process of elimination.  SoBro sounds silly and contrived to me, so I’m not a fan.  River North has confused from the beginning since so much of the area is not on the river and is actually located south of a good stretch of the river.  Museum Reach seems a bit staid, and Pearl is definitely an area within the area, but doesn’t define the whole area.”

“I’m in agreement with Bill,” said Elizabeth Fauerso, chief marketing officer at the Pearl. “I actually prefer Midtown because I think it’s descriptive and straightforward. I use Museum Reach to describe the river, as in ‘the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River’, whereas I use Midtown more broadly, as in ‘Pearl, located in Midtown San Antonio’.”

SoBro Pizza Co. at 1915 Broadway in the Mosaic apartment building. Courtesy photo.

SoBro Pizza Co. at 1915 Broadway St. in the Mosaic apartment building. Courtesy photo.

SoBro, as of now, is the name of the newest pizzeria in the city, SoBro Pizza Co., not the accepted name of a larger district. Partners Paul Hughes and Gerry Shirley (who is married to Amonrat “Mon” Shirley of Mon’s Thai Bistro in Alamo Heights) opened for business Monday.

“Gerry came up with the name,” Hughes said. “We were originally going to be in a building south of our location in the Mosaic. “It’s been really interesting. People say, ‘What?’ when they first hear the name. We think it will catch on. We’ve actually been mentioned in an article in the Current, which said people in the know actually refer to the area as SoBro.”

The Current story is tagged with the name Lo Bro, which also is used for SEO purposes by area apartment brokers and other online marketing entities, but it isn’t commonly heard in and around, um, the district.

“None of the names have struck me as the ‘right’ one yet,” said developer and broker Ed Cross with SAC Advisors. “I alternate between ‘River North’ and ‘the Pearl district’  pretty interchangeably, albeit, River North more typically for locations south of the freeway. Glad you are taking this on, we need a resolution.”

Whatever  we call it, most of it lies in City Councilman Diego Bernal’s district.

“True story: someone wanted to label the area south of Southtown, ‘SoSo,'” Bernal said.  “Mediocrity as your brand? No thanks. I suggested BeSo, Below Southtown, which also means ‘kiss’ in Spanish.

“I tend to use Lower Broadway or the Museum Reach because they’re strictly geographic,” Bernal said. “Pearl is good, but potentially (and unintentionally) too specific. Midtown and Uptown are both vague and strike me as being overly ‘me-too’ with regard to other cities that have proper uptowns, etc.”

Let’s see what readers have to say about it. Let us know in the comment section below.

*Featured/top image: The Pearl Brewery complex, as seen from “Midtown.” Photo by Chrissy Breit.

Related Stories:

River House: Rooms with a Museum Reach View

City Sends Broadway ‘Complete Street’ Concept to VIA

East Quincy: For-Sale Townhouses coming to River North’s ‘Renters Reach’

Conversation: Renting in San Antonio’s Urban Core

ButterKrust Bakery on Broadway Reborn as C.H. Guenther & Son

Broadway Reach Launches Cultural, Creative Corridor

Where I Live: 1221 Broadway

68 thoughts on “Broadway / Midtown / SoBro: What’s In a Name?

  1. The area used to be called Irish Flats, at least the southern section. Now that’s a neighborhood name.

    Invariably, when my friends and I discuss the area it’s the Pearl or the Pearl area. It’s a prominent unavoidable landmark.

  2. I think Midtown, and similarly Southtown, could be expanded to encompass the I-35 to I-37 highway bounded areas at those points North and South of Downtown. The corridor designations like SoFlo and SoBro have not seemed to work as well.

  3. We just moved our company to the Pearl and the description I hear most often in the area is “Midtown”.

    To me, it fits since it’s not trying too hard (like SoBro or LoBro) and seems like a perfect description of what the area is; an extension of urban living in a mixed environment of businesses, single family homes/condos, and apartments.

  4. Lower Broadway. Midtown sounds too much like Downtown. SoBro is too cutesy. I’m not sure where Upper Broadway begins (Hildebrand? Sunset? I dunno), but Lower Broadway seems to clearly distinguish Mulberry and points south.

  5. I REALLY detest the names SoBro and LoBro. MidTown makes the most sense to me and it’s not contrived or trendy or trying to be anything other than it is.

  6. In my circle, all the people “in the Know” call it #NorAnto. It sounds like Toronto, but with an ‘N’ for “north.” My circle is only one person, but I have many voices in my head that have separate twitter accounts and I hash tagged it so now it’s officially #NorAnto. Since I saved everyone the trouble with my savvy social media consulting through the use of a hash tag, I invite Silver Ventures and Hixon Properties to spread some of that City of San Antonio TIRZ money my way. $6000 consulting fee is all I’m asking plus an additional $20,000 for creative consulting and my social media campaign (remember I used a hash tag.)

    • I have a circle just like that. I use the hashtag #innercircle. My consulting fee would be $0.00 as long as they use the code on the bottom of the can and I’ll give ’em swag with each visit.

      The TIRZ money would be cool but I think stimulus (fiat currencies) will do nicely. Let’s change TIRZ to WPIZ for the people this is helping. What is WPIZ? Think about it!

  7. As an Alta Vista resident, I can tell you that no one around our neighborhood uses the term “Midtown”. So…I unofficially bequeath the name to y’all!

    BTW: I agree that SoBro and LoBro are unpleasant to the ear. They remind of “lowbrow” somehow…

  8. To me, Midtown is a large geographic area that encompasses many different districts or neighborhoods.

    Like the “North Side” encompasses bedroom communities like Castle Hills and Hollywood Park, it also encompasses neighborhoods like Oak Park and Stone Oak.

    Midtown encompasses The Pearl, Lower Broadway, Tobin Hill, Beacon Hill, Monte Vista, Olmos Park, etc.

    Southtown itself is a geographical location that encompasses King William and Lavaca.

  9. I don’t know how these things stick, but I refuse to call any area, region, or restaurant ‘bro’ (SoBro pizza, pleeease change your name. It’s so lame!). Tobin Hill seems to be the best candidate because it has the fair share of the real estate for the area in question. Midtown also works. It’s innocuous and rather accurate, geographically speaking.

  10. How about Northtown to mirror Southtown? It reflects the its historic origins. Too indistinct from Northside? That could officially become Loopland.

  11. Maybe not too indistinct because just as Southtown is an overlapping area between the Southside and Downtown, Northtown overlaps Northside and Downtown.

  12. We are sure that Andres (Andujar) and Irby (Hightower) appreciate the attention.
    Mark E. Kellmann, Architect, NCARB

  13. I was torn as SoBro sounds so cool but maybe too cool-museum district sounds too blue hair or boring (sorry)


    MIDTOWN, a nice combination of both.

  14. Funny, I was thinking the same thing the other day as I walked the river walk north the other day. On what the area should be called. I immeadeatly thought it’s got to be called the Pearl District. Starting south from Brooklyn street, where the lock and dam gates are, east on Broadway of course, west on St. Marys St. North to 281/McAlister Frwy. The Pearl has defined the area and eveyone knows where it is located. Thanks for the opportunity.

  15. Conservative hipsterville


    “Where the self conscious hipsters overspend themselves into debt…”

  16. Midtown is too generic and includes too large of an area being that it stretches all the way to Beacon Hill.

    I don’t think any of these names are perfect but the pearl is the landmark that will signify the area. With that being said, I think the “pearl district” is the best we’ve got with what has been mentioned.

  17. I think The Pearl District fits perfectly. All cities have “up towns” and “midtowns” but The Pearl District is original.

    • It actually isn’t unique as there’s a Pearl District in Portland. The genesis for the name comes from a comment that the area was a “pearl of a district” and it caught on. Our Pearl is actually named after a tangible thing.

  18. I think San Antonio areas should be relegated to being named after either the closet Las Palapas location, Jim’s, Mama Margie’s (I like to call them Papa Pete’s) or Caparellis…

  19. So glad to know I’m not the only one offended by the “Bro” terms. Midtown makes the most sense to me with Pearl, the Museum Reach and River North just fitting right into that term. By the way, there’s a building that amuses me on 1604 calling itself “Uptown”. “Out-of-town” might be more like it.

  20. We need to take this a step further and really plan ahead. The area between Wurzbach Parkway and 1604 should be called So16, and Stone Oak and everything around it should be called No16. If it sounds hip, it is.

  21. BroCo? (Broadway Corridor)?
    SoHildy? (South of Hildebrand?)
    ButterPlay? (In honor of ButterKrust Bakery and Playland, inspired by a party I went to last month?)

  22. I’m gonna get a little wordy, but to me, a recent transplant from New England, Broadway, the Pearl and N. St. Mary’s are all three separate sub brands within the overall brand of Midtown and should be built that way. You don’t need to distinguish between lower and upper Broadway because upper Broadway is known as “Alamo Heights” or “the Quarry” even though technically Broadway extends outside Alamo Heights after Basse and the Quarry doesn’t include Lincoln Heights (but who uses Lincoln Heights?) I guess you could start to call it Lower Broadway, but that wouldn’t include the Pearl or N. St. Mary’s. Overall, I’d say we keep building destination brands for each individual sub brand and not try to assign another sub brand within midtown. Pearl should be semi-luxury downtown living. N. St. Mary’s should be the party/drinking/nightlife strip for college kids. Broadway, right in the middle of both the Pearl and Alamo Heights/Terrell Hills, etc. should fill in the gap to be an extension of those two clientele, where those that live in the area can easily walk up or down Broadway and have a ton of options for restaurants and nightlife. Families by day at the Zoo, Museums, etc., date night by night. Every city needs those separate branded destinations where each target demographic goes to party. College/High School kids need a place where they won’t run into their parents (or parents’ friends) and 30-40-50s need an upscale, safer environment where we won’t run into their kids as they get older. Right now, the city doesn’t have either “strip” that I’ve seen in Boston, Miami, European cities or even Austin. The only branded “strip” known to any outsider, speaking as an outsider, is “the River Walk” and that is not a destination for locals.

  23. “Broadway” works for me.
    But if you want to call it something else, consider the original name: Avenue C.
    When it rained real hard, residents called it “Avenue Sea” — because it was prone to flood.
    Now that we have flood-control, perhaps we could call it “Avenue Si” — Yes!
    Or, since there’s so much to see and do, how about “Avenue See” ?

  24. I think Mid-Town as a whole, and then different sections will organically identify themselves differently, i.e. “The Pearl”, “Tobin Hill”, “River North” “Alta Vista” “Lower or South Broadway” (LoBro/SoBro)

  25. I like Midtown for its proper description of location, but agree that it’s too broad.

    Lower Broadway is most specific. Nickname can be Lo Broad (not Bro, as it’s not brothers, and Bro is too slang-y) or LoBrow, as a contrast to its immediate HiBrow neighborhoods on the north (AH, TH, OP tri cities) where I have enjoyed being a resident for 20+ years. Lo Brow is a little edgy, humble without too much self denigrating (just a little). I’ll be a resident in this Lo Brow district for the next 20 years hopefully. Given the businesses, parks (think Kiddie Park, Lions Field) and museums on this section of Broadway, it’s rather low brow, and I love the section for that! Very unpretentious

  26. As a resident a block south of Monte vista near the St. Mary’s strip, I would like to remind you guys that we all live in Tobin Hill. That’s our neighborhood name. That’s how I identify my neighborhood to those who live near the area, and I attend our Friday happy hours and have the t-shirt. All who live in pearl and lower broadway are invited to join THCA. For those who live in loop land, I identify myself as living in midtown. Within midtown you have Westfort, Alta Vista, Beacon Hill, Tobin Hill, etc. Or since many don’t know what midtown is I identify myself as living near Trinity or the Pearl. I think Lower Broadway is good for identifying a subdistrict of midtown because of the growth there, but otherwise it excludes us on St. Mary’s (who are plenty hip and are young professionals who love a good cocktail- we own homes and are not crazy college kids), the Pearl (which is not really on Broadway) and the Museum Reach. Keep the subdistricts, mine’s the St. Mary’s Strip or upper Tobin Hill, and the larger district- Midtown.

  27. I disagreed with one statement: There is no problem using the term Midtown related to its distance from downtown. In Houston, their Midtown is on the other side of IH 59 from downtown; the only distance involved between the two is the width of the freeway!

  28. As stated in the Rivard Report Midown is Beacon Hill and Alta Vista area (hence the Midtown plan) whether it’s being called that or not – it should not be used for Broadway area. FYI – Fred Rd. is also Historically “Uptown” from San Pedro up to near Deco District. The Uptown theatre was here. So, where are all the marketing gurus? PearlWay, Pearltown, BroadPearl, Broad y Pearl, BrackenBroad, NorDown, NearTown, AnchoBajo — ???

  29. I’ve lived in Mahncke park for 8 years now… no one who lives in or around the area being discussed calls it LoBro or SoBro… Midtown, Broadway corridor, museum reach, or the pearl (although, I dislike this name). These are the names used by the people who actually live here and not the tourists, and trendy hipsters who moved in 2 years ago…

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