The Tower of Americas and the Alamodome at Sunset. Photo by Melissa Burnett.
The Tower of Americas and the Alamodome at Sunset. Photo by Melissa Burnett.

Changes in San Antonio politics, buildings, and entertainment during 2014 brought about changes in the way we view these amenities.

Take the movement of musical chairs in local politics, for example.

On a large scale, it started in 2013 when Wendy Davis filibustered for half a day in the Texas Senate. Her 11-hour marathon, and the enthusiasm it inspired, attracted attention in San Antonio and across the nation, enough so that she thought she had a chance to become the next governor of Texas.

Interest in politics mushroomed when our former mayor was sworn in as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, making him one of the highest ranking Hispanics in government. When Julián Castro vacated his position as mayor, fellow City Councilmembers elected Ivy Taylor as interim mayor to serve out the last 300 days of his third term in office. Mayor Taylor became the first African-American woman to hold the seat. Two interim Councilmembers have since held her District Two seat: Keith Toney, by Council vote, then Alan Warrick II by special election. 

Mayor Ivy Taylor and District 2 Councilmember Alan Warrick pose for a photo after the District 2 runoff election. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mayor Ivy Taylor and District 2 Councilmember Alan Warrick pose for a photo after the District 2 runoff election. Photo by Scott Ball.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte hitched her wagon to Davis’ campaign and ran for lieutenant governor. When Democrats were thoroughly trounced in November’s elections, Van de Putte announced she would run for mayor rather than finish her term at the Texas Capitol. That announcement prompted two members of the Bexar County delegation, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer and Rep. Jose Menendez to  declare their candidacy for the vacated District 26 Senate seat. There are five candidates in all seeking to replace Van De Putte.

Even earlier, State Rep. Mike Villarreal (Democrat-District 123) announced his intentions to leave the Texas Legislature to run for mayor, which prompted District One City Councilmember Diego Bernal to step down from his seat to campaign for Villarreal’s seat. He’s not the only one. There are six candidates in all in this race.

Some voters believe politicians are leaders of the people. Others believe officeholders should be followers of public opinion. Former Judge Susan Reed learned about public opinion the hard way when Democratic candidate Nicholas “Nico” LaHood unseated the longtime Republican incumbent on his second try.

Nicholas "Nico" LaHood addresses supporters on election night with his wife, Davida, and daugher Maya, 5. Photo by Scott Ball.
Nicholas “Nico” LaHood addresses supporters on election night with his wife, Davida, and daugher Maya, 5. Photo by Scott Ball.

All these changes remind us: Voting still counts. You can support the candidate of your choice by voting in the Jan. 6 special election for those competing for Van de Putte’s vacated Senate seat and Villarrreal’s vacated House seat, and in the May 9 Municipal Elections when the word “interim” will disappear, at least for now, and voters will elect a mayor and 10 Council members for two-year terms.

Some of our favorite structures have undergone major changes this year.

A handful of activists opposed the opening of the Alamo Beer Company in the shadow of the historic Hays Street Bridge. Others were opposed to taking the tilt away from the Boehler House. Meanwhile, the former Pearl Brewery keeps going and growing, giving a boost to new businesses and residences in the neighborhood.

On a large scale, the famous Joske’s building will rise again, and the sale of Bank of America Plaza set a new record for the price of a downtown office tower. On a smaller scale, pop-ups are on the rise.

The way San Antonio opts for entertainment and relaxation has changed, as well. The new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts was erected behind the façade of the old Municipal Auditorium, and what a fantastic venue it is. Now, major plans are underway for redevelopment of Hemisfair’s Civic Park.

Rendering of Hemisfair's Civic Park shallows. Courtesy rendering.
Gustafson Guthrie Nichol rendering of Hemisfair’s Civic Park shallows.

Several blocks along the River Walk surrounding the Southwest School of Art will be re-envisioned, and the San Pedro Creek will become greener and cleaner during the next few years.

But restoration of smaller buildings may give greater cause for concern.

Developments on Dignowity Hill and the area near French and Michigan have raised concerns of gentrification.

Anytime there is movement of a higher socio-economic group into a less affluent neighborhood, local culture will change. And as Rivard Report contributing writer Bekah McNeel observed, “Depending on who’s telling it, the story of gentrification can be told as a tragedy, a comedy, or a hero story.” There were many instances of gentrification in 2014, and there will be many more in future years, starting in 2015.

San Antonio is on the forefront, for good or bad, of many national trends. A St. Louis grand jury’s decision to no-bill the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown triggered riots in Ferguson and protests spread across the nation. But our city preempted this concern with our own tragedy.

A little more than a year ago, an honors student was fatally shot outside his off-campus apartment by a policeman from the University of the Incarnate Word – and police relations have not been the same since. Body cameras for Park Police and Bike Patrol units may be one solution.

Valerie and Mickey Redus (center) bow their heads in tearful prayer during a candlelight vigil on the one year anniversary of Cameron Redus' death. Photo by Scott Ball.
Valerie and Mickey Redus (center) bow their heads in tearful prayer during a candlelight vigil on the one-year anniversary of Cameron Redus’ death. Photo by Scott Ball.

Meanwhile, the City and police and firefighter unions continue in on again, off again collective bargaining talks over a new contract. Tony Trevino became Interim Police Chief as William McManus prepared to retire on Jan. 1 and move to a new executive security position at CPS Energy. McManus went out with amid considerable debate over his strong positions against panhandling and unregulated rideshare companies.

People do need more transportation options. The city keeps growing by leaps and bounds. San Antonio’s new annexation strategy will bring in outlying areas, and extensive redevelopment is bringing new residents to the heart of the city.

The Historic and Design Review Commission has approved a mixed-use development project featuring residential units and retail space in Cattleman Square. The Westside is getting a huge boost with the completion of the San Juan Square apartment complex. The Steel House Lofts are going condo, the Maverick Building will get an extensive historical restoration, and countless other unique and historic buildings are being readied for habitation.

All the people in these new dwellings will need a way to get around. They won’t be riding a streetcar anytime soon since that idea was derailed and San Antonio is still grappling with the concept of rideshare. In redesigning streets, City officials need to consider how cars can share the road with pedestrians and bicycles. Streets and roads may become ‘Stroads.’ A land bridge may connect parts of Phil Hardberger Park.

Hang on for the ride. New leaders, new buildings, new uses for old buildings, and new ways of thinking about solutions will change our society in 2015 in ways we cannot foresee. If your New Year is not happy, it will certainly be interesting.

*Featured/top image: The Tower of Americas and the Alamodome at Sunset. Photo by Melissa Burnett.

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Don Mathis

Don’s life revolves around the many poetry circles in San Antonio. His poems have been published in many anthologies and periodicals and broadcasted on local TV and national radio. In addition to poetry,...