Hemisfair Project Moves Forward

Urbanism/Urban Design/Public Policy/San Antonio

Good source of blogging topics Ben Olivo posted this update on the Hemisfair Project.. Real Estate Developer David Adelman’s AREA Real Estate was chosen to head the project.

From his downtown blog:

The public-private partnership calls for AREA Real Estate to build 163 mixed-income residential units, a 418-space parking garage (including 238 public spaces) and 3,200 square feet of retail and restaurant space on the ground floor. Fifty percent of the units will be rented out at 80 percent of the Bexar County area median income, while the rest of the units will be market-rate priced.

This is good and generally the way development in this area is going. Ever since we all decided to bring down the Victoria Courts public housing projects near the Hemisfair Park, a delicate balance between opportunity and duty to the poorer sections of our community has been at least attempted. Although the Lavaca Neighborhood folks are really not excited about below-market-rate housing, they have enjoyed increased property values ever since the projects were torn down and the half-built Hemisview et al apartments are up.

More interesting items:

“One of our goals is to eventually have the density that existed in the neighborhood pre-1968,” Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar, referring to the multi-ethnic neighborhood that was mostly leveled for the 1968 World’s Fair. “The density was appropriate for this area, for the size of this area. And we want to put the historic district back in place from the standpoint of residential units.

“Another benefit to residents next to the park is that they provide eyes on the park so there’s a built-in security system. There is less likely for mischief.”

Left out here – not maliciously, the newspaper quote isn’t the time to give a history lesson – is the fact that slum-clearing was the order of the day and the reason SA got funds to wipe and replace with the Hemisfair Park. It is only through some new urbanist teachings recently that we’ve changed our collective tune from slum-clearing as a policy toward restructuring our neighborhoods as they used to be. Even the poor ones.

Urban Renewal was a concept in the United States that involved clearing “blighted, or slummed” areas and redeveloping them with infrastructure, or new commercial and or residential buildings.

The three major legislative pieces in play in San Antonio were the Wagner-Steagall Act of 1937, the Housing Act of 1949 and the Housing Act of 1954. The latter two are what most people think of when they hear the term “urban renewal” as it provided funds for slum clearance and the loans to back mortgages to fill the land.

Wagner-Steagall provided funds for local public housing agencies like the San Antonio Housing Authority. Much of the scholarship and a lot of the discussion on urban renewal concerns the eastern seaboard and the rust belt – towns with old manufacturing bases and large slums.

Cynically defined, Urban Renewal was synonymous with wiping out slums and replacing them with high-value real estate. San Antonio’s part in the trend involved building Eisenhower’s highway, public housing in the early 1940s (including the Victoria Courts), the near west-side Government Center (where UTSA downtown is) and the HemisFair acreage.

We didn’t do the high-value housing stuff at first, but in this new wave of ‘hipster, downtown revival’ we are getting around to that kind of thing.

Jane Jacobs-esque opposition to these highways was non-existent here during these times, which reflected the power imbalance in our city1. What opposition there would be had its roots during the urban renewal age, as the future activist leaders of Community Organized for Public Service and similar “grassroots” organizations like Metro Alliance grew up in these conditions.

Among them was future Mayor Henry Cisneros, who would become the city’s first Latino mayor since the end of Mexican rule (despite the historical majority Latino population.) Post Urban Renewal, in 1974 and thereafter organizations like COPS confronted the City Council on each budget action to ensure fair distribution of Community Development Block Grant Program funds – the successor to Housing Act of 1949-style wipe and renew funding allowing a more customized expenditure.

But you knew all that.

Also, Andujar’s quote about ‘eyes on the street’ is straight Jacobsian neighborhood stuff. It is quite ironic. I’m happy they want to subsidize some of the stuff but the damage to the downtown culture has long been done.

  1. Red McCombs was on the Hemisfair committee.