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San Antonio’s Southside has always and will always represent the past, present, and future of the city, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) said Tuesday, pointing to the number of initiatives, historical landmarks, and new developments in the area that have contributed to the “bright and transformative state of District 3.”
While much of that “transformative” growth can be attributed to the July 2015 UNESCO World Heritage designation of the Alamo and the city’s Spanish-colonial Missions – which are located in District 3 – she added, “this new era … in our history is really about so much more.
“It is about the role the businesses and the people of District 3 will play in a great city that’s growing by leaps and bounds and how we confront the challenges that come with that growth,” Viagran told a group of about 200 people at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel during the South San Antonio Chamber‘s State of District 3 Address Tuesday. Over the past three years, the Southside has welcomed new community centers, companies, institutions, and other developments, making it a burgeoning part of the city.
These developments and more are what make the Southside “San Antonio’s strong side,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor, who introduced Viagran to the group before her address.
As a Convention and Visitors Bureau commissioner, Viagran hopes that the public-private entity’s new, modernized structure and newly-appointed board will be able to more effectively represent San Antonio in an authentic way. The Missions are a large part of that image and are “a tremendous asset to the city,” Viagran said.
The City has allotted more than $2.5 million of the fiscal year 2017 budget to the World Heritage sites and the surrounding area to create incentives for existing legacy businesses and better the location’s infrastructure that has long been backlogged.
Over the past year, Viagran’s district office has spearheaded an effort, along with the City’s World Heritage Director Colleen Swain and other stakeholders, to create a World Heritage work plan that will lay the guidelines for sensitive growth and development within the World Heritage buffer zone. Public input and collaboration among long-time community members and the City have shown that a priority for this historic area is maintaining its authenticity, Viagran said.
The City will host two more land use amendment meetings this month, which will give members of the public another opportunity to voice their opinions on the development surrounding the World Heritage area.
Improving mobility throughout the Southside and the Mission buffer zone is another priority as the district continues to grow, welcoming more tourists looking to experience the historic part of the city. In June, VIA Metropolitan Transit unveiled the new VIVA Missions route which provides service to all four Missions and the Alamo. The new public transit route allows more residents and visitors to travel from downtown to the Southside and stay in the area to shop, dine, and visit the historical sites and the Mission Reach, where people frequently hike, bike, and kayak on the river.
Coming projects that will draw more residents and visitors to the Southside include the new linear park, The Greenline, that will connect the San Antonio River to Brooks City Base on the Southeast side. Brooks City Base broke ground on the 43-acre park last week and the first phase of building is slated for completion in the fall of 2017.
The nearby community is already anticipating the six-story Embassy Suites Hotel, which will be the Southside’s first and only full service hotel. Prior to Viagran’s address, several South San Antonio Chamber officials said that the new hotel will allow for the State of District 3 Address and similar gatherings to take place on the Southside.
As the chair of the City’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, Viagran also spoke to the recently approved contract between the City and the San Antonio Police Officers Association.
“This will bring costs for the City under control and allows us to plan for the future, including bringing more officers into our communities,” she said. “It also brings up resources (that) we can use to build sidewalks so our children can safely walk to their schools.”
Viagran also mentioned her role in opening a more modern Animal Care Services (ACS) facility at Brooks City Base, as well as implementing more ACS bike patrols to rescue stray animals along the creeks and trailways.
“For years, only a few were aware of the economic opportunities in the South and the Southeast side,” Viagran said, but with the additions mentioned above and the prospect of others, the Southside has become more economically competitive. Just this year, she added, the neighborhood has seen more than $60 million in economic investment.
The continued evolution of Stinson Municipal Airport brings more opportunities, and Viagran stood by her commitment to provide the area with more funds to improve parking and signage around Stinson, and utilize the State’s help to create a new traffic control tower for the airport.
Another large part of the increased economic investment on the Southside is due to new businesses planting roots in the area. Viagran credited Brooks City Base as “a leader in attracting new businesses that continue to generate good paying jobs. It serves as a beacon that attracts everything from international and domestic manufacturing companies to institutions of higher learning,” she said.
HOLT CAT and Toyota Texas Manufacturing are two key companies on the Southside that lead in job creation and workforce development. Viagran said that she will reamin focused on retaining such businesses and expanding them for the benefit of the entire community. Organizations such as SA Works, a public-private workforce development coalition, also will help “identify the skill gaps (and) the underemployed, and work together to educate our workforce that will keep our businesses competitive.”
The new University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine and Texas A&M-San Antonio, which is the fastest growing university in Texas, Viagran said, are helping breathe new life into the Southside, making it a prosperous and vibrant location for college students and educators alike. A&M-San Antonio officially welcomed its first freshman class as a four-year institution in August and recently broke ground on its new residence hall, the Esperanza Hall.
Having access to quality education in both of these institutions – and in the neighborhood’s Pre-K 4 SA elementary, middle, and high schools – is essential to furthering the Southside’s economic and workforce development, Viagran said, since the various sectors are “interconnected.”
“If our schools are quality schools, families will move into your neighborhoods. If our workforce is educated, skilled businesses will move into our area. If our neighborhoods and our areas stay vibrant our seniors can age in the communities they’ve called home all their lives,” she said. “That further increases the need for more single-family and multi-family housing and small businesses to meet the demand.”
The Southside also recently broke ground on a new YMCA, which will bring more education and opportunities for healthy living to the area.
(Read more: New YMCA to Bring More Life, Learning to Southside)
The continued advancement of the Southside, Viagran said, also depends on its inclusion in City strategic plans, such as SA Tomorrow. The southern sector of District 3 is now in its third year of limited purpose annexation. Brooks City Base, Port San Antonio, and A&M-San Antonio are all identified in the City’s SA Tomorrow plan as “key regional areas,” Viagran said, but are not included in the Phase 1 implementation plan.
“I was extremely disappointed that City staff has not included any of the south regional centers in Phase 1 of the implementation plan,” she said. “Decisions such as these are why San Antonio continues to be the most economically segregated city in the United States.”
By moving one of the south “key regional areas,” specifically Brooks City Base, to Phase 1 implementation, Viagran said, the City could more adequately address San Antonio’s economic disparities and bring about more balanced growth.
Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor (right) extends her hand as she welcomes Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) to the stage. Photo by Scott Ball.