One facet of the San Antonio Museum of Art’s ongoing quest to find more space to house and display its collections is moving closer to resolution.

The CPS Energy board voted Nov. 15 to convey to SAMA a 1-acre parcel of land adjacent to the museum.

CPS Energy Chief Administrative Officer Lisa Lewis said environmental cleanup associated with earlier use of the site is nearing completion. A survey of the property to determine exact boundary lines will be completed “within a few weeks,” she said, but the ultimate land-transfer timeline is uncertain.

The donation of the city-owned parcel is a reduction from an earlier offer of a 3.47-acre parcel, which includes a building formerly used as CPS administrative offices.

That offer, initiated in 2015, expired in 2019 without an agreement being reached, in part due to complications that arose from remediation issues involving the land and facilities, which CPS Energy has not used for a number of years. As a city-owned utility CPS Energy regularly reviews unused resources, including property, and may sell such assets to maximize customer benefit.

Voting to convey 1 acre of vacant land represents a simplification of the process for both SAMA and the utility, said outgoing CPS Energy board member Edward Kelley, who has been part of the discussion since it was first proposed.

“There was goodwill on both sides of the equation,” Kelley said of discussions between boards that led to the agreement. “That made it much simpler with a smaller tract. … Once they got to the actual implementation of what it would take to convey the land, it just got a whole lot more complicated than anybody anticipated,” he said, referring to the original 2015 proposal.

SAMA board Chair Ed Hart has also been involved in the discussions of conveying land since 2015 and said that, though “a lot has changed,” he and the museum’s board are pleased with the result.

“Everybody is in this in the right spirit,” Hart said. “I’m very confident it’s going to turn out great for both organizations. But it’s complex, to say the least.”

CPS Energy initially sought to donate half of its nearly 7-acre parcel, valued in total at $22 million, and sell the other half, which could in part offset significant expenses the energy company incurred during the winter storm Uri crisis of February 2021.

Lewis said the agreement to convey 1 acre to SAMA was “a practical decision, recognizing that the interests and needs of our community and both organizations are significant; this was the solution that the two organizations’ boards agreed was best for all.”

The 7-acre city-owned property adjacent to the San Antonio Museum of Art. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

SAMA staff and board members have expressed a need for more space, for storage of the museum’s collection of nearly 30,000 objects and for exhibition space to display collections and touring exhibitions.

While co-interim director of SAMA before the recent hiring of new Executive Director Emily Ballew Neff, Asian art specialist and curator Emily Sano put in a request for a $15 million allocation from the 2022 municipal bond toward potential construction of a building across Jones Street from the main museum building.

Hart said how SAMA ultimately will use the 1-acre parcel remains to be determined. When Neff arrives in January 2022, he said, she and the board will “sit down and go through the checklist of what are the immediate, tactical priorities and then [consider] what’s our broader strategic plan?

“We think we’re going to get to a place where we’ll have some flexibility … to do what’s most pressing,” he said.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...