Climbing to the coveted spot of seventh-largest city in the country, San Antonio has not managed to cultivate as sophisticated of a downtown as many of its smaller cousins. Due to plentiful land and shiny new suburban areas, the city had long suffered a doughnut-like development pattern with a neglected urban core. Now, thanks to collective vision, intent and collaboration, efforts have been kickstarted, and the center city is blooming with fresh ideas and energy, with many leaders repeating the mantra that this is indeed the “Decade of Downtown.”
Anyone spending time in the urban core as of late would agree that it’s buzzing—many new culinary hot spots, craft cocktail gems and brewpubs are luring in locals from loop land, delighting many who were formerly content to remain in the comforts of the suburban realm. However, San Antonio’s urban renaissance consists of more than this—the entire fabric of the center city is changing, with civic investment, private development and imagination.
Downtown’s perimeter has been Unofficially defined in the past by the rail lines on the east and west, I-35 on the north, and Chavez to the south. However, new growth in all directions, such as Southtown, River North, the Broadway Corridor, Dignowity Hill and Guadalupe Street Corridor, have swelled the boundaries, making the urban core more connected, more walkable and more exciting.
Lori Houston, San Antonio’s director of the Center City Development and Operations Department, explained that “what we’re striving for is to bring back to downtown our locals who have an emotional connection…and those who need to make memories here. We want it to be special for everyone.”
Houston said over $1 billion in public improvements are underway in the downtown area, including the Convention Center expansion, the conversion of San Pedro Creek into a linear park similar to the River Walk, and the redevelopment of Hemisfair. But she points out that downtown’s robust success is due not only to public monies but to an upswing of public-private partnerships that have bolstered development in the private sector as well.
“While a lot of people think of going downtown to eat, it’s easy to forget that we have 30 cultural institutions which bring great vitality and color to the center city,” continued Houston. “The synergy between our public spaces and private investment has been so beneficial. And now we’re working on improving the diversity of retail…things that locals like and desire.”
Beloved cultural institutions such as the Witte, Blue Star, the San Antonio Museum of Art, Artpace, the Playhouse, the Carver, the Museum and Mission Reach additions to the River Walk, and the McNay have all assisted in the revitalization of nearby neighborhoods.
Newer places recently added to the spectrum of offerings, like the Briscoe Museum, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and Travis Park, the Children’s Museum, and Hemisfair, illustrate how arts and culture are helping catalyze private development.
And visionaries aren’t resting on their laurels; places like Geekdom, H-E-B’s new art-influenced Nogolitos grocery store, the Alamo Beer Company’s microbrewery, San Pedro Creek and a slew of uber-cool new bars, restaurants and art galleries are infusing the city with an authentic hipness that is luring young professionals and savvy investors alike back into the heart of the city.