Where I Live: The Alteza, Atop the Grand Hyatt

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The Alteza residences are located on some of the top floors of the Grand Hyatt in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Kenric Ward.

The Alteza residences are located on some of the top floors of the Grand Hyatt in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Kenric Ward.

When friends ask how I like living in downtown San Antonio, I let the walking do the talking, especially for tourists. On a recent Saturday, we started at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse for mimosas. Then to the Esquire for lunch.

Our visitors from Houston dropped into the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, purported home to the oldest continuous-operating bar in Texas. Next up was Pat O’Brien’s for a free, energetic, two-hour set by a talented father-son duo, Generation Gap. At dinnertime, we dress for Ostra, where ponchos and flaming gas heaters soften a crisp, clear evening on the riverside.

More music, anyone? We drop into the Davenport to rock the night away. Was Lenny Kravitz on stage? Sure sounded that way.

Returning home, we passed by one of the big-screen TVs at the Grand Hyatt’s Bar Rojo. It’s visible from Market Street and, wouldn’t you know it, the Cowboys were losing again as the New York Jets kick a last-second field goal.

Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all.

But on this day (and night), downtown was a winner all the way around.

We head upstairs to our condo atop the Grand Hyatt and call it an evening. For all our travels, my car never left the underground garage. It hasn’t gone out for a week, which is typical.

While my car is ensconced in a gated private garage under the hotel, I live on the 31st floor. With a pool on the roof and a 6,000-square-foot fitness center on the fifth floor and 24-7 concierge service, there are days I don’t leave the building.

The Alteza, Spanish for “highness” in a literal and figurative sense here, is as pricey as it sounds. Penthouses go for more than $3 million. The 750-square-foot one-bedroom units started at $300,000, and they’re sold out.

In a city whose median household income is $50,000, Alteza’s ethereal heights are out of reach for most. Yet compared to downtown Austin, San Antonio is a bargain.

Retired couples and business executives recognize a deal when they see one. A few of my neighbors purchased units to lease out for $4,000 to $5,000 a month.

Andy, an Air Force officer, is a renter and loves the lifestyle. “You have so much spare time – no yard work, and everything is close by,” he said.

He particularly enjoys Southtown’s eclectic restaurants, a 15-minute walk away.

The golden pedestrian path downtown is the River Walk, which urban expert Charles Marohn of Strong Towns calls the best metropolitan park in America.

Running through historic San Antonio, the River Walk offers truly green mobility to residents and tourists alike.

Anyone doubting its enduring popularity is welcome to trace our winding trek through downtown any day or evening.

On this night, hundreds of people are queued up for barge rides. Whenever crowds reach capacity, our party heads upstairs to street level, where foot traffic moves more briskly. Cars are another story. Key downtown arteries can, at seemingly random intervals, feel more like midtown Manhattan.

Well-policed and clean, San Antonio’s downtown is a refreshing departure from other urban centers that are crime-ridden, derelict, or both.

Walking downtown San Antonio is a sure-fire antidote to cookie-cutter suburbia. It’s an endlessly entertaining exercise – especially during the holiday season.

Festive lights and music fill the streets and titillate the senses. Think of the best parts of New Orleans, Chicago and San Francisco, and you get a glimpse into my life.

And it’s not just at Christmastime or New Year’s. Living and working from my apartment, I step outside every day to a transforming Hemisfair Park, to cafes, to theaters, to museums and, now, to a new neighborhood H-E-B.

The west side of the South Flores Market facing South Flores Street. Photo by Scott Ball.

H-E-B South Flores Market's patio. Photo by Scott Ball.

My daily routine proves that high-rise downtown living is vastly more intimate and expansive than any 6,000-square-foot McMansion in Stone Oak or the Dominion.

But there’s a cautionary note. For all its charm, the urban core has too many vacancies. Eyesores by day, black holes at night, empty buildings sap San Antonio’s potential. Generating little or no tax revenue, they drain a community struggling with debt.

San Antonio has become America’s seventh largest city via aggressive annexation of outlying areas. But bigger is not better. This strategy carries a tremendous price: diverting precious resources and hollowing out the urban core.

Tech Bloc, a grassroots organization dedicated to activating San Antonio's tech industry, declared on its homepage:

“Educated young people have made it clear, in surveys and by voting with their feet, that they will not move to, or remain in cities that don’t have vibrant urban areas. Put bluntly, we fear that never-ending annexation and suburbanization will keep San Antonio from achieving the urban density necessary to attract talent, foster ideas and capital and ultimately compete in the Internet century.”

I can say the same for upscale retirees who are exiting suburbia to invest in walkable, amenitized downtown digs.

Anchored by the River Walk, downtown is the city’s cash cow. The Alamo remains the top tourist attraction in Texas. Neglecting these jewels in pursuit of far-flung sprawl will surely tarnish San Antonio – prompting visitors and would-be residents to take a hike elsewhere.

 

*Top Image: The Alteza condominiums occupy the 25th-33rd floors atop the Grand Hyatt. Photo by Kenric Ward.

Related Stories:

San Antonio: Is Bigger Really Better?

Where I Live: Southtown Treehouse

City Staff Makes the Case for Annexation Plan

Mayor Comments On Her Drive to Slow Annexation

39 thoughts on “Where I Live: The Alteza, Atop the Grand Hyatt

    • Jesse–I recommend you look at the rents charged at the Robert E Lee. The Peanut Factory Lofts are very affordable as well. The problem is that San Antonians are spoiled and want to have a 1,500 SF apartment for $800 per month, which is just unreasonable. I gladly pay $1,200 per month for my apartment, which I think is a lot less than what you’d get to live in the best digs in any other city in Texas.

    • I didn’t mention Manhattan, but your point is well taken. At least we’re more affordable than any of the above. And Trevone Boykin notwithstanding, our downtown core is safer than those.

  1. I’ve tired of the countless years of seeing so many empty buildings downtown, it doesn’t stop frustrating every time I drive through it. I understand the city has added a higher tax rate to these urban core blights, but I don’t see any movement to fill the empty shells. Any movement is far too slow, a turtles pace.

  2. I’ve tired of the countless years of seeing so many empty buildings downtown, it doesn’t stop frustrating every time I drive through it. I understand the city has added a higher tax rate to these urban core blights, but I don’t see any movement to fill the empty shells. Any movement is far too slow, a turtles pace.

  3. I heard from an eccentric Alteza resident that there are about 50 vacancies there. The Vistana is perpetually half vacant, ($1000 a studio,) as is the Majestic, ($750 a studio.) Most downtown workers want to live here, but whatever is affordable gets booked up for months if not years.

  4. I enjoyed this piece and then of course the haters who love keeping San Antonio back popped their head in to comment. San Antonio needs to attract young professionals who work from home, they have no problem affording the cost to live downtown.

  5. Enjoyed your story, but it seems you forgot the title. I don’t live at the Alteza and yet, what you described on the street has been enjoyed by many for years (in one form or another). What I didn’t get from your story is what it’s like to live at the Alteza.

  6. If you want people to live downtown, 750sq ft condos that cost $300,000 ain’t gonna do it when someone can just buy a home in Stone Oak for almost half the price with twice or thrice the space and have decent schools for their kids.

    Yeah, we need to revitalize downtown but for the people who already live here, not to attract more out of touch rich kids who don’t belong here and are just going to leave in five years anyway when something better comes along.

    Stop trying to change San Antonio. It isn’t going to change. We don’t need it to. We need to accept it for what it is and work with what we’ve got.

    • Eryn, It’s people like you that perpetuate the backwards system in which we currently find ourselves. Why are people here so afraid of change? I’m thankful that we have folks in our city council (not all of them, but at least some) who understand the fact that in order for our city to survive and thrive, we must adapt and *shudder* change in order to meet the demands of a 21st century city.

      I’m one of those “out of touch rich kids” you denigrate above, and it’s extremely hurtful and unfair that you would say I don’t belong here just because I wasn’t born here. Comments like that and people like you are the reason I hated San Antonio the first three years I lived here. Thankfully, I was able to find a community and now I am committed to living in San Antonio for the rest of my life (not the five year blanket generalization you mention above). Contrary to your thoughts above, I am not “out of touch”. I am involved in the community, I volunteer at schools and I am actively committed to making our city a better place.

      Yes, we need to celebrate and elevate our existing population, but we would be remiss to dismiss any newcomers because they simply “don’t belong”. What kind of backwards, 1950’s thinking is that? People with different backgrounds from different cities bring new perspectives and experiences that call attention to occasions when the “status quo” could be better.

      Have a wonderful day.

  7. Appreciate your piece and perspective – as a 37 year downtown dweller (in a tiny house on the ground) can agree with all the walking-style local pleasures you mention – also hope the many imaginative minds of our city can figure out a REAL WAY to solve the empty-building downtown problem someday very soon. Sure there is a real way. Should be priority.

  8. A California transplant who sees a bargain. Nothing new to this city, San Antonio urban realty is a steal for out of state buyers. For those that are native San Antonians without tech jobs, it is a nice retirement dream. Let’s ask teachers, hotel workers,and all service industry workers downtown what they see this as. Thanks for letting us know what attracts Californians to our rich, historical city.

    • Since you asked. I’m a teacher and live along South Flores in a loft, another teacher is down the hall from me. I had a great view of the fireworks last night. Cheers!

  9. I have an idea: instead of trying to recruit top talent to SA, why don’t we invest that money in the youth already here and raise them to the standards you’re looking for outside SA?

    Depressing to read all these stories from transplants still looking outside SA for miracles. Want a richer town? Invest in the resources we have here – you make them richer, and you’ll get what you want.

    • You could not have said it better Vanessa. I’ve been commenting the same for years on this site. San Antonio is two cities, one is educated middle class, the other lives in third world status, lacking in education, healthcare and decent housing. Everyone wants SA to become a first rate city, but they don’t realize that great cities take of there poor and vulnerable, and bring them out of the cycle of poverty. Living here for decades I have seen little improvement, but my hope is that we can right this ship. Again great comment and to a great 2016.

  10. Now that HEB has built a downtown store, with gas pumps, and a one of a kind park at Hemisphere Sq. you’ll see more growth in the area. Stoneoak area may fit the bill for some, but the view of your neighbors bathroom isn’t the same as looking out your window at sunset!

  11. I love San Antonio. But I’ve lived here for 18 years and have no desire to live downtown. I can still count 2 hands the number of times I’ve bothered to venture downtown. Too many one-way streets that are more like nonsense cow trails. Too many tourists. Traffic is a mess. Parking is a nightmare!! No thank you.

    • Curious: What does “San Antonio” mean to you? Outside of downtown, exurban SA is anywhere USA — sprawling subdivisions and generic strip centers. As for messy traffic, have you checked out Stone Oak Parkway, 281, Braun Road, 1604, etc.?

  12. Downtown San Antonio is awesome. Perfect? No, but what is? So much to build on here. Vanessa hit it on the head with her point about investment in our youth. Education is the future of this city. Creating a smart and culturally sophisticated population will draw better jobs and opportunity to our city. This type of vibrant energy can help to lift the next generation out of the poverty cycle. We must expect the best for all students, not just the most privileged. Not just business as usual with corruption and small thinking endemic in some of our SA school boards.

    I moved into the city from the hinterlands to the north several years ago and that is when I learned what a terribly skewed opinion that those who live in the sprawl of our city have. I am disgusted to see that sprawl swallowing the hill country in huge hungry bites. Better to continue the work to make downtown liveable and viable for a broad range of our population.

    Glad you’re here, Kenric. One more smart guy who sees what a great place this is. One more smart guy to help make a difference in the future of our city. Bienvenidos!

  13. I’ve wanted to live downtown since I was a child with parents who worked within its boundaries. I still do, and I read everything I can on available options and amenities. The closest I’ve gotten was living in the Bushnell in Monte Vista. I disagree, however, with the characterization of downtown as being low-crime. Numerous sites, including homefacts.com and Trulia, show that is not the case–downtown has some of the highest crime in the city. Other prospective residents are also seeing those crime statistics and I wonder if that plays a part in their reticence to move there, as well.

  14. How’s the noise at night? I have some friends that live in the Vistana and they didnt realize theyd have to try to sleep through the rowdiness, constant honking, etc. during fiesta, Spurs playoff games, and any other party night. Mind you, these are fairly young professionals starting families. but they do speak highly of sleeping later due to no work commutes and rarely using their cars.

    • Noise is not a problem at the Alteza — the Convention Center neighborhood is quite serene at night (and even on most days).

  15. Interesting article. As a confirmed urban person (Brooklyn Heights; Dupont Circle, Kalorama, and Capitol Hill; Michigan Avenue, Gold Coast) and a newcomer to San Antonio, I share Kenric’s enthusiasm for living in the middle of things.

    However, unlike NYC, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, San Antonio does not have sufficient public transportation. No wonder the streets and highways are packed with huge SUVs and pickup trucks and finding a parking space is a competitive sport. It’s great to be able to leave the driving to someone else.

  16. For those that are starting families and want quick access to downtown without actually living in the downtown core; don’t overlook neighborhoods like Highland Park. It’s amazing that as old as my “hood” is, hardly anyone from here knows about it. I always have to reference the main streets (Highland and Rigsby). As Dignowity Hill, Lavaca and soon Riverside move out reach for first time homebuyers; Highland Park and the still gritty Denver Heights remain overwhelmingly affordably… especially for urban pioneers like myself. From my house I can bike to South Town, Hemisfair/ Alamodome in about 15-20 minutes (which isn’t long to me). At times I really feel like my neighborhood is seriously a well kept secret. However, I’m starting to notice that homes that come on the market here don’t last very long and there is a berth of construction/renovation projects happening, so maybe the secret’s out.

    I give a kudos to the poster who commented about SA needing to invest in its youth so that we don’t have to rely on importing talent. But, importing talent doesn’t hurt. As a transplant I’ve learned that San Antonians generally have a worldview that doesn’t extend beyond what they know here in this part of Texas. That’s not a read, but merely my observation as an outsider. I feel like locals are so resistant to change because they don’t really know anything else. People here are less likely to travel out and tend to prefer proximity to family over anything else. This keeps the mentality in SA overwhelmingly insular. Pulling in people from the outside counteracts this as we are able to get varied perspectives which work toward making the city livable and enjoyable for everyone.

    • Lysander–you need to write a “Where I Live” piece on Highland Park! I’m a transplant too, and I have never heard of it! I also strongly agree with your commentary on outside perspectives. It’s funny–I’ve lived in many cities, but I’ve never lived anywhere where the fact that I’m a transplant was so important or abnormal. It’s actually a conversation starter when I tell people I’m from another city and I chose to live in SA! While many of the people I have met here that are born and raised San Antonians are quite open to change, many are vehemently opposed to anything they feel isn’t “the San Antonio they know”. It can be very frustrating for someone who has come from Nashville or Charlotte or another growing city taking advantage of the creativity of its younger population. While I love it here, it is certainly an uphill battle to convince folks that change is oftentimes a good thing! Think about all the people who griped about how the Museum/Mission Reach were a waste of money–those same people are conspicuously silent now that the project is clearly an overwhelming success. Sorry for the rant–long story short, please write a piece for the RR! I would love to hear more about your neighborhood!

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