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San Antonio expands support for street construction woes but business owners feel it may fall short

Augie Cortez Jr., owner of Augie's BBQ on Broadway, spoke to a city council committee today on the frustrations his business is facing amid prolonged construction.
City of San Antonio
Augie Cortez Jr., owner of Augie's BBQ on Broadway, spoke to a city council committee on Friday, Dec. 16, on the frustrations his business is facing amid prolonged construction.

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The City of San Antonio is increasing the money spent on support services in its Construction Mitigation Program to the tune of $400,000 next year.

Businesses owners along major corridors like Broadway and the nightlife strip of North St. Mary’s have vented strong frustration over several years over how long some of the projects are taking and how it impacts their businesses. The city’s plan includes messaging, marketing and a deferred loan for projects that are expected to last more than a year.

Alex Lopez, assistant city manager, said the program was in existence but is being upgraded with the additional funding.

“There’s always been an opportunity to provide enhanced signage when construction is taking place, but we want to make sure that it’s more connected [and] it’s directly what that business knows that their customers would access,” she said.

Using the reserved $400,000 the city’s program would spend:

  • $50,000 on "corridor branding" to provide messaging to encourage customers to visit businesses while the construction is on-going
  • Marketing and promotion for signage, targeting mailers, and other initiatives would cost $310,000
  • A small business tool kit to share city contracts, ideas to mitigate disruption and connect businesses has about $15,000 earmarked 
  • $25,000 would be used to build on the city’s use of Waze for Cities to share lane closures.

The city, in its partnership with Liftfund, would continue to offer 0% loans for business owners in construction areas. But under the pilot program, it would add a deferment to where payments would not have to be made until after the construction project is finished.
“Typically the city support for this program buys down the interest so that businesses have a zero interest loan in essence, but what we can do to enhance it right now, for our construction impacted businesses is actually put them in a forbearance,” she said.

But for some business owners the ideas are coming too late. During a meeting of the city council’s economic development committee several business owners signed up to vent their frustration with how slow some of the construction projects have been moving and the mitigation proposal.

Augie Cortez Jr., owner of Augie's Barbeque on Broadway, said he felt like his frequent venting of concerns to the mayor and city manager’s offices and other city departments made him a pain in the neck.

“I feel like nobody’s listening. All I ever hear is 'good luck — there’s nothing we can do, but you still gotta pay your CPS bill,’ ’” he said.

Cortez criticized the option of taking out a loan to deal with costs. “Are you seriously proposing a debt? Oh yeah, let me go ahead and get into debt knowing that the project isn't going to be complete for another two and half years.”

City staff members said about 36 businesses had taken up the loan option on dates ranging from October 2021 to September 2022 totaling about $1.1 million in loans and an average of $35,000 per business.

Glenn Silber, CEO of Grunt Style, a clothing brand which is also on Broadway, said the construction along Broadway had impacted the store to the tune of $1 million.

“I think it goes without saying our patience really is up — we’re done,” he said. “Pencils down, we’ve attended the meetings, we’re not seeing the progress. ..."

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez told the business owners there have been flaws in the past.

“I think it would be disingenuous for us to just celebrate that we’re creating a new program … and hope it works out. I think that needs to come with owning the fact that this city for decades has failed in regards to construction, and it impacts small business,” he said.

He added that the idea of the program is to “triage the patient while we’re doing surgery.”

“I can tell you there [have] been many small business owners who served on the city council, including myself, who take this very seriously,” he said. “We’re obviously late to getting this done but hopefully we’ll make life a little better going forward.”

The city’s pilot program will begin in January.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules