Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The Public Theater of San Antonio has begun a capital campaign with the goal of expanding its footprint within its Alta Vista neighborhood.
A preliminary concept for a new three-story building on the corner of Ashby and Flores streets, across from the Public Theater’s current location in San Pedro Park, was presented to the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association (AVNA) on Wednesday.
The new building would help the Public Theater increase capacity for audiences and productions and raise its income and profile, said George Green, chief executive officer and artistic director.
Green is entering his third year at the helm of the 106-year-old community theater. The expansion project began almost immediately upon his arrival, he said. “We knew we needed more space,” he said, to expand outreach and education programs, construct new administrative offices, and accommodate more productions in its annual schedule.
The expansion is on an estimated five-year timeline, with a projected “brick and mortar” budget of $4 million to $6 million, Green said. The company is currently in a “soft phase” of fundraising, seeking only private donations as the Public Theater enlists AVNA support for its plans.
As presently designed, the building would house two new performance spaces – a black box theater and a “shoebox” theater – to increase programming, seating, and ticketing capacity, as well as scheduling flexibility. The nonprofit organization currently operates on a $1.4 million annual budget.
The design of architect Marcello Martinez, principal of 1718 Architecture, incorporates the façade of a historic gas station that several AVNA members have deemed an important neighborhood fixture.
The corner site at 741 W. Ashby Pl. dates back to a mid-1920s filling station permit request from Humble Oil, though current Bexar County Appraisal District records indicate the concrete exterior wall was constructed in 1950. Real estate site Zillow identifies the gas station’s design as “Art Deco,” and the building’s most recent occupant was Pho Sure, a Vietnamese restaurant that closed in 2017. The building has not yet received official historic designation from the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC), Green said, and is not located within a historic overlay district, according to the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP).
After Green’s arrival, the Public Theater acquired the adjoining property at 725 W. Ashby Pl. via donation, and demolished a residential house on the plat to make way for the new building. The property grade would be lowered to street level so the height of the new structure would not exceed 36 feet.
The lot at 741 W. Ashby Pl. is currently zoned for commercial use, which limits construction to two stories. The property at 725 W. Ashby Pl. is zoned for office use and as an Infill Development Zone (IDZ), so the Public Theater is seeking to combine the two plots and rezone them as IDZ to accommodate flexible use and the proposed three-story height.
Aside from preserving the integrity of the existing historic structure, AVNA members cited concerns that increased parking would negatively affect neighborhood residents. Continued use of the theater’s current municipal parking lot allayed the parking issues, but pedestrian safety in crossing Ashby Place then becomes an issue, both the theater and AVNA agree.
During a Thursday site visit with representatives of the Public Theater, 1718 Architecture, and the AVNA, preserving the historic gas station appeared to be the most contentious issue, though representatives of AVNA voiced general support for the theater group’s expansion.
Initial public hearings with the Planning and Zoning commissions are scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 1 p.m., respectively, held at the Development and Business Services Center, 1901 S. Alamo St.