Near East Side Redevelopment Gains Momentum

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The Merchants Ice and Cold Stage Building on East Houston Street.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Merchants Ice and Cold Storage Building on East Houston Street is just one major development project planned for the near Eastside.

Preservationists will lament the loss of at least one long-vacant building that carries the faint echo of important local history, but for others who have waited decades for San Antonio’s near East Side to come back to life, a growing number of development projects signals momentum at last.

The Dignowity Hill and Denver Heights neighborhoods have been attracting waves of new residents for several years now, reducing the high number of vacancies and sparking new infill development projects. Soaring real estate values have sparked concerns and debate over gentrification and rising tax bills for longtime residents.

Zachry Corp.’s sale of 11 buildings in historic St. Paul Square to REATA Real Estate in 2017 has led to new restaurants, bars, and office spaces. The Rivard Report moved into the former Lone Star Hotel, originally built in the 1880s, last year. Across the street, Sunset Station will soon get new events promotion management.

The RK Group, which has managed Sunset Station, has sold its 5-acre headquarters complex on East Commerce Street to Dallas-based Quadrant Investment Properties, which plans a major mixed-use project for the site once the existing buildings, which do not have any historic value, are demolished.

The RK Group is expanding its operations and workforce with a move to Red Berry Mansion, the 85-acre estate of the late gambler and legislator that is now a $62 million redevelopment project. The restored mansion will become an events center for the RK Group after it moves into a newly-constructed building on the campus located near the AT&T Center.

Also on East Commerce Street, the 347-unit Friedrich Lofts project is on the drawing boards for the former Friedrich Air Conditioning Co. building. The project will be an even mix of market rate and workforce rate housing, and will include a 725-space parking structure.

Three blocks north of the RK Group property on East Commerce, a $220 million redevelopment of the five-acre Merchants Ice complex on East Houston Street by the Texas Research and Technology Foundation (TRTF) will house a biotech incubator and accelerator and biomanufacturing center.

TRTF CEO Randy Harig scored a coup earlier this month with the hiring of Rene Dominguez, who served as director of the city’s Economic Development Department, as the new president and chief operating officer. Harig also disclosed plans to recruit U.S. Army bioscience research programs to the site.

Conservationists were unhappy to learn of the state’s plan to demolish the long-vacant G.J. Sutton complex at 321 Center St., a prominent Eastside landmark named for Garlington Jerome Sutton, the first black official from San Antonio elected to the Texas House of Representatives. The 264,018-square-foot parcel is split into two sections by East Crockett Street.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Sutton Building is in the process of demolition.

Longtime residents know of Sutton, but chances are most on the East Side, much less the larger city, do not. A well-placed statue of the pioneer elected official would do far more to preserve his place in history than keeping the name on whatever development ensues.

The City would be wise to honor a leading local African-American, especially after several years of controversy over a statue honoring Confederate soldiers that was removed from Travis Park. And, hopefully, such effort will produce a higher quality artwork than the Martin Luther King memorial located on North New Braunfels.

A demolition permit for the Sutton complex has been granted to the state, and while some local groups might seek to stop demolition, the state is not bound by municipal ordinances and the poor condition of the building makes preservation too expensive to attract much support. The General Land Office is expected to place the property on the market for sale once asbestos remediation and demolition is completed. Developers already are expressing interest.

The area north of the Alamodome will be busy with construction for the next few years, but the growing presence of residents and workers already is evident throughout the near East Side. The growth in both amenities and jobs will bring new levels of economic and community activity to a part of the city that was otherwise slow to gain momentum earlier in the last decade as things picked up elsewhere around downtown.

The continuing redevelopment of Hemisfair, much of it by Zachry Corp., will include a new hotel, office tower, and multifamily complex, all near the new Civic Park along Market and South Alamo Streets, and Tower Park in Hemisfair’s northeast corner, which will create more connectivity between downtown and the near East Side.

Pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter users still have limited options for navigating the heavily trafficked surface streets and highway access roadways. Creating some sort of green space alternatives under or over the highway would go a long way toward making the near East Side more livable and safe for residents and workers, and an attractive, walkable destination for visitors and conventioneers.

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