It would look like any other weekday in downtown San Antonio if not for the absence of summer tourists and office workers on the nearly empty streets and sidewalks and a River Walk left mostly to a few locals and the herons.

What has not changed during the coronavirus pandemic are the sights and sounds of construction on nearly every block.

Workers in hard hats and reflective safety vests make up the most visible population on downtown streets where orange traffic cones and blue-steel cranes seem to signify the show must go on.

Considered an essential business, construction has plowed ahead during the crisis, and progress has been made on many major projects downtown and across the nation.

A census report released Wednesday said total construction activity in the U.S. during May amounted to $1.3 billion, though that is down 2 percent from the prior month.

While building sites are currently buzzing throughout the city, overall activity could start to sputter in San Antonio, where the industry employs 58,000 people with an annual payroll of $3 billion, according to the local chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

“They’ve got work right now,” said Steven Schultz, president of the South Texas chapter of ABC. “But [builders are asking] what’s going to be available to bid? If I bid that job, is it going to start? Because there’s just all that uncertainty right now as to the whole U.S. economy and, quite honestly, some projects have been put on hold.”

Commercial construction permit requests submitted to the City of San Antonio declined from this year’s high so far of 283 in March to 185 in May.

Schultz said industry experts are forecasting the current economic downturn will result in fewer hospitality projects on the horizon but more medical and hospital construction work. Existing structures may be repurposed for warehousing and distribution centers as well.

In the meantime, contractors are hiring, he said. “There’s always going to be a demand for construction. It may slow down some but it’s never going to go away.”

Here’s a look at ongoing construction in and around downtown San Antonio.

San Pedro Creek Improvements Project: The second phase of a multiyear, $175 million project to revamp a 2-mile drainage ditch into a linear park is ongoing with a buzz of activity south of the new Frost Tower and adjacent the Alameda Theatre.  

Canopy by Hilton Hotel: Black construction netting drapes the 24 stories of a 197-room hotel under construction on a tiny lot at North St. Mary’s and Commerce streets. The developer is Crockett Urban Ventures.

The Light Building: Renovation of the long-vacant Spanish Colonial Revival building, once home to a newspaper publisher, is nearly complete, while reconstruction of the old press building behind is ongoing. The developer is GrayStreet Partners.

Oxbow and Credit Human: Construction is in the final stages on the two office towers, one of which will serve as Credit Human’s headquarters, and a parking garage occupying the entire block between Broadway Street and Avenue B, near the Pearl.

Weston Urban Park: The park situated to the east of the new Frost Tower is complete and a building on the northwest corner is under construction for a Pinkerton’s Barbecue restaurant.

Jefferson Bank: A construction fence surrounds the 1.7-acre property at Broadway and East Grayson streets where Jefferson Bank has plans to develop its new headquarters.

Flats at River North: A five-story mixed-use apartment building being developed by the NRP Group is underway at 1011 Broadway.

The Soto: The mass-timber building on property that was once a Cavender auto dealership at 711 Broadway will serve as a mixed-use building developed by Hixon Properties.

CPS Energy headquarters: Construction was completed in June on the former AT&T buildings on McCullough that underwent a $100 million renovation for CPS Energy’s headquarters. Employees will move in during the fall as planned, said a spokeswoman.

The Arts Residences and Thompson Hotel: In the works since 2017, the striking condo-hotel project near the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is being developed by DC Partners and Universal Service Group. Most of the condo units are sold, and closings will begin in late July. Construction on the hotel is on pace for a grand opening this fall.

City Hall: Renovations to the 130-year-old building, which began in late 2018 and displaced more than 100 City staffers during construction, are ongoing.

Borden Park Project: Billboards that once towered over the site along U.S. Highway 281 have been removed and workers are clearing the way for a multifamily housing development on the former Borden Dairy plant site near the Tobin Hill neighborhood.

New federal courthouse: After a groundbreaking last year in March, construction began on a new federal courthouse at 214 W. Nueva St. that will replace the John H. Wood facility at Hemisfair. Plans call for the building to be ready for occupancy in 2022.

Museum Reach Lofts: Developed by the nonprofit Alamo Community Group, the affordable multifamily residential property at 1500 N. St. Mary’s St. will be completed later this year and begin leasing in November.

Floodgate: With the old buildings on the site demolished, groundwork is being done for the 17-story octagonal residential tower, to be built at 143 E. Commerce St. along the San Antonio River Walk. 

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.