San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE) hosted a Promise Zone update at the Spire at Sunset Station on Wednesday morning.
Two federal grants, the $29.75 million Choice Neighborhood grant and a $23.70 million Promise Neighborhood grant, overlap in a four square mile area on the Eastside called EastPoint. The two grants, along with the federal Promise Zone designation, are aimed at revitalizing EastPoint and surrounding areas on the Eastside, which includes some of the poorest neighborhoods with some of the highest crime rates in the city.
During the event, a panel of people affiliated with growth on the Eastside spoke to a crowd of approximately 50 people about their various businesses and programs that are furthering the quality of life in a neglected part of town.
SAGE is a nonprofit organization that supports business growth on the Eastside and Executive Director Jackie Gorman moderated the quarterly breakfast series. SAGE offers store-front grants, which are matching grants, to business owners in the Eastside Promise Zone who want to improve the aesthetic appearance of the façade of their building. During their last round of services, SAGE provided grants to MEDwheels, Inc., Chelsea’s Catering Bar Service, Lori Ewing’s beauty salon, JPM Communications, and Lou Miller State Farm Insurance. The next deadline for business owners to turn in grant applications is at noon on Aug. 28.
SAGE Project Coordinator Tonya Carpenter, one of the panelists, said SAGE exists so that the Eastside remains sustainable, meaning people who live on the Eastside can work and play on the Eastside.
"This side of town is a jewel. ... Being able to show others in the north, south, east, and west, that this is a place that you can come, you can entertain, you can live, and you can work right here and not have to go to another side of town," Carpenter said.
The panelists' presentations were testaments to Carpenter's words.
EastPoint Director Mike Etienne said since San Antonio's Eastside was designated a Promise Zone in Jan. 2014, the area has secured $33 million in federal grants, crime has decreased, more blighted houses have been demolished, and more loose dogs have been impounded.
He said EastPoint, the City, and other partners launched the the Promise Zone to Work initiative, a partnership between the City and the Alamo Colleges to provide free job training for 300 residents per year to squelch the 30% poverty rates and 15-20% unemployment rates in the Promise Zone.
"The goal is to connect our Eastside residents to prosperity so that they can move up to the middle class and enjoy a good quality of life," Etienne said.
Timothy Alcott, San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) development services and neighborhood revitalization officer, provided updated information about Wheatley Courts, a mixed-use housing development in the Promise Zone that will have 655 residential units by the end of its completion in 2018. The first phase of the project is slated to be finished in January 2017.
But beyond housing, Wheatley Courts will also provide residents with access to a BiblioTech digital library to its south, a University Health System (UHS) medical clinic to its north, and updated streets, sidewalks and lighting. Alcott said the City provided $20 million for the revitalization of the Wheatley Courts area, and beginning in October the area will undergo infrastructure construction.
"One of the challenges on the Eastside (is to) make it mixed-income. ... To get people to move, from lets say Fort Sam (Houston), we've got to make it like you'd have on the Northside," he said. "You've got to make it a destination, and right now it's just been so underserved."
SAHA has acquired most of the land needed for the development of the complex, aside from two blocks that SAHA will soon acquire, and foundations are beginning to be poured.
The clinic, an approximately $5 million project, will provide primary care, pediatric, and women's health services, but Mark Webb, UHS pediatrics chief executive officer said he does not yet know what specialty clinics will be offered.
"The goal is to build a facility that we can expand and can be flexible so that as the community grows and the need for services grow, we can grow that building and we can grow that project," he said.
He said construction for the clinic is slated to begin early next year.
Eastside Promise Neighborhood (EPN) Director Tony Leverett said education is vital for the revitalization of the Eastside. He said through various initiatives like Kinder Camp, the Family, Friends, and Neighbors Network, and partnerships with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio and the Martinez Street Women's Center, EPN has developed Educational resources for students and families.
"What we are trying to do for this neighborhood is not about one person, it's not about one organization, but its about a community coming together to help the Eastside be a part of San Antonio and to make San Antonio a vibrant and rich community and for those that come here to make it a neighborhood of choice," Leverett said.
*Featured/top image: Attendees enter into the the Spire at Historic Sunset Station. Photo by Joan Vinson.