A major economic development project on San Antonio's East Side is slated to complete its first phase Feb. 1.
For years, much of the four-building complex built in red brick and anchored by Merchants Ice and Cold Storage sat vacant just east of downtown. Now dozens of workers in yellow vests and hard hats drive forklifts, excavators, and heavy equipment to finish out the future home of Texas Research & Technology Foundation’s VelocityTX program.
The accelerator, incubator and investment fund’s new home will be known as the VelocityTX Innovation Center. It's TRTF's $220 million investment that its hopes can energize the biotechnology industry in San Antonio and reshape a portion of the East Side.
Building 1 is currently in the home stretch of redevelopment. Half the space will host 25 offices and eight labs for budding biotech companies, which is something organizers say doesn’t exist in San Antonio.
"This really meets the need of one of those critical elements of our ecosystem and that is facilities, incubation space. The development and commercialization of ideas," said Rene Dominguez, president and chief operating officer for TRTF and Velocity.
The building will also host classroom space for biomedical job training TRTF hopes to partner on to engage east side students and residents.
GenCure, the stem cell production company, will take up the other half of the 37,000 square foot Building 1 space. Its parent company BioBridge Global has its headquarters in San Antonio, but they also wanted to locate with this project on the near East Side to help build towards a critical mass.
“With the local military, academic and private institutions located in the city, San Antonio has the potential to become a regenerative medicine hub,” said Ashley Frolick, a GenCure spokesperson.
In seven years they could complete all four buildings, potentially adding a fifth. The campus would include tens of thousands of square feet in innovation space for startups and established companies as well as a boutique hotel to be located in the old four-story Merchants building.
TRTF is already receiving inquiries about building two, which is in predevelopment. San Antonians might remember it as the sight of several bars and music venues, most recently Alamo City Music Hall. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid 2020.
Dominguez left the city's Economic Development Department last summer to help shepard this project. San Antonio put in 5.7 million in incentives last year.
Dominguez sees it as transformational for an area hemmed in by interstates and filled with warehouses and light industrial.
“From basically Sunset Station, all the way to (Interstate) 35. From Cherry (Street) to (Interstate) 37,” said Dominguez. “You know, it's 175 acres of opportunity that we feel we could attract companies here and really get the kind of flywheel going and the momentum going. We could have a pretty significant impact in terms of creating jobs.”
As with every economic development project, the question remains, is the time right?