Scott Ball / Rivard Report
USAA could bring 1,500 jobs to San Antonio, invest at least $70 million in building and garage improvements at its two downtown office towers, and allow some public access to hundreds of parking spaces if City Council approves a $6 million incentive package, company and City officials said Wednesday.
Some of the 1,500 jobs could be newly hired employees or current workers moved to San Antonio from other USAA hubs over the next five years, City and company officials explained.
City officials described the package, which includes a tax abatement and the eventual move of 2,000 USAA employees downtown, as “an economic leadership move,” one that bolsters their sell of the city and especially of downtown as desirable real estate to employers both inside and outside San Antonio.
“This is a win all the way around for the city,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley told the Rivard Report Wednesday. The investment would be a game changer, she added, and will signal to other companies that downtown San Antonio is “ready for more.”
City Council will vote on the proposal on Thursday, Dec. 14 during its regular meeting.
Improving parking in a downtown beset by crowded garages is also a highlight of the plan. If approved by Council, the deal would require USAA to provide public access to up to 1,200 parking spaces on weeknights and weekends at the garages at its two downtown offices – at One Riverwalk Place and at the Bank of America Financial Services Center at 300 Convent St.
It also would require the company to invest $70 million in improvements to the two buildings and to an expanded One Riverwalk Place parking garage.
However, bringing jobs and more workers downtown is also key, Sculley said. USAA would receive a $4 million economic development loan and a $2 million or 10-year tax abatement. The 5-year loan, which would come from the City’s economic and parking incentive funds, can be forgiven at a rate of “$4,000 for each net new job created that has a base salary of $50,000,” said Lori Houston, assistant city manager.
Those could be new hires or relocated employees, said Matthew Hartwig, USAA communications director. The company will look to hire locally, but “as far as where the candidates come from … we want to hire the best available people we can find,” be they from San Antonio or elsewhere.
USAA’s corporate headquarters are located in northwest San Antonio, at 9800 Fredericksburg Rd., and it has several other offices in the San Antonio area. It has about 19,000 employees in the region.
“San Antonio is our home and we are pleased to play a part in the city’s continued growth,” Stuart Parker, USAA’s chief executive officer, stated in a news release. “Our members’ needs are constantly evolving. Expanding in the city’s center allows us greater access to employees with the skills and talents we need to best serve our members.”
Even before the planned expansion at One Riverwalk Place, the details of which are pending, the two downtown garages have about 1,200 parking spots that will be available to the public, Houston said. Employees will have exclusive access during the day, but parking will switch to public after 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, after 6 p.m. on Friday, and all day on Saturday and Sunday.
“One of our goals in the city is to not create new parking garages but to leverage the existing assets we have,” Houston said. “The greenest parking garage is the one that already exists.”
USAA has 200 employees located at One Riverwalk Place, which USAA Real Estate Company purchased in 2013, and already has plans to add 400 workers there in 2018. Pending Council approval, the deal could bring USAA’s total downtown workforce up to 2,000, Hartwig said, but it’s not yet clear if the company will completely fill the two towers.
“There are [other] tenants in the buildings right now, and [USAA Real Estate Company] will continue to provide services under their leases,” he said.
Further details about USAA’s downtown workforce plan and garage expansion are pending, Hartwig said, as are renovation plans for the two towers.
“Any time an employer as important as USAA grows its presence in a community, the positive effects can be felt by everyone,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a news release.
USAA, which has nearly 32,000 employees worldwide, could choose to expand anywhere, said Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and chief executive officer of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. “They chose downtown and continue to invest in San Antonio and growing those jobs here … This sends a strong signal to other companies and organizations.”
Saucedo-Herrera and the economic development team could use USAA as an example to attract even more investment. Recent moves by Hulu, TJX Companies, and Ernst & Young are also part of San Antonio’s pitch, but USAA’s would be unique because of its major investment in downtown.
“This is so much bigger than parking,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “This quadrant of downtown is going to transform over the next few years.”
About six blocks away, the 23-story Frost Bank Tower is slated for completion in early 2019 as part of a deal that local development firm Weston Urban struck with the City and Frost Bank.Weston Urban has plans to build more than 260 new residential units in new and existing buildings in the area and will also renovate the nearby Milam office tower. The Alameda Theater will be brought back to life by 2020, officials say, with a redevelopment deal between the City, County, and Texas Public Radio. All this will happen within a stone’s throw of the tech business corridor emerging on East Houston Street.
The first phase of the $175 million redevelopment of the San Pedro Creek into a linear park, which flows near many of these projects, will also open in 2018.
“We love bringing new companies to San Antonio, but the majority of growth and good jobs comes from growing the employers that are already here,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff stated in a release.
For Houston, who has worked closely on the City’s “housing first” downtown development strategy, the move indicates that the strategy is working.
“Employers would not be interested” in moving downtown without housing, she said. The SA2020 goal for center city housing is 7,500 units by 2020. With more than 6,000 already completed, she’s confident they will surpass that goal.
So much so that the City is reevaluating its incentive policies, Sculley said, “to make sure we’re not over-incentivizing areas.”