Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The Church issued a request for interest (RFI) on Monday, asking for "creative solutions" that could satisfy its need for more revenue and activity from its properties on the southwest corner of Navarro and Travis streets.
The mid-19th century sanctuary building is not up for redevelopment, but the Church hopes to renovate and activate the surrounding three buildings and adjacent parking lot into a "win-win-win" for the Church, a development partner, and the City, said Brock Curry, a longtime member of the congregation.
"I've lost count of the number of meetings where we agonize over space that we're not using and how we could use it differently," said Curry, who chairs the Church's building committee. Currently the three buildings are used for only a few hours each week.
Church officials are keeping their minds open to all possibilities and partnerships that could involve a sale, leasing opportunities, joint venture, or "really anything," he said.
Responses to the RFI, which can be downloaded here, are due by July 31.
Partial demolition, renovation, modification of existing buildings, and new construction are possibilities, but any exterior changes must first be approved by the Historic and Design Review Commission.
Preference will be given to like-minded applicants, Curry said.
Travis Park United Methodist is widely known for its focus on inclusivity and its work with San Antonio's most vulnerable populations. With a strong congregation of almost 1,000 people, it regularly stands in solidarity with the LGBTQIA community and provides prayer services to more than 200 every week. Corazon Ministries, Inc., which was founded at the Church in 1999 to support the homeless and marginalized, serves an average of 250 homeless and low-income individuals at its weekly Sunday breakfast.
Pawn shops, cocktail bars, quickie loans, and drive-thrus are listed in the RFI as prohibited uses.
Affordable office space for nonprofits, low-cost housing, daycare facilities, and "companies that are more aligned with or at least not diametrically opposed to our stance” on civil rights and social justice issues are more likely to succeed, Curry said. "But I don't think our building committee wants to cast that net so narrowly."
The Church has an opportunity to take advantage of the increased investment in downtown over the past several years to sustain and possibly enhance its community offerings, Curry said.
The sanctuary overlooks a recent investment by the City: Travis Park itself. Surrounded by bus stops, churches, office buildings, and hotels, the park was once a safe bet to score drugs or a place to sleep. After an initial $500,000 revitalization project and continued programming, the City wants the park to be a place where families and professionals can have lunch or see a performance.
Curry is confident that – whatever the outcome may be – redevelopment won't negatively affect any of the Church's existing programs or services.
"What we’re doing right now is the easy part," he said. "The hard part is when we get some ideas and have to make decisions.”
Founded in 1846, Travis Park United Methodist Church was once a hub, hosting regional Methodist conferences and ordinations. Until the mid-20th century, it was the largest congregation in South Central Texas. It started acquiring the buildings surrounding it in the early 1900s. But as downtown grew around the Church and residents migrated to the suburbs, its congregation shrunk and its demographics changed.
"By the mid-1990s, our numbers were just a fraction of the church's 'glory days,' and we realized our demographics didn't really match that of our community. Rather than closing our doors like a lot of other downtown congregations around the country had done, we chose to open our doors to those in our midst: the homeless and those living on the margins of society," Curry said. "This outreach led to a broader vision of inclusiveness for all people and a focus on social justice. We feel called to be here in downtown San Antonio and hope this redevelopment effort will allow us to continue to meet the needs of the community."
The buildings are typically vacant and need various repairs and upgrades to be brought up to code for new tenants, Curry said.
Part of the RFI calls for a parking plan that should include access to at least 200 spaces – through partnerships with nearby garages, construction of a new one, or other creative ideas. Anything that doesn't cut off the Church's access to parking will be entertained, Curry said, and he emphasized that the Church is open to hearing any and all innovative suggestions and solutions.
"We don't want to presume or throw any ideas away," he said.