Last summer, a new townhouse development just west of the Pearl called East Quincy Townhomes by the River launched. It represents some of the first construction of home-ownership opportunities in an area known for industrial businesses, apartment complexes, and single-family homes interspersed.
For the developers, going first was a risk, but a calculated one: If just a small percentage of the thousands of new residents streaming into the urban core wanted to be buyers instead of renters, they reasoned, the project would be a success.
Word spread fast. Within months, nearly all 23 units of the East Quincy project were reserved, said Steve Yndo, principal of SOJO Urban Development. Because of this success, the locally based development company has launched a second, single-family townhome project even closer to the Pearl on the Museum Reach.
"We found pent-up demand for (buying a home) in a walkable community," Yndo said during a Wednesday launch event at Cured. "It's the diversity of people down here that attracts them. ... There is a broad economic group. You run into different people and that makes life more interesting."
East Quincy is now 92% sold and is scheduled for completion in early 2015. SOJO Crossing construction starts in March 2015 and should be completed in spring 2016. Both were designed by Alamo Architects.
"What we hope will happen on the west side of the (San Antonio River) between Pearl and St. Mary's Street (is it) will become the 'ownership neighborhood' for Pearl ... the leg between Pearl and Tobin hill area to close in the gaps."
SOJO Crossing's 27 units range from approximately 1,600 - 2,200 square feet and will be priced at $400-650,000, similar to East Quincy. "The three-story homes feature modern, industrial design ... enclosed garages, fenced yard spaces, and option to add an elevator, and balconies with scenic views of the city," stated a press release.
These projects are out of range for many San Antonians, but a good fit for affluent empty nesters, young professionals, and new families looking to avoid paying rent while living in the urban core. As infill development occupying vacant space, they also help build the inner city's tax base.
About 60% of East Quincy buyers are empty nesters and/or pre-retirees, while 40% are young professional couples, Yndo said. They come from all over the city – from Loop 1604, from Alamo Heights and Olmos Park, even nearby Monte Vista. Some reverse commute to workplaces like Valero and USAA.
Silver Ventures, which acquired the historic Pearl Brewery complex in 2002 and has served as catalyst for development along Broadway and throughout the urban core, so far has stayed with constructing rental units. The company also owns a substantial inventory of properties west of the river. Thus, even more real estate could be opening up for more residential or mixed uses in the near future, Yndo said.
"By 2016 you'll see a lot of the industrial (companies) make the move to a more efficient facilities elsewhere. A lot of them couldn't afford to move or sell until now. We're starting to see that shift."
Shifts and trends towards walkable, economically diverse neighborhoods downtown began 10-15 years ago in many Texas cities, he said. San Antonio has, historically, been a little late to the game.
"But people – especially at the administration level – realize that SA is going to continue to boom and it can not sustain a boom over the aquifer."
Yndo added that San Antonio could find a silver lining in its status as a late bloomer. "We correct the problems that a lot of other cities tend to have in terms of gentrification and blowing out neighborhoods that you can no longer recognize after 10 years. I think that we're going to avoid all those problems and be much better for it."
East Quincy "represents a $6.2 million total investment with $788,234 in public infill development incentives," according to the Center City Development and Operations (CCDO) Department website. Yndo expects similar fee waivers for SOJO Crossing.
"By virtue of the incentives that are (given) to the developer, it lowers the price point for home owners in the area," said Ramiro Gonzalez, special projects manager of CCDO who attended Wednesday's announcement. "The values otherwise would almost always prohibit home ownership (of new construction) in the area."
Many of these projects would not be happening without incentives, and there is even more risk to for-sale developers.
"This eases the risk for the developer to take that chance and experiment with the market," he said, adding that the trick is to strike a balance between incentives to develop, preservation of neighborhoods and neighbors, and investments – private and public.
In a sense, that's exactly what the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods is working on – a policy that anticipates how to handle development that might spark unnecessary displacement.