A street view rendering of St. John’s Square.
A street view rendering of St. John’s Square. Credit: Courtesy / Mark Odom Studio

With a name inspired by a neighboring church, a contemporary multifamily housing development destined for a corner in the oldest neighborhood in San Antonio won conceptual approval in recent weeks.

The Historic and Design Review Commission approved on March 20 plans brought by Weal Development and Mark Odom Studio for St. John’s Square. The eight-story, 250-unit apartment building will be constructed on property owned by St. John’s Lutheran Church, which can trace its history to early German settlers in 1851.

Currently used as a parking lot, the property bordered by South St. Mary’s, East Nueva, and Presa streets in the La Villita Historic District was the focus of negotiations between the local developer and St. John’s that began six years ago. The talks resulted in a 99-year ground lease that will bring the church steady revenues and much-needed workforce housing to downtown, said Dennis McDaniel, CEO of Weal Development.

“It worked out well for the church,” he said. “Right now, the income from the parking lot is seasonal. So now they can plan.”

The church’s congregation president, Ron Stinson, has been attending St. John’s for more than 50 years and is excited to see the development finally coming to pass. The church recently hired a new pastor, James Dew, and Stinson thinks the development will serve to showcase the church. “This will be the downtown San Antonio church to belong to and attend,” he said.

Stinson represented the church in negotiations with McDaniel after reviewing offers from several other developers. He said the project will be “huge” for the church – in providing revenues for programming, building attendance at the church, and removing the eyesore of a parking lot, while still making parking available to church-goers and the public.

Fifty of the units at St. John’s Square will be offered to those who earn less than 50 percent of the area median income ($50,044 in 2017), and the rest at market rate. Most of the 250 units will be one-bedroom apartments, but there also are studio apartments and “brownstone-style” walkups, and three two-bedroom units on each of the above-ground floors.

McDaniel believes St. John’s Square will make life better for people who work in the city’s dozens of hotels and many more restaurants downtown but who can’t afford to live there. Even though such center-city development projects are costlier to do than those in the suburbs, McDaniel said it’s worth it.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career, and at this stage, I get to work on projects that are meaningful to me – it’s not just about making money,” he said. “With this project on the edge of the hospitality district … we get to make a difference in a lot of people’s lives. I’m not going or fix the problem [of affordable housing], but in my own little way, I get to help.”

St. John’s Square qualified for over $625,000 in fee waivers and $3.2 million in incentives through the Center City Housing Incentive Policy.

McDaniel said he expects to receive a construction permit this fall and break ground before the end of the year. “By end of 2021, we should have people moving in there,” he said.

The general contractor is Cadence McShane, the same company working to complete Area Real Estate’s 151-unit property known as The ’68 Apartments, which is just blocks away from the St. John’s Square site at Hemisfair.

A rendering of St. John’s Square next to St. John’s Lutheran Church.
A rendering of St. John’s Square next to St. John’s Lutheran Church. Credit: Courtesy / Mark Odom Studio

The St. John’s development will feature ground-level restaurants and retail, and though McDaniel has already secured one restaurant that will be operated by a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America, he said he can’t reveal the name yet. He’s also hoping to bring in a co-working space and a fitness studio. The building wraps around a parking garage.

McDaniel is the developer behind Steel House Lofts, a historic building turned into 67 condos in the Lone Star District in 2012. Initially offered as rentals, the apartments were converted to for-sale properties in 2017. McDaniel splits his time between a condo he owns there and a residence near his grandchildren in Austin.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.