It may be safe to say that River North, the section or area of San Antonio's center city just north of downtown and south of I-35, is no longer an "up-and-coming" neighborhood – where savvy land and building owners can sneak in on ground-floor, we-saw-it-coming-first bragging rights.
While there is still plenty of opportunity to be had in vacant buildings, historical renovations, and many still-empty lots in the area, the proverbial cat is out of the River North bag. The proof is in the area's influx in the live/work/play sector over the past couple years.
I've only lived in San Antonio for about two years, but in that time I've seen the completion of the Pearl Brewery complex's Can Plant Residences, 1221 Broadway, and now 1800 Broadway (more than 800 housing units combined). The Pearl itself has filled out since the days of construction zones, empty store fronts, and closed sidewalks – what it was when I first visited the area upon moving here.
Add to the list of new housing developments in the area: The River House and East Quincy.
Read more about the East Quincy townhomes in today's story from reporter Bekah McNeel: "East Quincy: For-Sale Townhouses coming to River North's 'Renters Reach.'"
It seems more and more young professionals, families, baby boomers, and even some retired urbanites are looking to live in or near downtown – and many, at least for now, either prefer paying rent to ownership or they don't quite qualify for a home mortgage. Few apartments remain in these new, high-end apartment complexes, according to each management's online unit availability information.
More often than not, rent includes access amenities like pools, gyms, meeting spaces, and on-site laundry – similar complexes like the Cevallos and Steelhouse Lofts even have mini-grocery stores and a built-in bar/restaurant, respectively. But the biggest amenity, it seems, is proximity to the revitalized downtown environment – the exposure to people, culture and activities that come with it.
This cluster of large apartment complexes are near many residents' downtown workplaces and within easy walking distance to the southernmost point of the recently launched "Broadway Reach," a collective of seven cultural institutions including the San Antonio Zoo, Botanical Garden, Museum of Art (SAMA, The River House's neighbor), Children’s Museum (Broadway location opening in June 2015), Witte Museum, McNay Museum, and Brackenridge Park. These are great selling points for prospective renters.
“Downtown is rapidly becoming one of the most vibrant and livable neighborhoods in the city,” stated Mayor Julián Castro in a press release at the official ground-breaking ceremony on Monday. Work on the project began in June 2013. “The River House project will continue the momentum and redevelop a key section of downtown with additional high-quality housing options in the River North area.”
At least, that's what Hixon Properties Inc. and other development firms are banking on as they start to develop North-South-East-West of and within the heart of the city. It's a safer bet with public-informed initiative turned nonprofit SA2020 calling for 5,000 more downtown housing units to the center city's 2011 stock of 3,304 units.
Beyond sheer demand, the downtown housing market received a jump-start with tax abatements, fee waivers, and grants in the form of incentive packages from the City of San Antonio and Bexar County for developments within targeted areas (like River North). Through studies and research performed during the Center City Development Office (CCDO)'s Strategic Framework Plan two main incentive programs – The Inner City Reinvestment Infill Policy (ICRIP) and the Center City Housing Incentive Policy (CCHIP) – were developed.
The River House
The River North multi-family development at Avenue A and 13th/Roy Smith Street will include 261 market-rate units (look to the Southside for progressive low-income/market rate housing) and is an estimated $31.5 million project. The project received $4,003,515 in incentives from the City, according to the CCDO's website. Hixon Properties will invest about $725,000 in public improvements in connection with the project, including repair/creation of nearby walkways, repaving streets, and landscaping, said John Beauchamp, the company's chief investment officer.
"This is the first multifamily project to be built along the river in River North and to take advantage of the Museum Reach upgrades of the River Improvements Project," District One City Councilman Diego Bernal stated in a press release from the ground breaking ceremony.
Though, to be fair, 1221 Broadway is literally a stone's throw away from the San Antonio River's Museum Reach:
"It will add a lot of great new families to the area and make the river a part of their daily lives. I was very happy to support this project for District One last year and I am excited to see it when it opens," Councilman Bernal stated.
Though Hixon Properties hasn't yet determined rental rates for the River House's studio, one, two, and three bedroom apartments when the project opens in 2015, Beauchamp predicted they will be consistent of those at the Pearl and along Broadway.
A random sampling of rentals in the area:
1221 Broadway: one bedroom/one bath (studio), 456 square feet = $725 ($1.50 per square foot)
Pearl Can Plant: one bedroom/one bath (apt.), 730 square feet = $1,360 ($1.80 per square foot)
1800 Broadway: two bedroom/two bath (apt.), 1,377 square feet = $2,834 ($2.06 per square foot)
The units aren't within every young professional's price range, but access to the common amenities and savings on gas and vehicle maintenance associated with commuting from the suburbs makes the developments attractive enough they are exceeding most occupancy expectations anticipated before construction.
"The incentive package was an extremely important part of making this project a reality," Beauchamp said. "The City and County's programs are doing what they were intended to do in getting difficult downtown projects over their financial hurdles."
River House was designed with the National Green Building Standard in mind. By utilizing some water-wise, low impact development practices like rain gardens and permeable pavement and energy efficient lighting and design, certification is certainly within its grasp.
So how does The River House's neighbor across the river feel?
Again, literally a stone's throw away, the San Antonio Museum of Art awaits its riverside counterpart. SAMA Kelso Director Katie Luber says the museum will naturally welcome the 500-plus residents with open arms.
"We did not have any direct say in the design process, but the developer and architects both went out of their way to make sure that we were informed and updated every step of the way," Luber said in an email yesterday. "Hixon Properties and Overland Partners (the project's design architect) were together the ideal courteous neighbors to the museum ... It is my fondest hope that all of the residents of these new developments will want to live in those units specifically because of the adjacency to the museum."
Luber, who was appointed SAMA's director two years ago, said it's exciting to see the plans of her predecessors come to fruition.
"More than 30 years ago, those visionaries understood the potential of the river, the Northside of downtown and what San Antonio could and would ultimately become," she said. "To watch that unfold before my eyes, today, in real-time, is a dream come true."
Iris Dimmick is managing editor of the Rivard Report. Follow her on Twitter @viviris or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.