Plans for a 29-story residential and retail tower at Hemisfair moved forward Wednesday with initial design concepts approved by a city panel.
The Historic and Design Review Commission gave the thumbs up for the project plans being developed by Post Lake Capital Partners of Austin in a public/private partnership with the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation.
The buildings will face East Market Street across from the River Walk and be adjacent to the Henry B. González Convention Center.
The first planned structure at the site of the 1968 World’s Fair is a three-story retail building with two stories at street level and a third at river level. The other is a tower with 360 residential units and a 7-story parking garage.
At least nine people called or appeared before the commission to voice their concerns about the design style and the height of the building at what Kathy Rhoads, president of the Conservation Society of San Antonio called “the most important corner” in the city.
“Would you expect to see this building at the entrance of the French Quarter? I don’t think so,” Rhoads said.
Another seven expressed support for the design, including one woman who said she is a longtime downtown resident. “I look forward to being able to take advantage of all the opportunities that these two buildings, when they get approved and constructed, are going to provide for local residents, as well as for tourists,” Lisa Nungesser said.
The proposed buildings are the second of three major construction projects planned for Civic Park, which is currently under construction on a 5-acre parcel in the northwest section of the 96-acre Hemisfair development. Civic Park is expected to open in summer 2023.
In September, the commission granted conceptual approval for the 17-story Hemisfair Hotel at 222 S. Alamo St., a Zachry Hospitality project delayed several years by the pandemic and changing market conditions.
Design plans by the Overland Partners architecture firm revealed a curving tower structure with 200 hotel rooms and a tunnel connecting the hotel to the Post Lake structure to expand parking access.
Construction is set to be complete in 2025 in time for the NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball tournament.
A third Civic Park development is planned by San Antonio developer Area Real Estate, which built The ‘68 apartments in Yanaguana Garden, a play-oriented park space that opened in 2015 as part of the first phase of Hemisfair.
Post Lake Capital Partners is comprised of developer John Trube, founding partner of Austin-based Johnson Trube, and the commercial real estate company Newmark Group of New York.
In design review meetings leading up to the recent approval of the tower, staff and commissioners advised Chicago-based FitzGerald Associates Architects to ensure massing wasn’t “heavy and bulky,” and building materials met requirements for the historic district.
They also commented on garage screening and vehicle and pedestrian access and safety.
Staff with the city’s Office of Historic Preservation recommended conceptual approval for FitzGerald’s designs on the condition that the architects improve the building facade along the river to break up the expanse of glass.
They also stipulated that the tower should have a distinctive architectural top and that additional design elements are incorporated to ensure pedestrian safety. A lighting plan must also be submitted for review and approval.
On Wednesday, most of the commissioners generally agreed with one another that they approved of the design and said they would support the request for conceptual approval with staff stipulations.
“I just think it just needs a little bit more baking on some of the material choices and the character-defining features of it, but in general, I think it’s a very successful project,” said Commissioner Scott Carpenter.
Commissioner Monica Savino suggested adding a stipulation that would have required the applicant to consider ways to reduce the height of the building. But the motion did not pass and the panel went on to unanimously approve the request.
“Residential development in the Hemisfair District is key as we prepare for San Antonio’s population growth,” said Andres Andujar, Hemisfair CEO, in a statement released shortly after the vote. “We are replacing the density of the population that lived in the District before HemisFair ’68 to bring back the neighborhood and the vitality that comes from people living next to open spaces.”