A rendering showing the redeveloped property at 1602 East Houston Street.
This rendering shows the redeveloped property at 1602 E. Houston St. Credit: Courtesy / Zurich International Properties

This summer, a local real estate developer plans for two tenants – a credit union and a pizza shop – to open in a renovated building in the Dignowity Hill Historic District.

Laurence Seiterle, owner of Zurich International Properties, has long wanted to revive the vacant building at 1602 E. Houston St. and finally found the right anchor tenant in Credit Human, formerly the San Antonio Credit Union.

“If it wasn’t for getting an anchor tenant like that, we probably wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Seiterle said.

More than 15 years ago, the building on the southeast corner of Hackberry and Houston streets was home to a plasma donation center in one of San Antonio’s poorest zip codes. More recently, it’s been used for storage, with the occasional drug deal taking place in its shadow on the street corner. The rapidly changing neighborhood has seen an unprecedented amount of public and private investment in recent years, and Seiterle said it’s prime time for the services his new tenants will provide.

An aerial view of the property at 1602 East Houston Street.
An aerial view of the property at 1602 E. Houston St. (center). Credit: Courtesy / Apple Maps

With home and commercial rent prices rising in Southtown and Lavaca, moving to the Eastside is the “natural progression of the creative class,” he said.

Not long after the local credit union opens it doors in July, Sulla Strada Pizza will follow. The renovated warehouse will be the local food truck’s first brick-and-mortar location. In the meantime, its wood-fired oven can often be found on wheels at The Squeezebox on North St. Mary’s Street.

“A few years ago, Southtown was kind of in the same shape [as] the Eastside is [now],” Sulla Strada owner John Winkler said.

It’s still a risky venture, Winkler added, but the influx of housing stock in the area is a good sign. The 268-unit Baldwin apartment complex, dozens of renovated historic homes, and the Merchants Ice Building’s transformation into a startup hub, are examples of projects underway nearby.

Laurence Seiterle, ?Owner - ?Zurich International Properties
Laurence Seiterle, ?owner of ?Zurich International Properties Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

“We know we’re ahead [of the development curve], and that’s part of the risk,” Seiterle said.

Two other businesses, one part of the restaurant and bar industry, are close to finalizing leases, Seiterle said, and there is flexible space for up to three more tenants. The Historic and Design Review Commission gave the renovation conceptual approval last year.

The Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association is “completely on board,” its President Brian Dillard told the Rivard Report. “It’s a celebrated thing. We’re happy to see a corridor like that being utilized in that fashion. … Hopefully it will catalyze other development.”

Credit Human specifically is a welcome addition, Dillard said. “I’m glad it’s not another payday loan place.”

The mere presence of the financial institution signals that “the Eastside is open for business,” said Akeem Brown, director of operations for San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE). “Having [Credit Human’s] presence helps change perceptions of the Eastside.”

Seiterle has access to a facade improvement grant from the nonprofit dedicated to economic development. Since 2010, SAGE has dispersed $1.2 million through its Store-Front Grant Program, Brown said.

One of the nonprofit’s missions is to “make this community bankable again,” Brown said, as almost 30 percent of the population in the nearby Promise Zone would not qualify for a traditional mortgage or even a credit card.

“People are regaining faith in the Eastside,” he said of Seiterle’s and others’ investments. “It was a blood bank, now a real bank.”

Both Brown and Seiterle acknowledged that there is an element of gentrification to the project. With annual rents around $18-$24 per square foot, Seiterle said it’s more expensive than other spaces on the Eastside, but also that development doesn’t come cheap.

“In the Northside you’re looking at $30 [per square foot],” he said.

Brown said SAGE is doing its part to help mitigate the effects of gentrification, most notably displacement.

“Gentrification has to happen to get the amenities this community deserves,” Brown said. “But displacement can be avoided … if you’re willing to help and maintain the existing community.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com