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Downtown San Antonio's future may see more residents and fewer offices

Continental Hotel project with traffic passing in front on West Commerce Street
Courtesy photo
Weston Urban
Continental project facing West Commerce Street

San Antonio's city center is undergoing some major changes. Based on recent interviews with developers and city officials, residents will likely see a downtown in the near future that looks more modern and includes more residential high rises and some new retail, but not so much new office space.

San Antonio-based Weston Urban is the developer of the residential high rise known as 300 Main, headed toward completion in 2024, and the Continental Hotel project on West Commerce, which should be completed by late 2025. Well over 300 residential units will be in both high rises.

Ground was broken on the Continental just before Thanksgiving.

Weston Urban President and CEO Randy Smith said there's a reason the company is so bullish on building residential high rises in downtown San Antonio.

"We've been extremely under supplied in the urban core for housing. And so, we're the fastest growing city in the United States... It's not that everyone wants to live downtown. It's that for that portion of the population that does, there's just not enough options."

Smith said he's convinced that people who choose to live downtown want to drive less to places like work or entertainment.

John Jacks, the city's director of city center development, agreed with Smith about what makes downtown residential living more appealing than suburban living.

"They don't have to take a car anywhere. They can just walk down. Take the elevator downstairs. Walk across the street, go to a bar, go to a restaurant. There's parks downtown. If they even have dogs, they can take them there. So it's really this, it's less about wanting to spend all my time in a car commuting back and forth to work."

Jacks said the city is doing what it can to make downtown living fun.

"Downtown is everyone's neighborhood — and that includes anyone in San Antonio — and really trying to make it more appealing for locals to come down. That's it's not just for tourists, it's really for locals too. And that's in a lot of different ways, having events that are interesting to locals, different times of the year. We have a Downtown Tuesday, which is free parking for anybody. So, it's really about trying to get locals to come downtown and enjoy and see what's going on down there."

The residential high rise known as 300 Main, pictured to the left with tan lower floors, is set to open in 2024.
The residential high rise known as 300 Main, pictured to the left with tan lower floors, is set to open in 2024.

So, is downtown San Antonio shedding its reputation among locals as a place only tourists go, especially at night? "The change that in what's happening in downtown at night lately seems to be accelerating," Smith said.

Smith, a city center resident himself, said he sees more locals after work at restaurants and parks.

Much of the new downtown development that is coming will be more modern and more glassy than the many existing brick covered and historic buildings, like the Tower Life Building. The city several years ago specifically changed designed codes to allow for glassier high rises.

But locals should not worry the city is turning its back on the old and historic. Shanon Miller, the director of the city's office of historic preservation, said the city is protecting historic building facades and welcoming new development at the same time.

The Continental Hotel project is an example of that. The early 1900's hotel will keep its historic brick facade, while a 16-story high rise goes skyward behind it.

Plus, she said the city knows preserving structures can save developers some building costs, since they are not starting from scratch — which in turn can spare downtown renters from higher rent.

"We know from a study that we conducted a few years ago that naturally occurring affordable housing happens in older buildings disproportionately than it does in new construction and so reinvesting in existing buildings is an important part of the city's affordable housing strategy."

The Continental Hotel project and 300 Main are just a couple of the dozens of construction projects planned or underway in downtown. Learn about other projects here.

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