Graffittied and worn, one of the original Big Tex Grain Co. buildings will be incorporated into the mixed use development on the San Antonio River. Photo by Scott Ball.

The former Big Tex Grain Company, a long abandoned industrial site best known for its weathered silos that stood sentinel above the San Antonio River, will soon take on new life as The Flats at Big Tex, a 336-unit, apartment complex that winds along the riverbank below the Blue Star Arts Complex.

The project is pre-leasing now online and will soon include an on-site leasing office. The first units will be open for occupancy in March, and completion of construction and the official opening is expected to happen by late summer.

The development of multifamily projects has shown no signs of slowing in the corridor that extends from Broadway through Southtown. With each new project coming on-line, consumers are seeing an increase in variety, location, ambience and price points. The Flats at Big Tex will rank as one of the more unique projects, a narrow, curving development along the scenic Eagleland Reach with an inviting main street created by the space left between the riverfront buildings with the complementary off-river residential structures.

The Flats at Big Tex were designed by Alamo Architects, and built by The NRP Group in partnership with local developer and property owner James Lifshutz, who also owns the neighboring Blue Star. NRP also developed the nearby Cevallos Lofts at 301 E. Cevallos St. across Probandt.

The Big Tex property’s trademark signage and tall grain silos, graffiti included, were stabilized with a new foundation and, where needed, a new sheathing of corrugated metal. The silos will overlook what might be the most ambitious clubhouse/outdoor swimming pool complex in the urban core.

The squat, iconic silos that lined the river’s path where the First Friday art walk was born were mostly demolished last year, although several silos were left standing and have been partially restored for future use.

Graffiti covers the base of large Big Tex Grain Co. silos. Photo by Scott Ball.
Graffiti covers the base of large Big Tex Grain Co. silos. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Industrial complexes in cities across the nation are typically five or six stories tall, said Irby Hightower, the project’s lead architect. Big Tex was essentially comprised of a long row of stout silos with the taller, main structure in the center. The river was once lined with industrial sites and viewed more as a back-door open sewer than a valued waterway and living artery through the city.

The property offered creative opportunities along with engineering challenges.  Hightower and his design team retained the elongated character of the silos to take full advantage of river-view properties. Smaller, thoughtful details also contribute to the project’s nod to the former granary. Portions of The Flats, for instance, were constructed using brick purchased from D’Hannis; the same company that sold to Big Tex.

About 5,500  sq. ft. of river view restaurant space will serve as the main entry point for the complex, with room for a coffee shop or other storefront business next door. The commercial tenant’s lease is yet to be finalized, but Mark Jensen, vice president of The NRP Group, said it will be a “fun and approachable” space for residents to dine on a regular basis and casual enough for pedestrians to drop in while strolling along the nearby river pathway.

The general ethos and design of The Flats is to serve as an extension of the dynamic Southtown neighborhood, rather than a separate, upscale gated development. The two-story leasing office, with polished concrete floors and  stressed metal display walls, was designed to showcase the work of Southtown artists and feels more like an art gallery than an office space.

A portrait of Mary Heathcott. Photo by Josh Huskin.
A portrait of Mary Heathcott. Photo by Josh Huskin.

The proximity to the Blue Star Arts Complex and the general artistic atmosphere of Southtown will play a prominent role in the ambience and character of the Flats. 

“I think everyone at Blue Star is excited about having so many new neighbors to engage with our contemporary art and programs,” said Mary Heathcott, executive director of the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, who will curate the artists displayed at Big Tex. “We’ve had a residential community at Blue Star, which has been a really supportive to our mission, and now it will be multiplied many times over. We plan to directly engage them to be here all the time. We want them to be a part of everything.”

Inside the multistory townhomes and apartments, tenants will find polished concrete floors, bedrooms with carpeting, 9 and 10-foot ceilings, and large, double-paned windows. The river-facing units will have stellar views of the Eagleland Reach, the King William houses and downtown landmarks such as the Tower Life Building and the Tower of the Americas.

Inside a one-bedroom apartment at Big Tex. Photo by Scott Ball.
Inside a one-bedroom unit in The Flats at Big Tex. Photo by Scott Ball.

Unlike most multifamily developments where only a few different floor plans are offered, the property’s contours required the architects to adopt a greater variety of floor plans to maximize the use of space. The choices range from 490-sq. ft. studios that start at $1,065 per month; 700-plus sq. ft. one-bedrooms starting at $1,200; all the way up to 1,840 sq. ft. three-bedroom, three-bath townhomes for $3,420. The three-story townhomes have their own garages and dog-yards that open onto the river. As of this writing, there is only one left.

The public spaces at the Flats include the pool complex, and the clubhouse with a designer kitchen, a  lounge with gaming tables, and a large open space and patio for parties and private events. The fitness center includes a cardio room and a flex studio suitable for yoga classes and available to third-party instructors. There are two dog parks, and a bicycle storage locker and repair center.

The Flats, while not completely finished, will compete with the Can Plant at the Pearl, the new Agave on César Chávez Boulevard, and 1221 Broadway for the upper end of the apartment market. If the design and development team succeed, they will expand the community that already has made apartments scarce in King William and Lavaca and extend the options farther down the river. As the Flats at Big Texas fill, people will start to wonder when the dormant Lone Star Brewery will be reborn as a mixed-use development.

View of the Eagleland Reach of the San Antonio River and King William Historic District from an apartment at Big Tex. Photo by Scott Ball.
View of the Eagleland Reach of the San Antonio River and King William Historic District from a unit in The Flats of Big Tex. Photo by Scott Ball.

*Top image: Graffiti-tagged and worn, one of the original Big Tex Grain Co. buildings will be incorporated into the mixed use development on the San Antonio River. Photo by Scott Ball.

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Neil Fauerso

Neil Fauerso is a writer and lawyer who has lived and worked in Los Angeles, Seattle, Beijing and Austin. He recently moved back to San Antonio from Austin.