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Leases In La Villita Could Be Pulled To Revitalize Arts Village

La Villita is a historic arts village in the heart of downtown San Antonio, across from Hemisfair Park. But the city wants to update the look and feel of La Villita with a plan that would totally overhaul the current village.

A recommendation by city staff includes asking tenants in La Villita, some who have been there for three decades or more, to reapply for a space within the village next year.

The conversation is very early, though, and artists like woodworker Wendell Fuqua keeps his schedule as usual.

As he carves the wood away from a piece of wood that will eventually become a stamp-like image, he thinks the artists at the River Art Gallery are carrying out the original mission of La Villita.

"We're really kind of in the spirit of what La Villita is supposed to be, which is a local area, producing local art, and with local people," he said.

The city says they want to maintain that authenticity. Sebastian Guajardo, special projects manager with the Department for Culture and Creative Development, said a study several years ago uncovered that something new needs to happen in La Villita because it found the village had a conflicting identity and no real focus.

At that time, the city, he said, gave tenants a heads that change would eventually come.

"We believe it's critical that La Villita be reinvigorated and refocused as the arts village that it was always meant to be," he said, arguing that some of the galleries or studios currently in operation sell mass-produced items and art that can be bought at any retail chain.

Tenants like Jack Knight say they wanted to work with the city on a plan. Instead, Knight, who owns the Alice Knight Studio, said city staffers went ahead and crafted their future without their input or knowledge.

This week, they went to representatives in Mayor Julián Castro's office to unveil their ideas. They include modernizing the buildings and creating a marketing committee.

"The city is very arbitrarily saying, 'Oh no, this building is not that kid of use, it's this kind of use over here. So because you're the tenant, you don't qualify so you have to leave,' " he said. "That's drawing a line in the sand in what I'm calling the slaughter of these tenants who are actually the lifeblood of La Villita."

If the council likes the city's plan, Guajardo said current tenants can reapply for their space. He believes the council is invested in downtown development and thinks they will agree with the lease plan for La Villita.

The city's High Profile Contract Committee will discuss the issue at its meeting on Tuesday where the city plan will be outlined. Tenants and those opposed to the city plan will be in attendance.

*** Disclosure Note: The City of San Antonio Department for Culture & Creative Development is a financial supporter of Texas Public Radio.