Two free and public events will take place next week to discuss the transformations taking place in the near-Eastside, a long-neglected area of the city. The subject of the first discussion, St. Paul’s Square, is – or could be – the gateway from downtown San Antonio into the second, Dignowity Hill and beyond.
The City of San Antonio’s Department of Planning and Community Development will host an open house at the Little Carver Civic Center for community members and property owners to discuss the past, present and future of the historic, largely vacant commercial district on Tuesday, Oct. 20, from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
The next night, on Wednesday, Oct. 21, the Rivard Report and Overland Partners will host a Place Changing Neighborhood Forum on from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Alamo Brewery to discuss the changes happening in Dignowity Hill, a near-Eastside neighborhood. Click here for details.
St. Paul’s Square Historic District lies east of Hemisfair across I-37, bound by the railroad tracks to the east, Houston Street to the north, and Montana Street to the south.
Most of the buildings that make up St. Paul’s Square were constructed between 1870 and 1880. The area experienced growth with the arrival of the railroad in 1877 and the streetcar system on East Commerce Street in the 1890s. Trade and transportation commercial buildings occupied most of the square in the early 20th century, and the square experienced its peak during World War II. However, the construction of I-37 physically and psychologically cut off the square from the rest of downtown, which led to its decline in the ’60s and ’70s.
“We’ve never been able to get past the construction (of the highway),” said Sue Ann Pemberton, a principal architect at Mainstreet Architects Inc, a long-time resident of Dignowity Hill who will facilitate the open house on Tuesday. “Most people have this mental perception that when they get past Denny’s (east of Rivercenter Mall) there is nothing more.”
Office and commercial space has had high turnover rate over the years and Tuesday’s event will explore reasons why while looking forward to the future of San Antonio’s urban core.
The open house will give stakeholders and property owners a chance to communicate with one another about the false starts that never took off in St. Paul’s Square and brainstorm about the future of the centrally located land just north of the Alamodome.
“Everybody recognizes it is a charming and special place but it has never taken off,” Pemberton said, adding that part of the reason it has remained unsuccessful is because of the lack of nearby housing stock.
After 13 years, Ruth’s Chris Steak House moved out of its iconic location on the corner of East Commerce Street and Hoefgen Avenue to the Grand Hyatt in 2013.
Since 1978, the St. Paul Square Association has been at the forefront of development within the square, seeking new tenants to move into the historic buildings. St. Paul’s Square is home to a couple hotels, architectural firm Ford, Powell & Carson, The RK Group, The Mighty Group, a couple sports bars, and a handful of other businesses. Powell Law Firm moved in just last week.
“We need something that makes (St. Paul’s Square) a destination and I think most people still see it as a thoroughfare,” Pemberton said.
The information gathered during the open house will be used in a St. Paul Square neighborhood redevelopment study which will be published in February or March of 2016.
*Top image: The Commerce Street foot bridge at St. Paul’s Square. Photo courtesy of the St. Paul’s Square Association.