Bekah S. McNeel

It’s the same song, and what are we on, the 5th … 6th verse now? This time, with gusto!

The next phase in the saga of the proposed Alamo Brewery project has begun. After opponents to the brewery failed to receive support from the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association and unsuccessfully petitioned the City, they have resorted to suing the City of San Antonio for breach of a memorandum of understanding, and for ignoring the petition brought before City Council to bring the sale of property to a vote.

Which means, yes, your tax dollars are about to be put to work fighting this lawsuit.

From what I gleaned from the two Thursday press conferences, I’m with Trey Jacobson, economic development consultant to Alamo Brewery: “I’m not hearing anything new.”

The press conference on the Hays Street Bridge

The Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group wants the land along Cherry Street between Hays and Burnet to become a city park. The Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association and the City of San Antonio have voted to allow Alamo Beer Company to build a microbrewery on the empty lot. Considering that the neighborhood’s two landmark parks, Dignowity and Lockwood, are in need of plenty of attention themselves, the day the Parks and Recreation department decides to divert money from other deserving projects to turn this derelict parcel into a park is unlikely.

[For more history of the debate see previous Rivard Report coverage from the time of the August City Council vote to approve the sale of property to Eugene Simor, and Express-News downtown blogger Benjamin Olivo’s primer on the subject.]

Now, with the help of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group has enlisted local attorneys Amy Kastley and Elva Treviño to challenge the City in a district court.

According to Gary Houston, a member of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, this lawsuit was something members had hoped to avoid. In a traveling press conference, held first on the Hays Street Bridge and then reconvening on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse, members of the restoration group, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and a handful of people from the neighborhood declared their intent to reclaim the property from the private sector.

Petitioners pile onto a Daisy Tour Bus to shuttle to the courthouse for their next press conference.

The group was unwilling to stop for interviews at the bridge, but waited for their moment on the courthouse steps – theatrical, but completely unnecessary for filing a lawsuit. Once there, Nettie Hinton took the microphone to claim the Eastside does not need the economic investment of the brewery. She heralded the Eastside Promise Neighborhood (EPN) Grant and all of the improvements being made to the area, and how the brewery is out of line with the kind of development the neighborhood needs.

“A brewery and a brewpub is not that kind of progressive development,” Hinton said.

I have read the EPN’s implementation plan. I’ve read their research findings. I’ve sat in meetings with their talented director Henri Muñoz. At no point in the discussion of the  $24.6 million allotment was there any discussion of building, maintaining or promoting a new park. But here is something we did talk about, straight from the implementation plan:

“The success of the resulting Eastside Promise Neighborhood (EPN) Plan will be enhanced by six factors: 1) the City of San Antonio has rediscovered and is reinvesting in the Eastside…”

When the City decided to sell the land –  which no one else had the means to develop, that sits empty and was likely to continue to do so indefinitely, they were doing just that: “reinvesting in the Eastside.”

Alamo Beer Company owner Eugene Simor is not a named defendant in the lawsuit, but the planned Alamo Brewery is a target. He issued this statement:

“The Alamo Beer Company is disappointed to learn that a small group intends to file a lawsuit against the City of San Antonio.  This legal action will undoubtedly waste taxpayer resources to answer charges that have been repeatedly scrutinized and conclusively dismissed during the public process pertaining to the proposed brewery development.  It is unfortunate for this community and those that advocate for Eastside development that a few individuals will go to extreme and counterproductive lengths to slow a major redevelopment project that is widely supported and embraced by nearby residents and businesses following a year-long community outreach effort.  Alamo Beer continues to proceed with its plans and looks forward to a successful project.”

Hinton openly accused the City of dirty dealing, and insinuated that this could be the tip of the iceberg on the City’s misdeeds.

Those opposing the sale of land to Alamo Brewery on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse.

“The City Attorney has advised that no agreements have been violated by the Alamo Brewery Plan at the Hays Street Bridge,” said District Two City Councilwoman Ivy Taylor.  “For almost three years, we have been focused on economic development, investment and revitalization in East San Antonio.  This $7 million dollar project is a welcome step forward.  A year of dialogue and negotiation on this project occurred before the Esperanza Center got involved.  The affected neighborhood association has endorsed the plan and we intend to move forward.”

A few of my Eastside neighbors were among those who stood Thursday on the courthouse steps. They said they are opposed to the brewery for various reasons, mostly having to do noise, traffic, and a general enjoyment of parks and nice sidewalks.

Beatriz Valdez voiced her concerns about the kind of clientele that the brewery would attract, saying that the brewery will, “bring the kind of business we don’t need.”

This has been a favorite line of misinformation fed by opponents of the microbrewery. They allow people to believe that patrons will be a bunch of drunks careening around the neighborhood. No matter how many times they hear that microbreweries are regulated by laws prohibiting them from selling their wares like in bars or grocery stores, they keep insisting that the brewery is going to attract drunks.

Between speakers the group commenced a call-response chant.

“Whose bridge?”

“Our bridge!”

My husband and I use the bridge almost every day. He commutes over it. We both run over it. I had never seen any of these people on the bridge until today. I didn’t see many people using the bridge at all actually, until Boneshakers, a bicycle bar, opened up next to the bridge on Austin Street.

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According to Houston, the protest group, “represents a broad cross-section of people from the neighborhood,” and mentioned that, “there are others” who support their position. That’s simply not true. The majority are not from the neighborhood.

Opponents would have the public believe the neighborhood does not want the brewery. I live in the neighborhood. I’m a member of the neighborhood association. When the restoration group and the brewery presented their ideas to us, we voted for the brewery.

When I asked Elva Treviño, one of the lawyers representing opponents, about this vote she said, “The neighborhood didn’t vote for this.”

“I was there. They did,” I replied.

Treviño answered, “The neighborhood association is not the neighborhood. The neighborhood association is infiltrated with newcomers, and Eugene Simor went to them, and so did people from the City. There was some backroom dealing going on.”

Bekah S. McNeel lives in Dignowity Hill, about five blocks from the proposed brewery site. Read her stories, “Where I Live: Dignowity Hill” and “The G-card: Defining Gentrification in Dignowity Hill.”

Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.