Mural on MLK Drive in San Antonio's Eastside. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.
Mural on MLK Drive in San Antonio's Eastside. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.

San Antonio for Growth on the East Side (SAGE) unveiled the Grow Eastside Fund Tuesday, a $2 million low-interest loan program provided by the National Development Council’s Grow America Fund to encourage small businesses to expand or relocate within the new Promise Zone.

Unveiling of the official East Point banner. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez
Unveiling of the official EastPoint logo. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.

The Grow America Fund provides alternatives to conventional lending by lowering interest rates and down payments in order to fundamentally enhance community and economic development. In the case of the EastPoint Promise Zone, the fund provides a three-to-one match grant of $1.5 million for the $500,000 raised by SAGE, an Eastside economic development agency.

The fund will work in tandem with existing SAGE projects including the Store Front Grant program and Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization Initiative.

Business leaders, elected officials, and Eastside residents filled the room with anticipation for the official EastPoint fund announcement by San Antonio Growth for the Eastside (SAGE) Executive Director Jackie Gorman, District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, and Mayor Julián Castro.

EastPoint Community

Gaining steam from the overlapping Promise and Choice Neighborhood federal grants, the Obama administration announced this year that San Antonio would be one of five national recipients for yet another neighborhood development incentive program.

The partners of the Promise and Choice Together (PACT) coordinating council have dubbed the Promise Zone “EastPoint.”

A majority of Eastside residents surveyed were discontent with the deteriorating conditions of their parks and playgrounds, homes and office spaces. The community also grapples with about double the unemployment rate – 15 percent – and half the median household annual income – $25,000 – compared with the City of San Antonio, seven percent and $53,000 respectively.

EastPoint Promise Zone Initiative Map. Click here to download full-size PDF.
EastPoint and Promise Zone Initiative Map. Click here to download full-size PDF.

The neighborhood program boundaries stretch east from I-37 along the intersection of Loop 410 and I-35 north.

Although the Eastside has maintained its cultural status as predominantly African-American, demographic studies identify Mexican-Americans as an emerging ethnic population with 68 percent as of 2010.

The City of San Antonio 2014 Fiscal Year Budget will delegate $3.6 million dollars in infrastructure funds for the Eastside, said Mayor Castro. SAHA is working with the University Health System to locate a healthcare center in the EastPoint area.

Castro was candid about the unfavorable public image associated with Eastside San Antonio. As the neighborhood “on the other side of the tracks … on the other side of the highway,” he acknowledged that Eastside schools, streets, and parks have a long history of neglect.

He called for residents of San Antonio to overcome social barriers that perpetuate superficial discrimination and told the audience that he is determined to turn that image around to develop the Eastside as a viable consideration for future business and community investors.

Mayor Castro also announced plans to team up with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Councilwoman Taylor to provide an influx of revenue for the Menger Creek Project that will “include channel improvements, a pedestrian bridge, an instructional linear park, along with other amenities.” The City of San Antonio has garnered $6.5 million for the project so far.

“It’s not enough for us to throw money into the community,” Castro said. The community must come together to foster an environment for young people to graduate from high school, enroll in higher education and for more families to become homeowners.

“When all of this is said and done in the coming years, it won’t have been enough for us to have a title here on the Eastside of having a ‘Promise Neighborhood’ designation or a ‘Promise Zone’ designation,” Castro said. “We will only be successful if we can say that, with a human element, we have met our marks in terms of success.”

The future looks bright for the newly designated EastPoint with tangible improvements organized by community-based efforts. “As the Eastside is lifted, so too will all of San Antonio,” he said.

Promise, Choice and Progress on the Eastside

As a 2010 recipient of a Promise Neighborhood planning grant from the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County, The Eastside Promise Neighborhood is located in the heart of District 2. Through the Choice and Promise Neighborhood federal grants, about $54 million have been awarded since 2011.

With a population of nearly 18,000, the Promise Neighborhood struggles daily with dire socio-economic conditions. United Way teamed up with The City of San Antonio, San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), and SAISD in a community effort to address a number of pressing issues such as low graduation rates, income inequality and a transient home-base population.

SAGE Executive Director Jackie Gorman addresses those gathered for the announcement of the Grow East Side Fund. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.
SAGE Executive Director Jackie Gorman addresses citizens and leaders gathered for the announcement of the Grow East Side Fund. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.

The neighborhood program has established 10 promises as a pathway for the community. These promises include opportunities for students to feel safe at school and their neighborhood, ensuring a successful transition from elementary to middle to high school, and creating programs to offer GED, college, and vocational training. (Read the full list and correlating statistics here.)

Through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, SAHA was awarded a two-year $250,000 Choice Neighborhoods planning grant in 2011.

In April 2012 Wheatley Courts, a 248 unit complex, was designated as the focal point of the neighborhood planning grant. Local business and civic leaders, school boards and residents developed the Eastside Choice Neighborhood Transformation Plan.

Its mission? Three words: People, Education, Housing.

In September of last year the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization developed a Walkable Community Program for residents to identify factors – lack of sidewalks, inadequate street lighting, drug-related crime – in need of transformation to facilitate a vibrant community for all.

Demolition of the Wheatley Courts, in order to make way for a community-based renovation plan, is scheduled to begin within the next 60-90 days, according to Councilwoman Taylor. “In the next few months and people will see that we’re really serious,” Taylor said, adding that all residents have been successfully relocated for the interim period.

The Eastside has a legacy of community involvement and activism, said Christine Drennon, director of Urban Studies at Trinity University, after the day’s announcements. “The Eastside Promise Zone has partnered with Drennon and Trinity University for area studies and demographic research.

The Eastside community has mobilized to form many successful educational, economic and civil rights organizations over the years.

Following in the footsteps of former Councilman and civic leader Rev. Claude Black, the Eastside actively maintains its legacy of community activism she said. “And we can’t forget that … we can’t forget.”

Eastside San Antonio's MLK March is one of the largest in the nation. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.
Eastside San Antonio’s MLK March is one of the largest in the nation. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.

 *Featured/top image: Mural on MLK Drive in San Antonio’s Eastside. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.

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Rene Jaime Gonzalez is currently pursuing an Associate’s degree in Public Administration at San Antonio College. In 2012 NPR Cities published his submission to the “Sound of Your City” project.