Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Now that the San Antonio Independent School District has chosen Broadway SA Investors as the buyer for its five-acre property bordering the historic Lavaca neighborhood, residents and business owners say they are looking forward to what’s coming, even though that's a great unknown, even to the developers.
Broadway SA Investors is the real estate arm of Silver Ventures, the equity investment firm owned by billionaire Kit Goldsbury that transformed an abandoned industrial site into the mixed-use success story known as the Pearl.
Home to the Culinary Institute of America, the acclaimed Hotel Emma, two dozen popular restaurants and bars, upscale residential and office space, the 22-acre Pearl development was named a Global Award Excellence Winner last year by the Urban Land Institute. It has been a catalyst for investment and development along Broadway Street and into the Government Hill neighborhood.
Many expect nothing less from this new development in Southtown, although Lavaca Neighborhood Association President Cherise Rohr-Allegrini is quick to say this project is not “Southtown Pearl.”
“That might scare people,” she said. “This [tract] isn’t the size of the Pearl, but given that Silver Ventures has done a project like the Pearl, we know they are very in tune with restoring historic buildings and also very conscious of working with the neighborhood.”
At .79 acres, the smaller of the two lots that Broadway SA purchased in Lavaca is zoned for residential use. Broadway SA Investors said it would either develop homes on this lot to fit the neighborhood or partner with or sell to a home developer to do the same.
The other, at the corner of Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Alamo Street, is 3.95 acres zoned for office use. That lot already has been earmarked for a multipurpose development and Broadway SA said that it could perhaps serve as a special entrance to the Southtown neighborhoods of Lavaca and King William.
"We have no immediate plans for this site and it could be years before anything is done," said Bill Shown, Silver Ventures’ managing director of real estate. "Until we talk to you, nothing's happening. Just because there’s a void doesn't mean there are any machinations behind it. We've spent 16 years [developing] the Pearl. We take a long time."
When SAISD trustees chose Broadway SA’s $14.5 million offer over four other bidders on Feb. 20, the agreement allowed the district to continue using the property for a little more than two years as it works to build a consolidated central facility elsewhere.
That timetable also gives Broadway SA Investors time to work with stakeholders in the area on how the land, which includes two historic buildings, is developed.
“The historic buildings on this SAISD property represent the history and character of Lavaca as well as serve as the gateway into our neighborhood,” Rohr-Allegrini wrote in a statement following last week’s announcement. “Silver Ventures has indicated the redevelopment of this property will be a slow and thoughtful process that will involve the neighborhood communities.”
The developers will meet with Lavaca neighbors on March 20, she stated. “They are very open. They don’t have any specific plans yet. We feel pretty confident they will continue to work with the neighborhood community to develop something that is definitely thoughtful and in keeping with the neighborhood character as well as being on the border to downtown.”
Rohr-Allegrini is hoping for more retail development rather than restaurants, plus a mix of housing types. “It’s more important for residents to have the elements of daily living within walking distance, and right now, we don’t have that so much,” she said. “We’re not a hotel district and don’t want to be. We’re not a tourist zone. We’re the oldest neighborhood in San Antonio. We want to preserve the area for residents.
“We, as a neighborhood association, will definitely push to have a certain percentage of any apartment dwelling to be workforce housing and market-rate housing, a mix similar to what we have in other developments in the neighborhood.”
Stephen Yndo has lived and worked in the area since 1983. He owns a commercial real estate firm with offices on South Alamo Street and specializes in the acquisition, disposition, and development of mixed-use properties.
“They are absolutely the best possible buyer, in my opinion,” he said of Broadway SA Investors. “One, they are local and … second, Silver Ventures, by virtue of who they are, has the financial wherewithal to not be driven by short-term deadlines and short-term returns, which is typically the enemy of good development.”
Yndo, who serves on a working group of Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s Housing Policy Task Force, feels the development is a win for residents and the livability of the neighborhood even as it heralds an increase in property values and taxes.
“The way the [state] tax code is written, it hampers a city’s ability to cap values in a neighborhood where things are rapidly progressing or do any of the things we need to protect home values,” he said. “The only way to lower taxes is to throw bricks in the window. The neighborhood is either getting better or worse. There’s no stasis, and when things improve, taxes are going to go up.”
He also pointed out an additional benefit to the surrounding area: SAISD is getting $14.5 million from the sale. “If we’re ever going to solve some of our problems in the inner city relative to poverty, taxes, and housing, the only way to solve that is with money, and that money comes from development in our district.”
Rohr-Allegrini said the Lavaca Neighborhood Association also will work to ensure no one is pushed out by rising property taxes. “It’s a worry because it’s always a worry, but the new development isn’t going to change that,” she said.
Michael Berrier, who for 33 years has owned a Lavaca home listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said he is excited about the development, based on what he has seen at the Pearl. His only concern how traffic and parking will be managed.
“I know that Mr. Goldsbury and Mr. Shown will respect our small, historical neighborhood. And I know that our political leaders will do so as well,” he said.
As the property to be developed sits directly across from Hemisfair’s Yanaguana Garden, the site is part of the Hemisfair Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ), which will provide partial funding needed to develop and support the future operations of the nonprofit Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation.
“We are very hopeful, because it is the team at Silver Ventures that will be doing the project, that it will be something very thoughtful and congruous with our efforts at Hemisfair, so that will be good for the park,” said Andres Andujar, CEO of Hemisfair.
“The other point is, because the TIRZ is dedicated to bringing funding for the maintenance and operation of the park, knowing this team does things well – including good financial decision-making – the value of the development will be such that there will be good contribution toward the park operation.”
Andrew Goodman, co-owner with Stefan Bowers of Rebelle at the St. Anthony Hotel, as well as Southtown restaurants Feast and the fire-station-turned-eatery Battalion, which sits adjacent to the SAISD property, had heard rumors of the sale in December. When the buyer was announced, Goodman said he texted his neighbor Shown his congratulations and suggested they start talking about future plans.
“We are pretty happy it’s Silver Ventures, because everything we’ve seen them do is first class,” Goodman said. “And they’ve engaged the community [in discussion]. If not, that could be a disaster for the area. They are going to be very respectful and that’s going to be positive for all of us.”
King William Neighborhood Association President Chris Price said he hasn’t heard much talk – positive or negative – among residents about the development yet. The Lavaca property lies just east of King William and west of Denver Heights.
“I think they obviously have been highly successful at the Pearl and surrounding areas, so I think that speaks well for what they are capable of doing and their vision for this property,” he said.
Goldsbury, the Pearl visionary, is CEO of Silver Ventures and also started the San Antonio-based Goldsbury Foundation in 1996.
The private family foundation focuses its contributions on a culinary education program for children, according to its website, and City Education Partners, a nonprofit that provides grants to public schools, including SAISD's Advanced Learning Academy in downtown San Antonio.
Christine Viña is an urban planner and architect who has lived in Southtown neighborhoods for 22 years and served as executive director of Southtown Urban Main Street Program, a nonprofit revitalization effort, from 1996-2000. She said that area residents and stakeholders have a longstanding tradition of active urban-planning engagement and will be a great resource for the development team.
"This development is one of the last large assemblies of land in the neighborhood for the foreseeable future," Viña said. "It is important that the ‘right’ development responds in scale and massing to the single-family character of Lavaca ... as well as to Hemisfair, and the important public realm between them – in other words, how the development addresses Cesar Chavez at the pedestrian scale."
Few seem to doubt that won't happen. “I felt a huge sense of optimism and relief knowing this property was going into the right hands,” said Laura Clark-Arguijo of Urban Nest Realty, when she first heard of the agreement. “There’s not a development group in the city that holds higher esteem than Silver Ventures.”
Clark-Arguijo, who specializes in residential real estate in the Lavaca and King William areas, said every person she has talked to – even some of the developers whose bids were not accepted – is excited about what Silver Ventures will do with the property.
“I expect the project to be as engaging for this community as the Pearl has been,” she said. “It is a huge deal. Having a project like this south of downtown says volumes.”