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In the nearly 20 years since Lone Star Beer left its home on the banks of the San Antonio River and moved to Fort Worth, the abandoned, graffiti-ridden brewery has sat vacant amid the weeds, while five miles north on the same river, the Pearl Brewery has evolved into one of the nation’s most admired redevelopment projects.
Finally, San Antonio’s other landmark former brewery might on the way to its own rebirth.
Austin-based Aqualand Development has purchased 34 acres of the 60-acre Lone Star property (see photo gallery above) with an option to acquire the rest, according to a news release. The story was first reported in the Express-News Tuesday night.
Plans to turn the site into a mixed-use development are not unlike what the Pearl has accomplished along the Museum Reach, which would make it the centerpiece in the near-Southside’s redevelopment. Such ambition, however, will take deep pockets and a combination of vision and commitment that goes beyond a financial one. Silver Ventures, the Pearl owner, has spent more than decade bringing the Pearl back to life. With the Hotel Emma slated for opening toward the end of the year, the Pearl remains a work-in-progress even as it’s sparked tens of millions of dollars in surrounding residential and mixed-use development projects.
“Restoring a landmark like the Lone Star Brewery is an expensive proposition,” Aqualand President Mark Smith stated in the release. “We are hopeful that we can return most of the iconic features of the site to their former glory.”
The transaction also will bring heightened attention to the former CPS Energy power plant on the other side of the river. Utility officials have invested substantially in the property to prepare it for redevelopment, but have not yet made public their intentions.
Just north of the brewery on Lone Star Boulevard, across several rows of train tracks, the Big Tex mixed-use development is taking shape next to the Blue Star Art Complex and appears to be on track for a Spring 2016 opening. Big Tex – a $50 million, six-building complex – will add 336 multi-family units, including 14 three-story townhomes, to the San Antonio River’s Eagleland Reach. Porches for the units come within five feet of the trail. Rents are estimated to range from $750 to $2,000.
Back over the tracks and a few blocks northwest, a 212-unit apartment complex and a large parking garage nicknamed “La Tuna Site Residential” has broken ground across from La Tuna Ice House and Grill on Cevallos Street.
From there, it’s pretty much a straight shot to South Flores Street and its thriving art galleries. This may sound familiar to former Blue Star gallery owners and artists, many of whom were priced out of gallery and work space as the area developed.
The Newell family has owned the brewery property since 2010, and its proximity to Commercial Metals Company – formerly Newell Recycling – has proved to make the Lone Star site a hard sell. According to a 2013 article in the Express-News, the recycling operation will likely be looking for a new home now that a more solid plan for the area is in place. Shredding metal is an environmentally messy and noisy industry – which makes finding welcoming neighbors hard.
Aqualand Development representatives could not be reached for comment before deadline, but the news release indicated that Smith’s personal connection to San Antonio would make for a project sensitive the neighborhood’s history and culture.
“I swam in the pool, played at the lake and sat with my grandfather in the beer garden overlooking the Buckhorn Saloon as a kid. We are going to work diligently with the city, state and others to restore as much of the site as economically feasible,” Smith stated.
Center City Development and Operations (CCDO) Department Director Lori Houston said any demolition or development project at the Lone Star site will require analyzation by the Historic and Design Review Commission as the site has been designated a historical landmark and lies within a river improvement district.
“CCDO staff is working closely with Aqualand and the Office of Historic Preservation in identifying possible tax credits at the state and federal level,” Houston said.
The Lone Star project’s location qualifies it under the Center City Housing Incentive Policy (CCHIP) for City and water impact fee waivers, property tax rebates, and low-interest loans. These incentives are reserved for projects that are within the target zone for revitalization, and that create at least two housing units on a single lot, or 16 units per acre.
“The policy encourages historic rehabilitation, adaptive reuse, brownfield’s redevelopment, and transit oriented development. Finally, the policy rewards good urban design and encourages mixed use and mixed income development and redevelopment,” states the CCHIP manual.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Lone Star Beer moved to Fort Worth nearly 10 years ago. It was nearly 20 years ago. Commercial Metals Company purchased Newell Recycling in 2014.
*Featured/top image: The Lone Star Brewery. Photo by Scott Ball.