The old turbine hall at the former Mission Road power plant is being reimagined as a grand entrance/hall at the EPIcenter.
The old turbine hall at the former Mission Road power plant is being reimagined as a grand entrance/hall at the EPIcenter. Credit: Courtesy / Lake|Flato Architects

Southside residents living near the planned EPIcenter got their first look Monday at the newest conceptual renderings on a project that will turn a century-old former power plant into a place for clean energy innovation and development.

Welcoming about 100 people to the Freetail Brewing Co. taproom on South Presa Street, EPIcenter officials held the first of what they said will be many meetings to keep neighbors and stakeholders updated on the project, and to get feedback and ideas.

The EPIcenter will operate as a nonprofit and be accessible to the community, including educators, CEO Kimberly Britton said.

Aside from showcasing the latest in sustainable technologies and renewable energies, the 80,000-sq.-ft. EPIcenter will accommodate startup businesses and nonprofit groups concentrating on the advancement of clean and renewable energy science.

“We’re creating a hub for innovation in a 100-year-old power plant on the banks of the San Antonio River,” Britton said.

A view of the new EPIcenter from Mission Road. The seven-story structural skeleton, which once housed the power plant’s boiler, will have platforms providing visitors views of the surrounding landscape. Credit: Courtesy / Lake Flato

The former Mission Road power plant was decommissioned in 2003. The plan to rehabilitate the site and transform it into the EPIcenter is essentially a startup on its own, Britton explained, as the staff that includes herself, two full-time employees, and two interns. They currently operate an office for EPIcenter’s planned startup incubator out of Geekdom. Britton, a former San Antonio Museum of Art executive, joined the EPIcenter project in 2016.

The total cost to build out the EPIcenter is estimated at $74.5 million. So far more than $21 million have been raised through initial seed money from project partners. The goal is to complete work by 2021.

EPIcenter developers are exploring a range of options for funding, including state and federal tax credits, the public and private sector, and both local and global philanthropic organizations.

Officials said construction will take place in phases, with some work beginning with the first “critical mass” of funding.

“That way we could start work sooner than later,” Britton said.

EPIcenter organizers are also looking at alternative, more immediate sources of funding and for long-term community support. Britton announced the launch of a so-called “power network” membership group where benefits increase for members over time. Membership will be free to educators and begin at $25 per year for other individuals and groups.

EPIcenter officials will also initiate a “neighbors” program, which will be free to residents and property owners in the adjacent 78210 and 78204 zip codes. Stakeholders will be able provide feedback and receive updates about what’s happening in and around the EPIcenter, including community events and programing.

Also on the agenda is the development of a network of regional and global advisory councils, with individuals, businesses, and organizations representative of clean energy technology partaking.

The EPIcenter’s programming and design will welcome all parts of the community, Britton said.

The site plan for the EPIcenter on Mission Road. Credit: Courtesy / Lake|Flato Architects

“It’ll be designed to be accessed by the public as much as possible,” she added.

Bob Harris, a partner at Lake|Flato Architects, walked the crowd at Freetail through the designs for the project. The structure of the power plant “is in pretty good shape” given its age, he said, and the idea is to preserve and improve the plant while paying homage to its history and connection to the community.

“We think there’s a great platform to build off of,” he said.

The design will include an abundance of landscaping so the property can integrate with the nearby river and its trails.

“People recreating on the river and the trails can come up right on the site,” Harris said.

Designers are adding an entry point from Mission Road so vehicles bound for the EPIcenter will not impede the rest of the flow of traffic.

Harris said there is plenty of flexible space on the interior that could be utilized for an auditorium for conferences and public events, educational exhibits and presentation areas, collaborative work spaces, and a fabrication laboratory, or “FAB Lab.” An outdoor activity venue also is planned.

There will be opportunities for small-scale on-site food service, as well as an area to exhibit pieces preserved from the former power plant. A community room will be accommodating to school groups and neighborhood associations, too.

The EPIcenter will be equipped with solar power panels, as well features that will slow down and filter water heading toward the river, recycling that water to irrigate the landscaping. The building already has a 33,000-gallon cistern to help catch water. Additionally, natural lighting will be plentiful throughout the EPIcenter’s interior.

Project partners are looking into further sustainable technologies, such as small wind turbines, Britton said.

“We’ll look at several different sources to ensure it’s there for educational and experimentation purposes, but also for power generation,” she said.

A few attendees had questions, but nobody expressed serious concern or opposition to the project. Rather, many neighborhood residents are enthusiastic about the abandoned Southside power plant being turned into a place for education, technological innovation, and economic development.

“I feel elated. I can hardly believe we’re this fortunate,” said Joan Carabin, a longtime community organizer with the Lavaca Neighborhood Association. “The neighborhood is truly supportive.”

Martha Henry of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association inquired about parking and traffic, as well pedestrian and vehicular access to EPIcenter from across the river.

Britton said the plan is for 300 parking spaces to accommodate EPIcenter employees, members, and visitors. She also noted the opportunity to establish one pedestrian and one vehicular bridge to link neighborhoods on the other side of the river with the EPIcenter site.

Responding to Henry’s concern that barriers around the site would be prohibitive to community members, even for those just accessing the river and not necessarily the EPIcenter, Britton pledged that the surrounding area, including the river, would be accessible to all. Fencing around the grounds would only serve to provide aroundo-the-clock security for the center’s employees.

Henry said her neighborhood association is happy with the EPIcenter’s outreach efforts.

“The fact that it has such a strong educational component is really thrilling for us, and that they’ve engaged us is great,” she added.

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.