Amid a week of headlines at City Hall that included withdrawing funding of the streetcar project to City Council and getting a first look at the 2015 Proposed Capital and Operating Budget, the year's biggest proposed development project took a second step toward becoming reality.
Weston Urban CEO Randy Smith delivered a detailed financial project proposal within the city's 45-day deadline period for a major western downtown development on Friday.
The Weston Urban proposal includes development of a Class A downtown tower and 732-space parking garage that would become the new corporate headquarters of Frost Bank. The bank's current 22-story office tower would become home to City employees now working in five leased office spaces. The multi-block project will include at least 300 new residential units, restaurants, coffee shops, and other retail venues and street-level improvements.
Under the Weston Urban proposal, first presented in the last weeks of former Mayor Julián Castro's abbreviated third term, a multi-block area north of Main Plaza to West Travis Street and west of Soledad to North Santa Rosa Street,would see substantial redevelopment. The project proposal includes Weston Urban acquisition and redevelopment of the Municipal Plaza Building and Continental Hotel. The new tower would be built on the site of the current Frost Bank Motor Bank and parking lot.
The ambitious scope of the Weston Urban project has generated surprise among other center city developers that the proposal did not include a new headquarters site for CPS Energy, which has solicited proposals to consolidate its workforce and operations. Some have speculated that close proximity of City and CPS Energy offices might reduce costs and add weight to the proposed development with a concentration of local government and municipal utility offices in a part of downtown that has lagged in terms of attracting developer interest.
Weston Urban acquired the historic Rand Building from Frost Bank on East Houston Street in the same downtown quadrant last year, and intends to upgrade the eight-floor historic building after Frost back-office employees vacate it at the end of the year. The Rand's renovated seventh floor already houses Geekdom, the co-working space and technology incubator founded by Rackspace CEO and Chairman Graham Weston.
Other Geekdom-based enterprises, including the Rivard Report, still occupy the 10th floor of the Weston Centre and are scheduled to move to the Rand's renovated sixth floor in November.
"The City received a detailed proposal from the Weston Urban Frost Team, (and) per the guidelines, the City will post the proposal on the City's website and provide a copy to the City Clerk within 10 days of receipt," said Debbie Racca-Sittre, assistant director of the Transportation & Capital Improvements Department. "The purpose of posting the proposal on the website is to allow for public comment and to solicit competing proposals. The public comment and solicitation period will be for 60 days."
A City team will now conduct a 10-day evaluation of the proposal, analyzing Weston Urban's financial assumptions to determine whether the project will be revenue-neutral for the City, meaning city officials can participate in the three-way transaction without substantial capital expenditures.
After the 10-day review period, The proposal will be released publicly by the City on Aug. 18, which will invite public comment and alternative proposals. So far, there has been no indication that other developers intend to submit competitive proposals.
Weston Urban's Smith has said that if the project is approved, his team could quickly select a design architect and general contractor and then break ground in first quarter of 2016 with tower completion scheduled for the first quarter of 2018.
“This is a major development that literally has the opportunity to change the landscape of downtown,” Castro said at the June 26 press conference unveiling the project. “It has been more than quarter century since our downtown skyline has had a new office tower.”
The Weston Centre, which opened in 1988, was the last tower built in downtown San Antonio.
Here are the key elements of the proposal:
- The City would convey to Weston Urban several historic properties for redevelopment, including the Municipal Plaza Building, the Continental Hotel, now occupied by Metro Health, and its parking lots; 319 W. Travis St. (the former San Fernando Gym); and a strip of property on 22 N. Main Avenue.
- Frost Bank would convey the Frost Bank Tower and 732-space Garage to the City and its other downtown properties to Weston Urban, including the undeveloped square block green space that sits just north of Frost Bank.
- Weston Urban would construct a new office tower and garage to serve as Frost Bank’s new corporate headquarters on the current site of the Frost Motor Bank and its surface parking lot located on the northwest corner of North Flores and Houston Streets. Frost Bank would lease office space from Weston Urban.
The new tower would include a garage even larger than the existing Frost Bank garage, and offer tenants other than Frost Bank new Class A office space. The lack of Class A office space is often cited as the major hindrance to attracting more companies downtown.
For the City, acquisition of the Frost Bank Tower would allow for consolidation of city workers now dispersed in five different buildings, eliminating rental leases totaling $3.4 million annually. The deal would place 1,100 city workers in three buildings: historic City Hall, the Plaza de Armas, and the Frost Tower.
A similar consolidation of more than 3,000 uniformed personnel occurred in 2012 when San Antonio Police and Fire Departments moved into the newly constructed Public Safety Headquarters at 315 S. Santa Rosa St., a six-story, 243,000 sq. ft. tower with a 657-space controlled access garage.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that the new tower garage would be 732 spaces in size. The current Frost Bank garage is 732 spaces and the new tower's garage will be even larger. The story also stated that if the project is approved, ground will be broken by the first quarter of 2015. The correct date is the first quarter of 2016.