The Rivard Report: Happy First Birthday to Us

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Robert RivardI am back on Broadway, heading toward downtown and then home to Southtown on my bike, exactly where we began one year ago, Feb. 13, when we launched the Rivard Report. Happy birthday to us. Year two, here we come.

Plenty has changed since we published our first article, “Urban Renaissance for San Antonio,” an unapologetically optimistic look at a fast-changing city. The city isn’t changing quickly enough for some, but for longtime observers, the pace of change is unmatched.

The Pearl

The Pearl, where city planning meets innovative urban development. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The Pearl Brewery, the city’s premier symbol of progressive development, is now a decade in the making. Its culinary profile grows at every turn. Chefs in training in white coats dot the landscape around the Culinary Institute of America. Blue Box Bar, Nao, Boiler House, The Granary ‘Cue & Brew, and Arcade Midtown Kitchen all opened in the last year, joining Andrew Weissman‘s Il Sogno Osteria and Sandbar and Johnny Hernandez‘s La Gloria.  New retail shops seem to open every month. A much-anticipated hotel is in the works.

The Can Plant is the newest apartment complex to open in a thriving Midtown District that now includes 1221 Broadway, 1800 Broadway and the Mosaic. Coming soon; the River House across from the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Brackenridge behind the future Children’s Museum, and more multi-family projects on the Pearl campus and across the river to the west. Together these projects represent the strongest growth in center city residential density.

The new South Texas Heritage Center at the Witte Museum has opened. Bulldozers have cleared away a defunct car dealership, making way for the new Children’s Museum coming by 2015. Farther south, the former Municipal Auditorium slowly takes shape as the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, another much-anticipated 2015 opening.

Downtown awaits its turn, with only the early signals of redevelopment at Hemisfair Park suggesting real transformation on the horizon. Too many boarded up ghost buildings dot the downtown landscape, too few real projects are underway. Life on the River Walk remains vibrant, mostly for the valuable convention and tourism industry, and Houston Street is doing the best its done in years. The new Centro Partnership is promising, but no one would say the “Decade of Downtown” is even close to being realized. Urban renaissance in the very heart of San Antonio is elusive.

Southtown is the other vibrant neighborhood bracketing downtown, infused with a continuing stream of newly arrived bike-riding millennials and empty-nester baby boomers moving south. There are fewer multi-family options here still, but Cevallos Lofts and surroundings, anchored by La Tuna and an expanding Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, is becoming its own community – if you can navigate the street detours due to construction.

La Tuna Ice House in Southtown, San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

La Tuna Ice House in Southtown, San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The SoFlo loft district is emerging from a four-year recession, and Hernandez’s Frutería at the Steelhouse Lofts with its glowing rooftop tower are emblematic of that artsy, tequila-infused resurgence. Other venues ranging from the Alamo Street Eat-Bar to Bliss and Bite have joined Le Frite, The Monterey, Rosario’s, Liberty Bar, Taco Haven and more in the ‘hood.

Full house at Bliss in Southtown. Photo by Robert Rivard.

Full house at Bliss in Southtown. Photo by Robert Rivard.

Locals have never had so many choices. Bliss may be the most successful restaurant launch in recent city history. The Monterey, meanwhile, has become a familiar and welcoming fixture, as if it’s red-finned coupe and blinking headlights have been beckoning us there for years. The Monty now hosts a spicy Asian startup called Hot Joy on Sunday and Monday evenings, a new restaurant with its own fast following still looking for a place to call home.

The Mission Reach of the San Antonio River will open by year’s end and the push for World Heritage Site status for the San Antonio Missions has begun in earnest. The redevelopment of the Lone Star Brewery remains a big question mark. Is there any other developer, here or elsewhere, with the resources and tenacity of Kit Goldsbury and Silver Ventures to remake the Lone Star on the San Antonio River?

Speaking of big questions, where’s the downtown grocery store?

Politically, Mayor Julián Castro’s successful passage of the Pre-K For SA early childhood education initiative is the best example of a new-found commitment to inner city public school investment, but like the long-range SA2020 initiative, it remains aspirational, an unproven  ambition.

Mayor Julián Castro

Mayor Julián Castro

That could serve as a metaphor for Castro himself, who has elevated San Antonio’s profile in a way not seen since Henry Cisneros put us on the map in the 1980s as mayor. Castro has resisted the siren call of Washington DC after serving as a high profile co-chairman of the Obama for America re-election campaign.  Even his prime time success as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention this summer has not led him to take his eye – too much – off the ball locally.

So, San Antonio is changing before our very eyes, but is it enough?

Change isn’t coming fast enough for many, we soon learned here after that initial story last February. The first article provoked an almost immediate counterpoint from former Lake/Flato architects who had departed for life and work in Hamburg, Germany, deciding that their desire for a more progressive urban existence was best met by exercising their rights as dual citizens and decamping for Europe. (Read “San Antonio? ‘Not Anytime Soon‘” by Jeremy Fields and Heather Weiler.)

That alternative viewpoint, in turn, provoked others in this city to submit unsolicited articles exploring their own sense of San Antonio’s strengths and weaknesses, and we began to publish the periodic series, “Where I Live,” to allow contributors to profile their neighborhoods in their own intimate and personal way for readers who might never have visited those parts of the city or might be contemplating a move from the suburbs to the center city.

Contributor Collage 3 of 4

Where are you? Join us at 6 p.m. next Thursday, Feb. 21, at Alamo Street Eat Bar and pick up a Rivard Report T-shirt!

All to say we stumbled into what has become the hallmark of the Rivard Report: Inclusion and diversity. We give people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life the opportunity – many of them for the first times in their lives – to be published alongside journalists, professional communicators, elected officials, community leaders and others. In our fist year alone, we published more than 90 different people throughout the city.

We’ve published inner city volunteers, teachers and professors, students, artists, architects, Rackers, geeks, city council members, cyclists, environmentalists, urban naturalists, health and fitness professionals, and yes, conservatives. Dozens of people have received their first published byline on the Rivard Report, and more are working now on submissions we will publish in the coming weeks and months.

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Truly wonderful human beings.

Ever since we published the first slide show by Peter French, our homepage gallery has been a changing showcase for local photographers and their work. The photographs we’ve featured have ranged from art to architecture to animals to botanicals, from First Friday to Luminaria to the Stock Show and Rodeo.

One contributor told us that the Rivard Report is where baby boomers and millennials meet in San Antonio.  So be it. This city can only prosper when people reach across generational lines to make San Antonio a more vibrant place to live and work.

Contributor Collage 1 of 4

Don’t see your picture? Holler at us – we may have lost your photo and contact information somewhere along the way. Apologies, please send an email to iris@rivardreport.com

We’ve stuck to our original signature line: local, independent, and all about San Antonio. We could add one other important word: free. We’ve survived by the grace of our sponsors, like the 80/20 Foundation and H-E-B, and by a growing list of advertisers. We are a for-profit site that operates like a non-profit, putting all our resources back into content.

Our goal from the start has been to serve as a catalyst for a public conversation about this city’s growth and trajectory. We call it urban renaissance. One of our earliest supporters, Graham Weston, co-founder and chairman of Rackspace, talks about building a San Antonio that our children do not want to leave for opportunities found only elsewhere, a city where talented migrants want to come to live and work.  We share that view. Come home, boys and girls.

After 34 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, I also wanted to explore ways to write about public life and leadership in San Antonio in ways that focus as much on our winners as our losers, as much on our accomplishments as our shortcomings – in a way where criticism is constructive, where skepticism is healthy and doesn’t devolve into cynicism. That’s an approach some of my former colleagues dismiss, even deride, which is fine. That’s the beauty of the American marketplace. I am as entitled to my opinion as anyone else. In the end, readers decide if there is merit to what is published here, if a different approach is welcomed by enough people to support our mission.

We are not a newspaper. We don’t want to become one when we grow up. We want to serve as a catalyst for other like-minded individuals and entities who support better public education options in the inner city; a healthier, more active populace; stronger neighborhoods; a richer cultural life; and better-paying jobs and choices for our young and talented.

Monika Maeckle

Monika Maeckle (butterflies not pictured).

My name is on the site, but many labor here. Monika Maeckle, my wife, has been the backbone of our business operations even as she has tended her beat as an urban naturalist, master gardener, treehugger (especially the city’s heritage specimens) and monarch butterfly tagger.

The wonderfully talented Iris Dimmick, a transplant from Grand Junction, Colorado, has brought great visual energy to the site with her photography, and equal amounts of  youth and vibrancy to our content and our Facebook offerings.

Iris Dimmick, mentally preparing for the rodeo.

Iris Dimmick, mentally preparing for the rodeo. Photo by Lyndsay Yerbic.

She’s supposed to produce a first-person account of a newbie’s visit to the Stock Show and Rodeo next week, just FYI. Too bad we can’t get her to ride a bull with her camera in hand.

Freelance writers like Miriam Sitz, Bekah McNeel, Tom Trevino and gary s. whitford all have added great value to our weekly offerings. Their talents and dedication continue to impress us. We are honored to publish their hard work.

Many others who have contributed to the design, launch and operation of the site. You know who you are. Thanks to Nick Longo and Geekdom, our neighbors, for allowing an old newspaper man to morph and learn a new way of doing things. Who knows? Maybe I’m not to old to learn a little code.

The Rivard Report founding team. Don and Carolina, we are only here today because of your support and intellect. Thank you both! From Left: Don Dimick (no relation), Robert Rivard, Carolina Canizales and Monika Maeckle.

The Rivard Report founding team. Don and Carolina, we are only here today because of your support and intellect. Thank you both! From Left: Don Dimick (no relation), Robert Rivard, Carolina Canizales and Monika Maeckle.

The Rivard Report at one year is what it was at the outset: an imperfect proposition, a work in progress, different from anything else out there. We do think we fit a niche and offer something you will not find elsewhere. We’d love to hear from you, your suggestions for our second year. Feel free to share criticism of what we do or don’t do. We’re too young to go on the defensive.

By the way, it is party time: We’re inviting all our contributors, supporters and readers to join us next Thursday evening, Feb. 21, at the Alamo Street Eat-Bar to celebrate our first birthday, just a few days late. Word is there will be especially                                                                  good deals on beer. 

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Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.

 

Related Stories on the Rivard Report:

Labor of Love: The Rivard Report after 6 Months September 2012

Thanks to All of You For Reading — and WEARING — the Rivard Report December 2012

2012 in Review: Top Viewed RR Stories December 2012

About the Rivard Report February 2012

14 thoughts on “The Rivard Report: Happy First Birthday to Us

  1. The Rivard Report has fundamentally changed my perspective on San Antonio. Now that I have moved my business and residence to Southtown, it has reminded me of my responsibility to champion urban renaissance. I appreciate the support that The Rivard Report has given my photography studio and I am committed to its goals of putting San Antonio back on the map. Thank you for providing thought provoking and brave articles and I see the fabric of San Antonio changing before my eyes. You guys have a lot to do with this fabulous rebirth.

  2. You are indeed inclusionary and diverse. Each time I enjoy an article from you, I picture your open and intelligent faces—two of my favorites from my time spent in San Antonio.

    Well done, Bob and Monika……..and all those who contribute to your fine neighborhood news nibblets.

    You plant seeds everywhere and they sprout into beautiful flowers which nurture our imaginations and our environment. What a fine way to keep in touch with San Antonio, even while I enjoy my Hill Country home.

    Thanks from Sheila

  3. As you point out, there are lots of exciting things going on in San Antonio, and I find the Rivard Report itself an exciting development. Congratulations on reaching this milestone–may there be many more!

  4. I really appreciate what Mayor Castro is trying to get done in SA. It’s easy to see how he has become a very popular figure in the national politics landscape…because he has that kind of JFK-style visionary outlook on issues.

    I’ve had moments where I considered leaving San Antonio because I was discouraged by how a city that’s weathered the recession better than just about any other major city in the country can fall so far behind other major cities similar in population in terms of the urban core. The center city has long been neglected and ignored while the development has sprawled outwards. While I am not completely discouraging such type of development because I know how families (especially in the South) dream of owning their own parcel with a backyard in a sleepy cul-de-sac setting. However, when that becomes the only form of development, not only does it severely limit the choices for people who wish to live, work, and play within a short stone’s throw away from each other in a time when gas prices are high and funding for transportation enhancements cannot keep up with the growing demand for improvements on the highways, but it also contributes to the traffic congestion we have today like on 281, it strains the Edwards Aquifer and natural resources, and creates a very distinguishable imbalance in the distribution of wealth around the city. In SA, there’s two sectors: The North Side and then there’s everywhere else.

    While I often thought about leaving for a city that had more (and better) urban living options and accommodations, I am happy to see that things are starting to happen and that there is a real interest from powerful figures in the private sector like Graham Weston who want to see this through.

  5. Nice. The website and the community surrounding it is powerful. I can’t begin to think of the kind of strategy used for this project and I like the ecosystem of writers, the carefully placed advertisements and the technology behind it all.

    I loved the online discussions and I hope to be part of the San Antonio dialogue on the Rivard Report for years to come. Happy Birthday!

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