Progress versus Protest: The Path to Smart Preservation and Development

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View of future Alamo Beer brewery from Hays Street Bridge. Rendering courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects.

View of future Alamo Beer brewery from Hays Street Bridge. Rendering courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects. The Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group said the property was supposed to be used as a public park rather than for economic development.

Robert RivardDonovan Rypkema, the intellectual force and principal behind Washington D.C.-based PlaceEconomics, a real estate and economic development consulting firm, couldn’t be coming to downtown San Antonio at a better time.

Perhaps he can help locals find common ground.

The nationally-recognized expert in the economic viability of historic structures will deliver a speech titled, “Decade of Downtown: Why It’s a Good Idea and What It Will Take.”

Donovan Rypkema

Donovan Rypkema

The talk, sponsored by the City’s Office of Historic Preservation, will be held at 231 E. Houston – the vacant space located between Bohanan’s and The Palm restaurants – Tuesday at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Rypkema will find that San Antonio has hit some bumpy air as the redevelopment of the city’s urban core picks up speed. Some community and neighborhood groups and historic preservationists have become increasingly active in their opposition to some current projects.

Many of us consider ourselves supporters of historic preservation and progressive infill development, but as of late it seems that some have tried to cast the public conversation into two camps – as if you can’t be for both preservation and progress.

Developer and Alamo Beer founder Eugene Simor ran into eleventh hour protests last year opposing the construction of a new brewery at the foot of the Hays Street Bridge on the city’s near-Eastside. Groundbreaking for the $7 million project designed by Lake/Flato and to be built by Guido Brothers is scheduled for Friday at 10:30 a.m.

View of future Alamo Beer brewery from Hays Street Bridge. Rendering courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects.

View of future Alamo Beer brewery from Hays Street Bridge. Rendering courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects.

Greystar, the national multi-family developer and property manager, was challenged by protestors who opposed the company’s $55 million, 350-unit Elan Riverwalk project slated for the former 4.3 acre Univision site that sits between the San Antonio River and César Chávez Boulevard.

Opponents asked a judge to halt demolition of the 1955-era KWEX-TX studios on the grounds they were the home to the first Spanish-language broadcast station in the country. When legal maneuvers failed, a handful of protestors scaled the property fence to stop demolition crews. Their arrests on trespassing charges were quickly dismissed when Greystar declined to prosecute, but still led the Express-News to sensationally dub them the “Univision Eight” in front page headlines. The small group of protestors were outnumbered by San Antonio police on the scene.

Elan Riverwalk Apartments. Rendering courtesy of Michael Hsu House of Architecture.

The 350-unit Elan Riverwalk apartment complex. Rendering courtesy of Michael Hsu Office of Architecture.

A proposal by H-E-B to close a non-residential block of South Main Avenue as part of a $100 million corporate headquarters expansion that will include a new downtown grocery has also been met with neighborhood opposition in King William, even as H-E-B and the City of San Antonio prepare to bring an agreement before City Council for a Wednesday briefing and a Thursday vote.

In sum, as Mayor Julián Castro sees his “Decade of Downtown” vision taking shape, not everyone sees all the change as progress or in a positive light. The differences of opinion are bound to continue as redevelopment of Hemisfair Park comes into sharper focus in the next few years. When federal funds become available to construct the new San Antonio Federal Courthouse at the corner of Nueva Street and Santa Rosa Boulevard, the disposition of several HemisFair ’68 buildings will have to be decided, with some advocating for their preservation and others for their demolition in favor of new design and construction.

City officials, perhaps, hope Rypkema can articulate a view that both sides can embrace as downtown development continues to accelerate.

Shanon Shea Miller

Shanon Shea Miller

“The timing is perfect and not just because of recent difficulties,” said Shanon Shea Miller, director of the City’s Office of Historic Preservation. “It just seems like the right time for our downtown. There is so much opportunity. I feel like we’re on the verge of doing something fantastic in San Antonio. Donovan Rypkema offers another perspective, an economic perspective, on why using our vacant buildings downtown is so important. It’s not just an economic argument, it’s also a quality of life argument.”

Rypkema will find in his latest visit to San Antonio that the public’s focus is largely on a few of the more visible downtown projects, with little attention paid to the many boarded-up historic structures that sit undervalued on the tax rolls. Many owners, faced only with modest tax bills, have no serious plans to develop or sell, while other historic properties with code violations and unpaid back taxes make them uninviting properties for prospective new owners and developers.


Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook. 


Related Stories:

In Praise of Downtown Development…and Remembering Our History

Hemisfair Park’s Working Titles and Public Meetings

The Case For Keeping South Main Avenue Open

The Case for Rethinking South Main Avenue

With Little Neighborhood Support, Others File Suit to Stop Eastside Brewery

A City of Lost Breweries Should Welcome the Alamo Brewery to the Eastside

Hemisfair Park: A ‘Brutal Redesign’ or the Bulldozer?


10 thoughts on “Progress versus Protest: The Path to Smart Preservation and Development

  1. The abatements and cash subsidies are staggering. Why HEB needs a million dollars and a public street, is beyond me. I am personally more interested in housing for battered women, the elderly, and our failing public schools. I see the growth of downtown as a way to support public interest, but instead millions of dollars are being given away. The tax liability for many public works projects is tiny in comparison to what the city has pledged private companies with no public access to their profits or expenses.

    • Actually, HEB has decided to forego the million-dollar subsidy. Not only that, but they have agreed to pay $4 million in traffic upgrades aroundbthe campus. So whetherbor not you agree with the street closure, it would be hard to disagree with the fact they are being fairly generous with regards to this deal…

        • Ah, I stand corrected. So now we shall see what the Council has to say about spending the $1m. But on another related topic, doesn’t HEB have to pay for the land they acquire through the street closure? (Perhaps it all balances out. I don’t know, but I’m always ready to learn more…)

    • That was the original plan. But the protests over the land use forced them to either move it to the south side or delay construction to fight it out in courts. They chose to move it to the south side.

  2. It’s shameful that kids in the poorest area of town walk to schools without a sidewalk while the city wastes money on pet projects.

  3. An interesting result would come from gauging how many historic buildings have been demolished in the Sculley Regime as opposed to when Ann McGlone and prior to that Pat Osborne were our Historic Preservation Officers and when the OHP was under the Planning Department. That’s a story for some clever reporter to put forth.

  4. You forgot to mention the protests over the street car project. Instead of “Decade of Downtown” they might want to rename it as the “Decade of Construction and Traffic Snarls.” Between all the projects you mentioned and the digging up of streets for light rail, it will be a big mess around town for several years to come.

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