In an abandoned trailer park at 519 Roosevelt Avenue just south of downtown, a tell-tale team of professionals is gathered in the shade. Architectural renderings are passed around. Cameras are snapping.
Development is coming. And this abandoned trailer park is the epicenter.
In the next 18 months, 28 affordable townhomes will be built here. This will bring urban redevelopment down river below Southtown into Lone Star. Roosevelt Avenue is ripe for it.
The southside artery has access to the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, the Missions themselves, Roosevelt Park, and the any-minute-now-this-is-going-to-be-a-hub Lone Star Brewery. Municipal efforts at preservation have been massive, but the area needs rooftops and businesses.
"The city is doing their job," said developer Efraim Varga, "we want to do ours."
Varga is a young family man who cut his development teeth on California penthouses. He moved to San Antonio, and applied his entrepreneurial talents and good taste to the housing stock around downtown where he lives. Along the way he gathered other fresh thinkers in the industry.
One of Varga's partners is Urban Nest Realty, which will broker the finished product. They also aid on the front end in acquisition, product development, and marketing. When Laura Clark-Arguijo of Urban Nest showed Varga the trailer park, he was quiet. He looked around at the lot full of dilapidated Airstreams and broken-down RVs, and returned home without much feedback. But then, he called.
Varga told her that he really liked the flood control tunnel outlet down the road at Roosevelt Park. When he said that, Clark-Arguijo knew that the project was a great fit.
"He saw the beauty in the project, and the beauty in the space," said Clark-Arguijo.
To help realize his vision, Varga called on Sprinkle & Co. Architects. Principal Davis Sprinkle has a steady track record of thinking progressively about the visual vocabulary of San Antonio. He is established in the development world, to be sure, but brings a rule-bending ethos that continues to nudge the city into the future.
Varga also has made a habit of involving Build San Antonio Green. It all started when he looked in the window of a house next door to one of his own properties, and saw the "green" certification. The spirit of competition told him that if his homes were going to be competitive, he needed to have the certification, too.
He began working with Lina Luque to take part in Build San Antonio Green's historic retrofit program. This development marks a new phase in the relationship as it will fall under their multi-family program.
The team decided to go with two and three-level town homes, what the project manager from Sprinkle & Co., Brett Davidson, explained would be a three prototype system. Each will be small, efficient, and modern.
"These were tiny little homes," said Sprinkle, gesturing to the remnants of trailers. "Now we're doing tiny little homes again."
The lot is zoned for 64 units, but that kind of density can feel brutal when surrounding communities are primarily single-family homes. So the team decided on 28 units.
"We're really trying to be gentle," said Clark-Arguijo.
The trailer park won't be wiped from history. There is discussion of how to pay proper homage to its past through the design. But perhaps the most meaningful acknowledgement of what came before – however cool the neon sign might be – will be affordability.
Varga is determined that the units be "affordable for everybody." He's not interested in creating a new luxury district, just bringing some vitality back to one of San Antonio's long neglected treasures.
With vitality comes revenue.
As it stands, the current taxable value of the trailer park is $221,804 (including value of trailers). It is tax assessed at $6,654 (including tax on trailers), with $3,726 going to SAISD. Once developed, the 28 units will have a taxable value of $6,300,000. They will be tax assessed at $189,000 with $105,840 going to SAISD.
And then there's the infectious nature of development.
Looking up and down Roosevelt from the site, we saw no more than one or two pedestrians, with nowhere to stop. Varga has his sights set on the east side of the street, across from his development, which will become the neighborhood for the urbanites it attracts. For now, the design of the town homes will lend itself to creating a communal space with open channels to the street and sidewalk in anticipation of the near future.
"Down here you have to create community," said Davidson, "this would be the first really big development."
The merry band has it's sights on their next project as well. Varga anticipates breaking ground toward the end of 2013, with a 12-16 month construction phase. From there, they move on to the old Sun-Glo station at 1519 S. Presa. It will become a mixed-use, multi-family development that takes full advantage of the currently underutilized real estate.
Varga is particularly excited to be removing the environmental detritus left behind by the gas station, one of the most toxic tenants in a city landscape.
"We're taking an eyesore and turning it into a little green community," Varga said. A statement which could be applied to both projects. Davidson, Sprinkle, and Varga all stressed the priority of saving as many trees as they could on the Roosevelt site.
No one would hazard a timeline on the second project, but the excitement over both sites was palpable.
"We're excited, because it's different," civil engineer Chris Weigand of Big Red Dog said of the Roosevelt Ave development.
For one, the units will be for sale, not for rent, and the three-level units will be designed to accommodate full families with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. It's actually an attractive prospect to a young family who might need the space and still want density (or just not to have to mow the lawn). Each unit will have its own carport.
More exciting, perhaps, is the collaboration among what Weigand dubs the "next generation of San Antonio development." There was not a suit in sight (it was also over 100 degrees in the shade), but there was discussion of how to save the two derelict Airstreams. Honestly, the site looked about three trucks and some duck fat fries short of Alamo St. Eat Bar.
Roosevelt Avenue may be one of San Antonio's next boom streets. At least is will be if Efraim Varga accomplishes what he's set out to do. Little homes, big potential.
Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy and frequent contributor to the Rivard Report. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.