Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
Maintaining Bexar County’s competitiveness and enacting systems to foster sustainable growth will take continued commitment, investment, and collaboration, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Friday at his State of the County address, hosted by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, at the Mays Family Center.
One of the biggest areas in need of improvement, Wolff told the audience of more than 200 people, is transportation congestion and improvements along IH-35. In his remarks, Wolff cited Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3)’s proposition for a commuter rail to be established along IH-35 in the rapidly growing San Antonio-Austin-San Marcos-New Braunfels corridor. That often-congested area, Wolff said, “should be our No. 1 transportation priority.”
Commissioner Wolff is working with the Texas Department of Transportation, Alamo Area MPO, and Austin Area MPO on the effort, which he hopes will include a double-decker highway.
Judge Wolff also voiced his support for implementing a larger, regional airport between San Antonio and Austin.
“Our airport and flights do not measure up to Austin,” he said, adding that if we don’t address this issue then the “southern end of the corridor will get left behind.” The County is interested in pursuing a partnership with the City of San Antonio, the private sector, and other counties to begin a feasibility study for a regional airport in 2017.
Such long term efforts toward sustainability will better prepare Bexar County for the 1.1 million people expected to move to the county in the next 25 years, Wolff said. A number of that population likely will be involved in San Antonio’s booming tech scene, which has created 34,000 local jobs this year and continues to draw more businesses and talent.
The County’s $1 million Innovation Fund is being used to attract and retain that startup tech talent, and has awarded grants to six startups over the past few months. Fostering existing talent and providing work force development is another main focus of the County, which has partnered with SA Works to provide internships and educational opportunities to students.
Cybersecurity is another area where San Antonio has become a national leader; it’s the largest cybersecurity hub in the U.S. besides Washington D.C. Today about 40 different cybersecurity firms are headquartered in San Antonio, Wolff said, adding that there’s plenty of opportunity for enhancing Port San Antonio – where many cybersecurity firms are based – and adding more office and retail space to the area.
The County also is working to bolster local military efforts and programs, as well as public safety resources, which are the largest County expenditure. Construction has started on two new sheriff substations, Wolff said, and the County celebrated the opening of the new facility for the sheriff’s training academy this month.
The redevelopment occurring at Lone Star Brewery, “the Pearl of the Southside,” is another transformative project that, once completed, will make San Antonio a more desirable place to live, work, and play, Wolff said.
“The new Lone Star will complement our $200 million investment in eight miles of the Mission Reach of the river,” he said. The County recently broke ground on the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project and the first phase of the creek project is anticipated to be finished by the city’s Tricentennial celebrations in May 2018.
The groundbreaking was celebrated with an original opera – Las Fundaciones de Béjar – that portrayed the creek’s indigenous history. Wolff, a proponent of the arts, stressed his and the County’s commitment to maintaining and promoting the arts, namely the city’s ballet and opera organizations and the San Antonio Symphony.
Expanding the existing San Antonio FC soccer stadium to Major League Soccer (MLS) standards and luring an MLS team to the city is another effort Wolff has remained committed to.
Soccer is the fastest growing sport among Millennials, he said, and an MLS team would be a “perfect fit for San Antonio.”
The Toyota Field stadium expansion will require voter approval, which could occur in November 2017. Wolff and County Manager David Smith will meet with MLS officials next month to discuss those plans.