The makeover of CPS Energy’s former headquarters in downtown San Antonio is about to get underway. 

Construction is set to start in mid-April at 146 Navarro St., turning the parking garage and office space originally built for HemisFair ’68 into a modern office building with ground-floor retail and dining along the San Antonio River Walk. The work is expected to be completed within a year.

CPS Energy trustees voted to put the building on the market in 2018 and announced the sale of its downtown offices in early 2021.

But the buyer had the 10-story structure in its sights for over two years before that. So when another offer on the property at 146 Navarro fell through, Los Angeles-based BH Properties didn’t waste any time.

In a deal valued at $22.5 million, the commercial real estate firm closed on the acquisition in February 2021, then set out to make over $10 million worth of upgrades to the aging building. 

Brian Park, senior managing director of commercial operations at BH Properties, said the location near La Villita and a potential new hotel is what sold the group. CPS Energy recently sold for $19 million companion property at 145 Navarro St. to Blueprint Hospitality of Houston and Chicago, which said it plans to redevelop the building into a hotel.

“Parking, office, retail — it’s a very dynamic asset where we thought there were a lot of great things that we could do,” Park said. “And we think it’s a good opportunity to have a restaurant-user right along the River Walk.”

BH Properties first unveiled plans to renovate the building when it submitted proposed designs to the Historic and Design Review Commission for approval in July 2021. 

Plans call for upgrading the top three floors, added in 1987, into 100,000 square feet of leasable Class A office space, installing screening on the 600-car parking garage and adding ground-floor retail and restaurant venues. The street-level entry will be enhanced with landscaping, a small park and public paseo.

The building’s dark glass windows will be replaced with a more transparent glazing that’s also more energy-efficient. 

“We are really improving that ground-level lobby experience as well, making it a little more visible to the street, and that whole visitor experience through the paseo and the ground-floor streetscape,” said Jim Shelton, design director at the San Francisco-based architecture firm Gensler, which has offices in San Antonio. 

One of the goals is to enliven a less-used stretch of the River Walk and better connect the property to La Villita and Hemisfair just east of the former CPS Energy building, Shelton said.  

“It’s not just a normal reposition — it’s really creating a new district,” he said. “That bend of the river is really important where that’s been a little bit of a dead space on the river itself.”

An aerial rendering showing proposed designs for the former CPS Energy headquarters.
A rendering shows proposed designs for the former CPS Energy headquarters. Credit: Courtesy / Gensler

BH Properties compared the project to its Chapman Plaza building in Fullerton, California, where the commercial real estate group turned a former department store built in 1923 into a modern mixed-use office property.

“We’re very familiar with repositioning office buildings, whether they’re historic or 20-plus years old,” Park said. 

The group also is optimistic about the future market demand for commercial office space despite declines in the past two years

Business leaders are in the process of making decisions about what to do with underutilized office space as workers have become accustomed to working remotely, Park said. Some are downsizing, and the Navarro building works well for this purpose because its office floors can be made into 30,000-square-foot blocks. In addition, the building itself will offer the amenities people want. 

“There’s definitely going to be a flight to quality,” he said. “A lot of the users are looking for not only a great deal, but the building needs to have sustainability checked [off] and amenities. So your building has to stand out.”

CPS Energy and Gensler are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

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Shari Biediger

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