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Council Committee Hears Arguments On Both Sides Of La Villita Lease Proposals

Ryan Loyd
TPR News
San Antonio is considering updates to the historic arts village, La Villita.

As the city's Department for Culture and Creative Development presented its side of the argument in the ongoing discussion about La Villita Tuesday, tenants in the historic arts district sighed and shook their heads.

They are angry about a proposal by San Antonio city staff to change the structure of the village, which would call for evicting most of the businesses currently located on the city-owned grounds of La Villita.

Jerome Stowe spoke to the members of the High Profile Contract Committee Tuesday, chaired by District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal. He told the committee that his family, which has owned Casa Manos Alegres, a Mexican handcraft and Latin folk art shop for more than 40 years, is looking for a compromise.

"We are for change, we are for the mayor's vision for 2020 for change," Stowe said. "We are for opportunity for everyone. And I think that there's a way to make improvements to La Villita to incorporate new artists, to incorporate new activities that does not wholesale discard all the business owners from La Villita."

The city's plan would increase working artist studios from five to nine, reduce gallery spaces from 12 to eight, continue to have five retail shops, and increase restaurants from one to four.

Sebastian Guajardo, a special projects manager for the city department, said the plans have been in the works for several years after a study was conducted more than five years ago. Shop owners, he said, have been notified and given plenty of time to prepare for the possibility that the city might change La Villita.

The shop owners currently have until July 31, 2015, which is the end of the most recent two-year contract the city made with shop owners at La Villita.

Bernal believes no one should have perpetuity over the city-owned village because everyone should be given a chance to apply for a lease there. District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, who is on the High Profile Contract committee, told her colleagues Tuesday that the council would be doing a disservice to San Antonio if they did not help revive La Villita and consider all options to make the area a more vibrant destination for San Antonians and tourists.

The committee will hear a final draft of the proposal in May. Meantime, city staff members will be reading over a counter proposal given to the city by the shop owners. They say they drafted their own ideas after learning they were included in the proposal on the future of La Villita. Their plans include creating a marketing plan and updating buildings inside and out. City staff have not yet responded to what they think of the counter proposal.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.