As the City Council vote approaches on whether to close and sell a block of South Main Avenue to H-E-B for its campus expansion, the grocery chain’s master plan has come into sharper focus. Despite design improvements and added amenities made in response to public feedback, and favorable traffic studies, some neighborhood opposition to the closure remains.
[Read more from local resident Michael Nye: “The Case For Keeping South Main Avenue Open.”]
Thursday evening, H-E-B representatives and David Lake of Lake/Flato Architects, presented an updated project overview for King William Association (KWA) board members before their meeting to discuss potential involvement in litigation that would challenge any street closure by the City of San Antonio. Main Access, the neighborhood coalition opposing the street closure, has begun to seek support for a lawsuit if City Council approves the deal.
UPDATE Friday, Nov. 22, 3:20 p.m. During their regularly scheduled board meeting, the KWA board voted 7-6 to no longer oppose the closure of a portion of S. Main Avenue.
The KWA board voted 9-3 in opposition to the street closure in October.
“In the beginning, we had no information,” said KWA Executive Director Cherise Bell during a phone interview this afternoon. “And now we had information with which to weigh consequences (and) solutions were provided to address concerns that were raised by the neighborhood.”
The updated master plan presented to the board revealed plans to enhance access to the Commander’s House, the size of the store has since been increased to 10,000 square feet, and street/traffic flow improvements outlined by the City-funded traffic study were key elements to changing minds on the KWA board, Bell said.
“We hope to continue to work with H-E-B and the City to mitigate the impact of the lost of that street,” Bell said. “We’re going to set up a meeting with the city to discuss the mitigation (projects) and make sure that those get implemented.”
Board members still in opposition of the closure simply don’t want to lose the direct access to and through the neighborhood that S. Main Avenue provides.
“People still want to have that direct access of the road,” Bell said.
The board also voted against a request by Main Access to assist in funding potential litigation.
The same presentation was given to the San Antonio Conservation Society board earlier this week. The board announced its support for the H-E-B master plan and street closure on Thursday, reported Neal Morton of the San Antonio Express News.
“The board decided to support the preservation effort to re-establish the contiguous historic boundaries of the Arsenal property,” the Conservation Society’s letter to Todd Piland, H-E-B’s vice president of real estate, states.
“We want to stay (downtown), and we want to continue to grow,” said Todd Piland, executive vice president of H-E-B real estate and facilities.
“The plan is to get everybody under the same roof (figuratively),” Piland said, like other major San Antonio employers such as USAA, Rackspace, Valero, and NuStar. “They control their environment and that is what we intend to do at this location.” H-E-B has cited campus continuity, security and employee safety as reasons for the closure.
Piland and Lake answered several questions form KWA members concerned with pedestrian, vehicle, and bicycle traffic flow logistics around the grocery store and gas station and clarified that H-E-B is open to continued community input in further design phases as it is a work in progress.
“It’s not going to be perfect … but we’re willing to work to overcome the challenges of an urban market.” said H-E-B’s Director of Public Affairs Dya Campos at the traffic study release meeting last night.
While many residents understand and appreciate the mitigation projects and street enhancements, they don’t make up for the loss of a public avenue to a private entity. S. Main Avenue as an open, street is just as historical as the Arsenal complex, those opposed to the closure said. The King William neighborhood, as an historic district, is especially sensitive to aesthetics.
“They are attempting to recreate a suburban campus in an urban environment,” said KWA member Rose Kanusky.
Though still not finalized, the plans include all traffic mitigation recommendations outlined in the city-contracted traffic study report that was released Wednesday evening. Those include a 30-foot wide amenities path for bikes and pedestrians on S. Flores Street between E. Arsenal Street and E. César Chávez Boulevard; a 17-foot wide bike and pedestrian path on adjacent E. Arsenal Street; removal and additions of traffic signals and stop signs, traffic calming mechanisms, etc. [Download the full report here.]
The proposed closure of S. Main Avenue between E. Arsenal Street and E. César Chávez Boulevard is part of H-E-B’s $100 million plan to expand its downtown headquarters by 27 acres, hire an additional 1,600 additional employees by 2030 and build a two-story grocery store and gas station on the northeast corner of S. Flores Street and E. César Chávez Boulevard.
Another key element to the master plan is the renovation of the city-owned Commander House park, said Lake, which directly connects to the grocery store’s front yard. Lake/Flato has designed the grocery store’s main entrance to open on a landscaped parking lot in one direction and an open courtyard space with picnic tables, shade and the park itself in another.
“We’re creating an urban market and enlivening experience for the park,” Lake said. “We’re not fond of closing streets. We looked at options for the site (including tunnels and skywalks) to see if Main (Avenue) could stay open.”
H-E-B’s growth and security needs can only reasonably be met with an “integrated campus,” Lake said the firm concluded.
The plan also calls for removal of the chain link fencing around the Commander’s House and restoration of the historic vehicle loop entrance to the building which will serve as public access to the property and a secondary H-E-B employee entrance.
Lake/Flato anticipates a wrought iron fence on the S. Main Avenue boundary, some extensions of existing stucco walls, and use of building exterior to make up the new (and historic) boundary of the Arsenal complex.
Creating a “more open character (and) a sense of transparency,” Lake said.
The $40 million Phase 1 of the development includes H-E-B’s culinary school and test kitchen across S. Flores Street, renovation of the 1601 Nogalitos Street store, construction of the “Flores Market” (working title), the S. Flores amenity zone, and Commander’s House improvements.
Phase 2, estimated at $85-$110 million, includes new, multilevel office buildings with underground parking on the southwest corner of the Arsenal complex, creation of internal green space and courtyards, San Pedro Creek improvements and development of remaining mixed-use buildings off Flores.
Despite H-E-B property and projects stretching outside the historic Arsenal complex boundaries, Piland told concerned KWA members that company officials would not request additional street closures.
Whether or not the neighborhood can profitably sustain a 10,000 square foot grocery store remains to be seen, Piland said, but H-E-B is optimistic that Flores Market will be successful. And if it’s not?
“A going out of business sign on the front door of our headquarters?” Piland laughed, “Never going to happen.”
Full disclosure: H-E-B is a sponsor and advertiser on the Rivard Report, and Director Robert Rivard is building a residence on E. Arsenal Street on a lot purchased from H-E-B several years ago.