Ever dream of opening a restaurant, beer garden or coffeehouse in a historic home set amid an urban park? How about a bed & breakfast or yoga studio surrounded by green space just blocks from the River Walk, La Villita and Southtown?

Opportunity knocks right now, so if your dream is to be part of San Antonio’s downtown renaissance, call a partners meeting and start polishing your business plan. The Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corp. is looking for business operators who want to bring three of the park’s historic dwellings back to life.

Click here to access the Request for Ideas (RFI) issued by HPARC this week. Interested parties are invited to attend a public meeting on Thursday, Nov. 13, 3-4:30 p.m. at the American Institute of Architects offices at 1344 South Flores St. Proposed plans will be presented and questions answered.

The new businesses will be located in three historic homes — the Espinoza House, Koehler House and Pereida House, set amid Yanaguana Garden, the four-acre play park now under construction on Hemisfair Park’s southwest corner. All three homes are being restored with funds from the City’s 2012 bond program and should be ready for occupancy in the spring.

The homes will be surrounded by the new garden park alive with amenities: active playground equipment, a giant sandbox, water fountains to splash in and bike ways for the kids, shade, benches and chairs, and green space for adults to relax, read a book, or sunbathe.

HPARC CEO Andrés Andujar and his team hope to hold ribbon-cutting ceremonies on the completed Yanaguana Garden before city elections in May. Who knows? Andujar and his team might have some exciting business developments to announce by then, too.

The three proposed houses and their relative positions within Yanaguana Garden.
The three proposed houses and their relative positions within Yanaguana Garden.

“The RFI encourages local entrepreneurs and business owners to submit their own ideas in line with the spirit and character of the park that these houses will inhabit, Yanaguana Garden, slated to open mid-2015,” the RFI states. “The first of three parks coming through the redevelopment, Yanaguana Garden focuses on activity and playfulness, and plans to be filled with patrons, events and programming both day and night. Suggested ideas include cafes and restaurants, retail like toy or book stores, and even beer or wine gardens (alcohol is permitted on site).”

For a century or more before HemisFair ’68, what is now Hemisfair Park and the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center was a vibrant, ethnically diverse neighborhood with dwellings dating as far back as the 1850s. A few of these structures were preserved and are still standing on their original sites. During the World’s Fair, these homes served as restaurants, offices and other HemisFair ’68 facilities. Some of the properties were used until recently as city and civic offices.

“We want these unique structures to reach their full potential. HPARC desires tenants that are respectful of the heritage they represent, but also excited by the prospect of breathing new life into the spaces,” the RFI states. “There are many opportunities for whatever businesses move into Yanaguana Garden. The park has an estimated capacity of 6,000 visitors at any one time and is expected to receive over 1,000,000 visits in its first year of operations. The Magik Theatre itself currently brings in approximately 200,000 patrons a year; B-Cycle had over 6,700 day users in its first year and is headquartered at Yanaguana Garden.

Read HPARC’s descriptions of the three available properties below:

Pereida House

The Pereida House at Hemisfair Park. Photo by Rachel Holland.
The Pereida House at Hemisfair Park. Photo by Rachel Holland.

At 1,640 square feet, Pereida House is the largest of the three homes in this RFI. Built in 1883, it has western frontage to South Alamo Street, while to the south it backs up on the historic OK Bar, now the B-Cycle offices. On its north side, Pereida House will overlook the Lawn, an open green space where park goers can play and relax. The Lawn is also a great venue for small concerts or a movie in the park. This makes Pereida particularly suited to a delivery or take-out window, a place to serve cool drinks or just a great view for patrons to enjoy. Behind the property is the Promenade, the main thoroughfare through Yanaguana Garden, sure to bring in lots of foot traffic. Street frontage, combined with the proximity of the Promenade and the B-Cycle office, ensures that Pereida House will have constant exposure to activity in Yanaguana Garden.

Koehler House

The Koehler House at Hemisfair Park. Photo by Rachel Holland.
The Koehler House at Hemisfair Park. Photo by Rachel Holland.

This home was built in 1890. The 1,464-square-foot house features a large covered porch and a shotgun style construction with a long hallway that runs the entire length of the house. In the front, this is flanked by two large rooms on each side, with a restroom and an additional room on the southwest side of the house in the rear. The building faces southeast with frontage to Water Street, which will bring pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular traffic into Hemisfair. On its southwest side, the house faces the future site of a wide plaza and is just a short distance from Cesar Chavez Blvd. Koehler House will share a wide central deck with Espinoza House, facing towards several active play areas and the central Promenade.

Espinoza House

The Espinoza House at Hemisfair Park. Photo by Rachel Holland.
The Espinoza House at Hemisfair Park. Photo by Rachel Holland.

Espinoza is a mirror property to Koehler, occupying 1,473 square feet and built in the same year with a reflected floor plan. It is proposed that the two houses will share a new wood deck, which should promote cross traffic and create a complementary environment between the businesses that occupy the two structures. In fact, given the large shared porch, a single tenant could lease both buildings as a single shared business or two separate businesses under a single brand (such as a bakery and coffee shop, a deli market and cafe, or as a bar and restaurant). This deck faces northwest, towards the future site of a splash pad, and just off the main promenade. Like Koehler, Espinoza fronts Water Street, while its northeastern side will align with a forthcoming public-private partnership (P3) development, likely to be a mix of residences, parking and possibly ground-floor commercial. Espinoza House lacks the dual frontage of Koehler House (to Water Street and, effectively, to Cesar Chavez), but shares the same proximity to Yanaguana Garden amenities, with the added bonus of being adjacent to parking, and possibly residences.

The RFI stipulates that HPARC is hoping to attract established businesses rather than startups, which could eliminate some of the most creative ideas and stifle imagination and boldness, characteristics this city needs the most to move forward. Hopefully, the selection committee has flexibility and can recognize and respond positively to individuals proposing something new that would enhance the city’s culinary or cultural scene — even if there is some risk to trying something new.

Related Stories:

City Seeks Developers for Housing at Hemisfair

Acequia Madre Lies Safely Below Yanaguana Garden

Hemisfair’s Civic Park: Open To Ideas

Hemisfair’s Yanaguana Garden is in Playful Hands

Hemisfair Park Welcomes its Own Conservancy

Civic Park: San Antonio’s Front Porch to be Designed by World-Class Firm


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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.