With plans advancing to redevelop the long-vacant Lone Star Brewery at the same time other nearby infill development projects are progressing, the energy and verve that define Southtown appears to be migrating farther south along and near the San Antonio River.
Jacek Materna, chief technology officer at Assembla, a San Antonio-based digital project host for designers and programmers, moved his family moved to Southtown in May. Materna embraces the urban living philosophy of working, living and playing in the same part of the city.
“If you look at where San Antonio is heading, the the work we’re doing with Tech Bloc, a lot of the recent turn related to people looking at the livability aspects in downtown, Southtown has got the right ingredients," Materna said. "It’s got the restaurants, it’s got the housing, it’s got all of the amenities for urban living. You can walk everywhere; (you can go) bike riding with the kids. It’s just the kind of a family-friendly environment for what I consider to be important.”
The prospect of a redeveloped Lone Star Brewery and the area’s potential for even greater growth convinced Materna to invest in one of several Southtown/Lone Star projects by developer Efraim Varga of Varga Endeavors. He is currently working on two projects across the street from one another at the intersection of Lotus Avenue and South Presa Street. One development, Sunglo Urban Homes, will be built on the lot of a long-vacant gas station and will consist of 10 stand-alone residential units. The other venture, Lotus Urban Homes, will be 17 smaller, attached units.
Varga also is building 28 affordable townhomes at 519 Roosevelt Ave. on the site of the former Rolling Home Trailer Courts south of Brackenridge High School. He, too, sees the planned Lone Star redevelopment having a domino effect and attracting more developers into the area just south of the traditional Southtown boundaries and into the Lone Star community – which falls inside the boundaries of Southtown The Arts District.
“Everybody is looking forward to Lone Star. It will be bigger, in terms of acreage, compared to the Pearl (development),” Varga said in a phone interview on June 8. “There will be a lot of smaller infill, high density developments.”
Austin-based Aqualand Developments, the Lone Star developer, has not publicly disclosed its plans, but company representatives recently addressed meetings of the King William Association and Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association and said the property would include local and national brand businesses and restaurants, residential units for lease, and live/work spaces. There will not be any box stores and the development will be pedestrian and bicycle friendly while also providing enough parking that customers will not have to park on nearby residential streets.
Varga expects that the first phase of his Southtown urban home developments will open late this year. But he isn’t quite ready to call it quits on land acquisition in the neighborhood.
“My eyes are always open, and I’m buying up everything I can,” Varga said.
"One of the things that’s great about this group of developers is that they’ve been very open with the public. They’ve been great about hearing suggestions and memories from people about what (the brewery) was like when it was still open," Gonzales said. "I haven’t heard anything negative from the community because (the developers) have been very open with the public."
Gonzales expects the development to be a highly walkable community. She said that while the Pearl is a great example of such a community, Lone Star will be different.
"We're not trying to be like the Pearl. We want it to be part of the existing fabric of the community," Gonzales said.
In addition to the redevelopment of the buildings, Gonzales is looking forward to the new park spaces, restaurants and diverse residential developments.
"This is an opportunity to have mixed housing. We need all of it—we need workforce housing, we need three-bedroom condos on the higher end, and urban 'tiny' places for students and seniors," Gonzales said.
Clay Street Homes, a 32-unit single family development by PSW Real Estate at 330 Clay St. in the Lone Star neighborhood, is currently under construction. The two-acre project includes two- and three-bedroom homes with pedestrian pathways throughout to encourage residents to interact with the community and the city.
“We are passionate about growing our cities in an urban way, in a way that promotes pedestrian-friendly communities, strengthens communities with home ownership, and is an overall benefit to the sustainable future of our communities and our cities,” PSW lead developer Ross Wilson said.
Wilson said that company is excited to see what effect the development will have on District 5 as the area sees increased revitalization. Gonzales agreed that the area needs a greater diversity of housing and that single-family homes will offer an alternative to the large apartment complexes that seem to dominate the urban core's new developments.
“This is one of the first single-family residential projects we’ve seen here in a long time, (so it’s) contributing to the vibrancy and desirability of a community like this one,” Gonzales said in an interview Monday at the project's groundbreaking ceremony.
Michael Berrier, longtime owner of La Tuna Icehouse at 100 Probandt, doesn’t think the Lone Star development will have a direct impact on his business, but he sees the impact that population growth has had in the area.
“In terms of the new population, when I see people on the street, it’s a young crowd. It’s a pretty dramatic difference,” Berrier said.
Two new apartment complexes, Southtown Flats on Probandt and The Flats at Big Tex near the Blue Star Arts Complex, have brought energy to the heavily-industrial area south of South Alamo Street. Vandals opposed to The Flats at Big Tex have used the Mission Reach river path to tag exterior walls and break windows at the development that is still under construction.
“The increased residential development in the area is creating a denser environment,” Berrier said in a phone interview. “For a long time, there’s been significant investment in restoring older homes in the area — something that I think is not always recognized. Probandt is an example of an emerging urban street, and the city is, perhaps, not out in front of development with changes to infrastructure.”
Intense development, while on the horizon, is arriving in waves. Berrier also wants to see the high architectural quality of the Pearl project upheld with the Lone Star Brewery and throughout Southtown.
The former CPS Energy power plant across the river from the old brewery is also undergoing redevelopment. EPIcenter, an energy museum and think-tank for industry research and innovation at the site of the old power plant, was announced in 2015. Its planned completion date has not yet been released.
Gonzales reiterated that she hopes to address concerns over Probandt Street's lack of sidewalks and its need for infrastructure upgrades with the 2017 city bond.
Berrier, who has seen Southtown change enormously since his ice house was erected in 1992, said infrastructure is his main concern with the growth in Southtown and Lone Star neighborhoods.
“New development is welcome, but we need the infrastructure to keep up with it,” Berrier said.
Aqualand Development, which owns 34 acres of the 60-acre Lone Star site with the option to buy the remaining acreage in the future, has yet to begin major renovations. Changes will require approval by the Historic and Design Review Commission due to the site’s landmark status and its situation within the river improvement district.
Top image: Now owned by Aqualand Developments, the company has plans to redevelop the former Lone Star Brewery site. Photo by Sarah Talaat.