Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Several attempts have been made to increase business and fully activate the historic St. Paul Square over the last decade. With this week's purchase of Sunset Station and 11 buildings from Zachry Corp., REATA Real Estate hopes to achieve success where previous efforts have failed.
This time, REATA Partner Don Thomas told the Rivard Report, "the timing is better."
Additional parking and major street and housing projects nearby will bring more people to the near-Eastside historic district, Thomas said.
"We're between a lot of development and redevelopment" downtown and on the Eastside, added REATA CEO Michael Jersin. "There has been a much bigger [growth] initiative in downtown in the last 10 years."
Now that REATA owns Sunset Station and more than 50 percent of the buildings in the district, he said, it can start making investments in ground-floor retail spaces to make them move-in ready for tenants. Many storefronts on East Commerce Street are empty and have been for years.
REATA is looking for businesses that can create an entertainment district with restaurants, bars, and concert venues similar to the Pearl or Southtown, Thomas said. "We want to make it a place that locals want to come to. ... Tourists want to go where the locals go anyway."
As for the second- and third-floor office spaces in the district's buildings, he said, a collection of creative businesses and nonprofits already has been established: SA2020, P16 Plus, The Mighty Group, and more. The University of Houston started renting space in one of their buildings for its Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management two years ago.
REATA has been working with Zachry for more than four years on leasing and property management of its St. Paul Square inventory.
"We hadn't thought about selling it," said Tara Snowden, director of public and government affairs for Zachry. "[But] REATA has been a partner with us for many years and they proposed a good offer. ... We feel they are perfectly suited for the redevelopment."
The sale was finalized Thursday, and a price was not disclosed. Zachry still owns the Staybridge Suites hotel adjacent to REATA's property and are a partnering with NRP Group on the Baldwin apartment complex on Center Street.
"We're excited about the ability to remain involved in the community," Snowden said.
The parking garage for the 268-unit Baldwin, named for the historic train engine that sits in front of Sunset Station, will include 150 public spots.
For St. Paul Square, the more people in the area, the better, Thomas said. "Having people living here and walking around more frequently will be a great complement to the restaurants, bars, and offices.”
When a major concert or event occurs at the Alamodome, St. Paul Square fills with people looking for food, drinks, and entertainment, Thomas said. "That's when you see how this area can transform. Our goal is to make that happen seven days a week."
Sunset Station, built in 1902, hasn't served as a train station since 1998. Since then, it has undergone several renovation projects and serves as a venue for weddings and other events.
Thomas and Jersin want to bring consistant programming to the building, which includes more than 20,000 square feet and a pavilion perfect for concerts, they said. The RK Group currently holds a master lease on the station, Thomas said, and he's working with the hospitality company to get more events scheduled in the space.
Jackie Gorman, CEO of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE), has watched various plans for revitalizing St. Paul's Square surface – and then placed on a shelf.
"We're dusting off a couple of things," Gorman said of future redevelopment efforts. REATA has reached out to SAGE, which has its offices in St. Paul Square, to start the conversation.
In the mid-20th century, this was the "heart of the African-American business district," she said. "I would love to see it come back to that."
The recent realignment of Market Street that allows vehicle traffic to move more easily from downtown to the Eastside, the pedestrian walkway connecting the Convention Center to the Alamodome, and increased housing on the Eastside are "pushing traffic this way," Gorman said. "Now we just have to find the right mix of businesses."
REATA's renewed vision for St. Paul's Square is novel because the company is willing to make some of the upgrades to the buildings so that smaller operations can afford to move in, Gorman said. REATA is "in the business of making money, but it also sounds like a restaurant incubator."
Thomas and Jersin said they're willing to get the largely empty ground floor spaces set up with basic kitchens and other critical infrastructure.
Several redevelopment projects nearby will add to the foot traffic in the area, Thomas said, including the Merchant's Ice complex, where the Texas Research and Technology Foundation is planning an innovation center and other facilities, and Hemisfair's Civic Park.
REATA doesn't have any major exterior renovations planned for St. Paul's Square, Jersin said. Most of the work will involve interior updates and "enhancing what's already there."
Other projects REATA has managed include the Alamo Quarry Market and adjacent Quarry Village, the Shops at Lincoln Heights, and Èilan.
This article was originally published on Dec. 1, 2017.