In a year of grand openings and announcements on and near the Brooks campus, capped off with the latest news that a brewery and taproom will open there next year, the former Air Force base turned mixed-used development on the Southeast Side appears to be fulfilling its mission.
Southerleigh Brewing Co. announced in December it will build a new brewery at Brooks, a second location for the popular eatery and brewhouse at the Pearl. On Jan. 8, Brooks announced it had secured the state’s first Opportunity Zone investment, a climate-controlled self-storage facility and flex space for small businesses. DRP Investments will break ground on the $16-million facility in fall 2019.
New developments set to open on the 1,308-acre Brooks in 2019, combined with a slate of other ribbon-cuttings in 2018, are a sign that the goals to attract employers and support a live-work-play community are being achieved – with more to come.
In late January, yet another employer will reveal plans for space at Brooks, said Connie Gonzalez, director of public relations for Brooks, one that will bring hundreds of jobs. She declined to name the company yet.
“The momentum is real at Brooks,” Gonzalez said. “We’re keeping it up, but the interest and our pipeline is really growing.”
When Air Force operations ceased at Brooks in September 2011, the Brooks Development Authority set about repurposing the 1,300-acre military base into a mixed-use community with 750 acres of developable land that is exempt from property taxes.
Nearly a decade later, Brooks now has 3,200 people working on the campus – 500 more than it had as a military base – earning an approximate average annual salary of $50,000, according to the Brooks Development Authority 2017 financial report. Occupancy levels of Brooks’ 1,500 residential units are at or near capacity.
There’s also a full-service hotel and spa, Mission Trails Baptist Hospital, and the University of the Incarnate Word Osteopathic School. The financial report stated that the primary source of Brooks’ operating revenue of $13 million in fiscal year 2017 stemmed from its commercial leases, in that period totaling over $6.6 million.
In 2017, Brooks officials reported an economic impact study conducted by TXP Inc. found that the value of Brooks and its surrounding acreage has increased in the past 15 years to more than $607 million, up from $37 million in 2004.
Also in 2017, Brooks marked its centennial as a military base and its rebirth as a mixed-used community 15 years ago with a quinceañera celebration.
The celebrating continued into 2018 with the 100th birthday of the historically significant Hangar 9, which officially reopened as an event center in 2017, and the April debut of The Greenline, a 43-acre linear park connecting Brooks to the San Antonio River and providing connectivity to 15 miles of walking, jogging and biking trails. In August, Brooks completed its first innovation zone project – installing public Wi-Fi throughout The Greenline.
“Now being able to see the people who live here and work here enjoy that green space – they walk and jog and have their furry friends and their kiddos – that’s what we’re really all about,” Gonzalez said, adding that companies have their own reasons for choosing San Antonio. “But the reason they chose Brooks is the community and quality of life concept we’re really focused on.”
The month of May saw the opening of the Nissei Plastic Machinery America plant, which currently has 50 employees and plans to grow, and in June, groundbreaking for a 350,000-square-foot light industrial facility. Industrial Group Southwest will develop, construct and lease the facility, which will be located on the Brooks light industrial parcel at Goliad Road and City Base Landing.
But the biggest news at Brooks, according to Gonzalez, was the October announcement attended by Gov. Greg Abbott and others that a Prague-based company will open its U.S. headquarters on the campus in 2019.
Okin Business Process Services is an information technology services company that provides project management, multilingual customer support, and cloud and security expertise. Operating mostly in Europe, the company is ranked among the biggest and fastest growing Czech Republic-based service providers on the global market and has been expanding worldwide.
Brooks is using funding from the Brooks Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) to refurbish two historic structures for Okin BPS, which will serve as “starter offices” until Okin BPS and Brooks determine where and how to develop up to 200,000 square feet of permanent office space on campus.
Okin BPS will add nearly 150 jobs in the first two years and expand to 1,500 jobs within five years.
Spring is the expected opening date as well for a new 9-acre retail center, City Base Commons, developed by GFR Development. Brooks officials also have embarked on a master plan that will incorporate future single-family housing, more parcels for restaurants and retail, and an 80-acre town center near the hotel.
“The community really wants those unique retail and restaurant concepts, so this town center is our opportunity to really expand on that … so we’re working on a plan to attract small businesses as well,” Gonzalez said.
VIA Metropolitan Transit’s new Brooks Transit Center is expected to open in May. Located at the northwest corner of South New Braunfels Avenue and Sidney Brooks, the 4,300-square-foot facility will offer high-frequency bus service along eight bus routes, including an Express route to downtown San Antonio and a new Prímo route along Military Drive to VIA’s Kel-Lac Transit Center.
Now that Brooks has attracted both workers and residents to the community, it’s looking to provide the amenities they desire most.
The Centers for Applied Science and Technology will welcome its first class of 150 students and 12 faculty members to the new CAST Med High School in the fall of 2019. The career-themed high school is designed to contribute to the pipeline of much-needed doctors and researchers in the San Antonio area.
Also this fall, Southerleigh Brewery and Restaurant will open the first high-end restaurant to be located on the actual campus of Brooks.
Southerleigh announced in December that, in addition to a 6,000-square-foot facility for brewing beer, it will build a 40-seat taproom with additional outdoor seating and renovate the former Brooks chapel into a tasting room. The chapel, built in 1941, has been moved and the facade remodeled over the years.
The chapel would have needed extensive renovations to make it suitable for a church congregation, Gonzalez said. But Brooks officials hoped to keep the structure as part of the area’s history, so repurposing it for a taproom was the ideal solution, Gonzalez said.
Jeff Balfour, chef and owner of Southerleigh, said he is looking forward to opening its second location.
“We’re excited to continue to expand Southerleigh into this neighborhood and introduce our beer to an even larger audience,” stated Jeff Balfour, chef and owner of Southerleigh. “The South Side of San Antonio has been rapidly expanding and we are thrilled to be joining this growing community at Brooks.”