A multimillion-dollar mixed-use development proposed for Hemisfair would feature a 14-story hotel, an eight-story office tower, an "urban market," and up to 50,000 square feet of space for retail shops and eateries steps away from the nine-acre Civic Park that is still under construction.
San Antonio developer Zachry Hospitality will present its plans for the development – a significant investment in and alteration to downtown San Antonio's landscape – to the City's Historic and Design Review Commission on Wednesday.
"The ideal scenario is waking up on a Saturday without plans ... and you could just go to Hemisfair and end up spending the entire day there," said Omar Gonzalez, Hemisfair's director of real estate.
Renderings for the project also show an underground parking garage to accommodate 825 cars. The 200-room boutique hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton property, would curve into the main entrance to the park at South Alamo and East Market streets, creating a kind of "hug" effect for the future adjacent park, the second largest urban park in San Antonio, designers said.
The buildings would line South Alamo Street north of Yanaguana Garden, the successful first phase of Hemisfair's redevelopment, and west of Civic Park, slated for completion in 2021. Zachry Hospitality, whose parent company is Zachry Corp., aims to complete the mixed-use projects the same year.
"[They're] not designing it for the tourist, but welcoming tourists," Gonzalez said.
As part of its unique public-private partnership with the City and Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation, Zachry also plans to develop a 380-unit apartment building along East Market Street that is not included in its current application to HDRC. Zachry and its partner NRP Group are still working on the plan and design, said Tara Snowden, director of public and government affairs for Zachry. All five acres of development will cost "well in excess" of previous estimates of $200 million, she said.
The public-private partnership was approved by City Council in February 2017.
The architecture and landscape architecture aim to create a "seamless" experience where visitors can't tell where the public park ends and the private property begins, said Overland Partners Principal Bob Shemwell, to the point where the "building has become an extension of the materials, concept, philosophy, and functionality of the park."
"Seamless" was a word Shemwell and Zachry Hospitality Vice President of Development Rene Garcia used repeatedly during a Thursday preview of the project with the Rivard Report. Zachry hired Overland, which is working with Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, the Seattle-based landscape architect selected to design Hemisfair's Civic Park; the City's Transportation and Capital Improvements Department; and La Villita – located across South Alamo Street – to ensure construction of the building complements other improvement projects in the area.
The "porous" nature of the buildings will pull people into the park through several in- and outdoor corridors and walkways, Shemwell said, while pushing "the texture and the personality of the park out" into the district and surrounding neighborhoods.
The 825-car, underground parking garage will have several entrances and exits to avoid traffic congestion, he said. The public can access 625 spots, and Zachry will lease 200 for its tenants – which have not yet been selected.
Views of surrounding landmarks from inside the park can still be enjoyed, Shemwell added, thanks to strategic breaks in building size and placement.
When preliminary renderings were released last year, some San Antonio residents were concerned that the proposed structures would block views of and public access to the park.
"That's an understandable [concern]," Shemwell said. Before a portion of the 1968 Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center was demolished in 2016 to make way for the new park, residents referred to the long, beige structure as "the great wall" along South Alamo Street.
"The normal response might have been to max out the square footage," Shemwell said. "That's not what Zachry has done." Passages to the park can be found throughout the buildings as the main lobbies of the hotel and office structures will be secondary to public access.
The buildings are "not private, buried space," he said. "It’s very open."
As the City looks into developing regulations regarding iconic views of buildings, bridges, and natural landscapes, it's an important consideration, said San Antonio Conservation Society President Susan Beavin, adding that by their very nature, buildings block views. But "it looks like they are trying to take that into consideration," she said.
The Conservation Society is one of several organizations that have met with Zachry and Hemisfair representatives to provide feedback on the project, Snowden said, including nearby Lavaca Neighborhood, King William, and Dignowity Hill Neighborhood associations.
While ground floor restaurants, shops, and bars are open to the public, they are technically for customers – with money. How will low-income residents fare at this Hemisfair development?
"The key mission is to ensure that this is accessible to all walks of life," Snowden said. "Whatever your economic standpoint, you will have something to do, a place to go."
"That's been the mission from the beginning," Garcia added.
As it did with retail in Yanaguana Garden, Gonzalez said, Hemisfair will work with retailers to come up with "unique solutions" such as package deals and smaller offerings.
That extends to opportunities for smaller businesses, Shemwell said, noting that the plan is to have diversity of scale in terms of shop sizes and rents.
There will be no "mega-chain" companies at Hemisfair, Garcia said. "It's definitely being done with the local business in mind."
Zachry will pay $1.92 million for the first two years of the contract’s 50-year term. In the third year, that base payment will drop to $1.45 million, but Hemisfair will take an additional cut of revenues expected to total more than $500,000 and increase as the park’s popularity grows and retail becomes more established.
Hemisfair is expected to become self-sufficient in 2021 as it begins to collect rent from tenants and taxes from the area via a newly-created tax increment reinvestment zone, Gonzalez said. That means park operation, maintenance, and programming won't have to rely on the City's Parks and Recreation budget.
The residential portion of the development is expected to go before HDRC later this year, Snowden said.
Zachry has not requested any City incentives for the hotel, office, and retail development, Snowden said, but the company has asked for consideration for its housing project – "just in case" that financing is needed. Those incentives have not been agreed on or awarded, she said.
Acequia Lofts, a 163-unit project in the southeast quadrant, is being developed by AREA Real Estate. Half of the apartments are priced for more affordable workforce housing. All housing projects on Hemisfair' s footprint must be at least 10 percent workforce housing.