Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
An old filling station on a neglected corner of East Elmira Street has a fresh coat of paint, new neighbors in its backyard, and will soon serve as a diner featuring Southern favorites from a spacious kitchen and bar.
Construction on the new, two-story Midtown Station development, situated a few blocks west of the booming Broadway corridor and north of Interstate 35, is complete and has its first tenant, a fitness company. The 1930s-era gas station and garage, formerly a Shell and Texaco station, that faces the property's North St. Mary's side has been restored.
Later this year, the Pearl's Granary ‘Cue & Brew Chef Tim Rattray will open his newest concept in the former gas station. The restaurant will offer a menu with dishes "based on my family's Southern heritage and a love for the food and drink traditions of the South," Rattray stated in an email.
Developers and longtime friends David Adelman and Barclay Anthony bought the property where the station sits two years ago, requested a rezoning, and developed plans for the office/retail space inspired by the gas station's original look.
“It was what I call an under-viewed site, meaning at first glance, it might appear to be in an odd location,” said Adelman, principal at AREA Real Estate. “But at second glance you realize you’re on North St. Mary’s, which is a major connection into downtown, into the very thriving neighborhood of Tobin Hill, Alta Vista, and others around San Antonio College and the Pearl.”
It also has plentiful parking by downtown standards – space for 126 cars. The developers signed a 20-year lease with the Texas Department of Transportation for the area underneath the highway adjacent to the property. The potential for a parking lot that sizable made the property ideal for an urban infill project, Adelman said, because parking congestion won’t affect homeowners and residents in the area.
Another plus for developing the site into an office/retail center, he said, is its position next to the highway, making it unfavorable for residential development and yet optimal for commercial access. A condominium development, Proximity Townhomes, is currently under construction within a block of Midtown Station, which also sits across the street from Generations Federal Credit Union.
The first tenant at Midtown Station opened its doors in early May in a ground-floor space. BodyTek Fitness San Antonio offers group fitness classes and full-body workouts that change daily and are led by experienced athletic trainers. This is the company’s first franchise outside its home state of Florida.
“It’s perfect here as far as I’m concerned,” said owner Todd Hummel, who first considered Dallas for his franchise. “It’s a revitalized area with an urban side that goes with our concept. The area is full of people moving here as well. San Antonio has a very bad reputation of being an unfit city, but that has begun to change especially with the influx of people moving here for tech jobs, and we want to be part of that.”
By September, BodyTek will have an upstairs neighbor also in the health and wellness realm. Black Swan Yoga, a donation-based yoga studio that originated in Austin in 2009, will open at Midtown Station as soon as its buildout is complete.
Studio owner Jaimee Hart Scope is returning to her hometown after five years in Austin. "I wanted to have my own studio, and I wanted to come home to San Antonio," she said.
After looking at several locations around the Pearl, Scope opted for Midtown Station because most other spaces were older and would have needed a lot of fixing up.
"I knew I wanted to be in that area, because it's very trendy right now," Scope said. "When I heard of Midtown Station, it hadn't been built yet, but I liked that it was new and had a lot of parking. We worked closely with the landlords, and they were on board with all the ideas we had."
Just below the yoga studio, the end-cap space nearest Elmira Street is intended for another restaurant, and several trees have been planted there to shade a spacious patio.
“What we’re really looking for in our co-tenancy is really strong concepts and developed and folks that really know their business,” said Anthony, president of Sea Island Shrimp House and a partner in Tiago’s Cabo Grille. “We’re going to give people a good deal to be here, but the only way we can make financial sense of it is if we don’t have immediate turnover. In other shopping centers we’ve done, we’ve been rewarded for being very choosy.”
Valcor is the leasing agent, and developers are also hoping future tenants will provide products and services that not only complement one another but are also sought after in the neighborhood.
On the second story of the building are several large spaces ready for buildout and with clear views of downtown San Antonio just beyond the busy I-35 highway. A large billboard that once towered over the site just behind the filling station has been removed to maximize the vantage point.
The filling station got a preservation makeover that included an addition to the back of the structure that can accommodate commercial kitchen equipment, and a patio facing North St. Mary’s Street. AREA Urban Development Manager Luis Miguel Martinez, who oversaw design and construction of Midtown Station, said the patio is paved with stones discarded during the Alamodome renovation.
Tobin Hill resident Frederica Kushner, a past board member of the San Antonio Conservation Society and chair of the Historic Gas Station Survey committee, is happy to see the filling station preserved. She said San Antonio’s old filling stations represent a significant period in San Antonio commercial history.
“We had an awful lot of them mainly because of our proximity to oil fields,” she said. “I am always advocating for reuse of these buildings, in particular the older ones and those on North St. Mary’s. That area was a major corridor, as was Broadway ... it was the way you had to go to get to Brackenridge Park and the zoo."
Hanna Oberhofer contributed to this report.