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Bexar County shows support of major downtown apartment projects, including Tower Life makeover

Tower Life lobby.png
Alamo Capital Advisors
Bexar County
The lobby of the Tower Life Building has been preserved

Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday signaled support for two development projects, including a makeover of the historic Tower Life Building, that would add hundreds of apartments for downtown living.

Commissioners, acting as heads of the Public Facility Corporation, voted to enter
into partner negotiations to breathe new life into the 1929 Tower Life Building. The costs of the project are part of those negotiations and so are affordability issues.

The 30-story building is only 40% occupied, making its future unsustainable.

Empty space at Tower Life.png
Alamo Capital Partners
Bexar County
Most of the space in the Tower Life Building sits empty

Jon Wiegand, who represents one of the project backers, Alamo Capital Advisors, described the scope of the project to commissioners.

"Our goal is to honor the cultural and historic significant building, to redevelop the project as a mixed use housing project designed to provide homes for a diverse population of residents."

There would be 234 new apartment units added to the eight-sided building that housed the city's first Sears and Roebuck store and the offices of 3rd Army and Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The building also ended up with six elevators intended for the Chrysler Building in New York City, but were sent to San Antonio when the Big Apple project fell behind schedule — giving the Alamo City bragging rights for having the fastest elevators in the country.

Tower Life casts a glow on the San Antonio River.png
Alamo Capital Advisors
Bexar County
The Tower Life building casts a lighted glow on the San Antonio River

The Tower Life Building is owned by McCombs Enterprises. Ed Cross — the developer of the downtown, high-rise apartment complex formerly known as the Vistana — is another partner in the project. It has since been renamed Inspire Downtown and is managed by Greystar.

The court also voted to allow county staffers to enter into negotiations with Broadway SA Investors for a 10-year tax break worth $596,000 as an incentive to build 263 apartments on East Elmira.

In other action, commissioners earmarked federal COVID-relief dollars to provide broadband internet to underserved neighborhoods and to build more affordable housing in the area. The $25 million for broadband expansion and $20 million for affordable housing comes from the American Rescue Plan Act in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marina Gavito heads SA Digital Connects, a local public-private collaborative, to bring internet into local homes found wanting during the pandemic.

She described for commissioners the importance of having online access.

"Having fast, reliable and affordable internet obviously helps people find housing; helps people find rent and mortgage resources; gives people access to telehealth appointments and get nutritional education," Gavito said.

Unincorporated areas of the county, suburban cities, and some inner-city areas of San Antonio are the focus of the broadband expansion.

The affordable housing funding will be applied towards new multi-family rentals, single family homes, and supportive housing, such as shelters. San Antonio's current homeless community is around 3,000, according to one county source. The Haven for Hope reported to commissioners they typically provide shelter to 7,000 men, women, and children each year.

Commissioners also:

  • Voted to extend for 90 days a ban on outdoor burning as a drought creates fire prone conditions. Wildfires continue to break out across South Texas and the Hill Country this summer. A fire that has charred nearly 1500-acres, not too far from Enchanted Rock in Gillespie County, was reported 95-percent contained on Monday and so was a much smaller one in Hays County.
  • Approved some orders to set up the Nov. 8 elections. County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen told the court some schools have opted out as polling places in the wake of the May 24 deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. She said they don't want the public to have access to the main areas of schools on election day. But she said some school districts, like Northside Independent School District, will make Election Day a student holiday or staff-only workday so no students are present. Callanen said some schools have also offered up remote campus buildings to replace libraries and other main spaces as polling locations.
  • Honored Scripps National Spelling Bee champion Harini Logan with a proclamation as the first-ever Bexar County resident to win. The proclamation praised Logan's determination in winning the championship after being eliminated in prior years. She thanked commissioners and told them she was preparing to start her 9th grade year at St. Mary's Hall.
  • Approved $79,000 dollars for the sheriff's department to purchase a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van from Mercedes-Benz of Boerne to be used as a mobile operations center for a fleet of ten drones. Sheriff Xavier Salazar said the van is needed to provide space for drone operations in the field, including flying them and recharging them. Commissioner Tommy Calvert asked if a Ford van would not have been cheaper. The sheriff's department reports the Mercedes-Benz van is already equipped as needed and would be cheaper. They also reported half-a-dozen vans ordered months ago have yet to arrive due to supply chain shortages caused by the pandemic.
  • Voted to name the University Oaks Law Enforcement Annex after the late deputy Floyd M. Cardenas who died at age 42 from a heart attack in August of 2021. The sheriff's department reports Cardenas had participated in canine SWAT training and an assist with a traffic stop both hours before his death. He left behind a wife and two children.
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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian