New modular offices are erected for City staff located nearby City Hall.
New modular offices are erected for City staff located nearby City Hall. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The City of San Antonio began moving several departments out of the 130-year-old City Hall into temporary buildings and offices nearby Tuesday, the first step in an estimated 18-month, $38 million process to renovate the aging facility that will feature a new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp at the front entrance.

Hours of operation will remain the same, as will phone numbers for Council members and various departments. There will be no interruption of services during the move that will be completed by Aug. 1, a spokesperson for the City said.

City Council approved the renovation with an 8-3 vote in May after some debate over how the City is financing the project and whether the public should have a say in the matter. The renovation is funded with non-voter-approved debt through the City’s 2017-2018 budget.

Most Council members utlimately agreed that repairs to the flooding, cracking, and crumbling structure were long overdue. Renovations, which include new floor plans and furnishings, are slated for completion in February 2020 when the more than 143 employees and elected officials can move back in.

  • Council members, the mayor, city manager, and some of their staff will move to the second floor of Plaza de Armas, located behind City Hall at 115 Plaza de Armas.
  • The Department of Arts and Culture will move from Plaza de Armas into the City-owned International Center at 203 S. St. Mary’s St.
  • The City Attorney’s Office and other departments such as Government and Public Affairs will be housed in what City officials call a “modular complex” at 506 Dolorosa.
  • The City Clerk’s Office will be relocated to the Municipal Plaza Building in Main Plaza.
  • The City’s mailing address will remain the same at P.O. Box 839966 San Antonio, TX 78283.

The move has been easy, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) said. “Definitely smaller digs, but not bad. I think it’s going to be nice. We are all going to be able to see each other more.”

The old building’s layout pushes Council members to different floors and different corners, she said. Most of her staff will move temporarily to her field office, but “what I’m hoping this will do is generate more communication between the Council members.”

That may depend on the Council member.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) told the Rivard Report Tuesday that his office has been packed up and moved out of City Hall, but that he’ll be spending most of his time at his field office.

Asked if he’s seen his temporary space in Plaza de Armas, he said no. “Frankly it doesn’t even interest me. … I spend all my time in the field office anyway.”

Brockhouse, Councilman John Courage (D9), and Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) voted against the renovation. Brockhouse did not agree with funding the project through debt. “I just don’t get it,” he said. “I wasn’t keen on spending [$38 million] to renovate the building.”

The City routinely uses non-voter-approved debt to finance various projects, but Brockhouse said an undertaking of this size and prominence should have been left for voters to decide through the municipal bond process.

The City Hall building, originally built in 1889 and its fourth floor added in 1927, is in dire need of repairs to its electrical and plumbing systems, City officials have said, and the basement level routinely floods. A City analysis of other options, including building a new City headquarters, found that renovation was the most cost-efficient route.

The new ADA infrastructure will allow people with disabilities to access the front door of City Hall, rather than having to use a side door toward the back. The ramps account for $3.4 million of the project budget. The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation financed a design contest organized by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects last year.

The Texas Historical Commission and the City’s Office of Historic Preservation will review any demolition or exterior work – such as the ramp design – before it is implemented.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at