Plans to renovate St. Paul Square received a nod of approval Wednesday as a board in charge of allocating tax revenues voted in favor of a property owner’s request for $1.35 million for street, wayfinding, and other infrastructure improvements to the near East Side.

REATA Real Estate owns much of the property within the historic district and will invest more than $7 million into improvements on its own, said Don Thomas, a REATA partner. It’s part of his longterm plan to bring 24-hour activity to the square after REATA purchased the property from Zachry Corp. in 2017.

Rather than St. Paul Square filling up only during and after events at the nearby Alamodome or Henry B. González Convention Center, Thomas said, he wants it to become “a destination every day.”

The unanimous recommendation by the Inner City Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone’s board on Wednesday requires final approval by City Council, slated for early next month.

The City established the tax increment reinvestment zone in 2000 to collect the increased taxes from development in the area that includes the near East Side. The board then allocates that money to other development projects and infrastructure improvements within its boundaries.

In St. Paul Square, the money would be used to improve exterior awnings, crosswalks, the Lone Star Pavillion, courtyard, and landscaping. Thomas expects work to be done in phases over the next few years, starting in 2020 with improvements to the interior courtyard off the southwest corner of Commerce and Hoefgen streets. 

Efforts to improve wayfinding would include directing vehicles to parking –  something that people commonly think doesn’t exist in St. Paul Square, Thomas said. REATA bought 150 spots for public use in the parking garage for the new Balwin apartments in 2018.

REATA owns Sunset Station and more than half of the buildings in St. Paul. It plans to purchase five other buildings that it’s currently leasing from the City. That also would require City Council approval.

Sunset Station, in the St. Paul Square Historic District, opened in the early 1900s. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

REATA would provide the City 12 free event days per year at the Lone Star Pavilion adjacent to Sunset Station and would offer below-market rental rates to community-based nonprofits for the next 20 years as part of the terms of the TIRZ agreement.

For decades the Lone Star Pavillion was relatively quiet, he said, but this year it will host 30-40 concerts. Thomas said he plans to open plaza areas in front of Sunset Station and near the pavilion to the public when there are no events scheduled.

On Commerce Street, new restaurant and bar tenants have moved in since 2018, including Lilly’s Greenville and Toro Kitchen + Bar. Office spaces throughout the district also have welcomed new tenants.

A rebranding of the district will be announced in January, Thomas said.

Many have tried and failed to revitalize the once-bustling commercial area that has deep roots in the history of San Antonio’s African-American population. The opening of Sunset Station, which is now an event venue, sparked development in the area in the early 1900s. The square is named for the city’s oldest primarily African-American parish that used to be located there. The sanctuary remains as a wedding and event space, but the St. Paul United Methodist Church has since moved.

Construction of Interstate 37 in the 1960s and Commerce Street’s switch to a one-way roadway heading toward downtown in 1954 contributed to its decline.

Previous attempts to revive the square have focused on catering to conventioneers and eventgoers, Thomas said. REATA is focusing on locals.

“[Visitors] want to go where the locals are anyway,” Thomas said.

Another challenge was the lack of neighborhood involvement, said Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct 4), who serves on the TIRZ board.

“The community did not necessarily feel welcomed or connected” to previous attempts, Calvert said, offering his support to help ensure this attempt is successful. “Godspeed and good luck.”

REATA has been meeting with area neighborhood associations, Thomas said, and welcomes input from East Side residents.

“We want to serve that community,” he said. “We’re the gateway to the East Side.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...