Merchant's Ice and Cold Storage Building on East Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball.
Merchant's Ice & Cold Storage building on East Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball.

Two large industrial complexes in the Eastside are closer to redevelopment and possible partial demolition as City Council approved the removal of the historic designation from a majority of each property on Thursday.

The historic designation remains in place for the street-facing facades of Merchant’s Ice & Cold Storage and Friedrich Building. The historically neglected Eastside has experienced increased interest from developers and the City in recent years, but there has yet to be substantial private investment and development like the kind the buildings’ owner hopes to bring into the neighborhood.

“After the Zoning Commission approval (in November), we immediately got a lot more interest, specifically because we’re removing the historic designation,” said James McKnight, a land use attorney representing the Dallas-based owner of the two complexes, John Miller. “What we’ve been telling people, that this will spark development, is going to come to fruition.”

(Read More: Owner Seeks Reduced Historic Designation for Eastside Landmarks)

Friedrich Refrigeration building located on East Commerce Street. Photo by Scott Ball.
Friedrich Refrigeration building located on East Commerce Street. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

McKnight said that Miller is looking to make a deal with developers which will likely put in mixed-use housing and commercial complexes. Both buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The two structures are not within the boundaries of any historic district overlay and so design/construction/demolition proposals will not have to go through public review via the Historic and Design Review Commission. Any work or modification done to the facades, however, would still have to be reviewed. 

“The front of the building is still going to be there,” McKnight said. “Anything behind that, if you’re a good developer, you’re going to try to tie into (the historic structure) in some way.”

But ultimately, it will be up to the developers.

The HDRC unanimously voted against the designation removal in October because, commissioners said, the owner hadn’t demonstrated that the historic designation represents an undue financial burden.

The Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, which represents residents and business owners in the historic district near the two complexes, originally opposed the removal as well, but representative Liz Franklin said the board had changed its position after hearing support from neighbors in the greater Eastside. The neighborhood association’s own Architectural Review Committee, however, still opposes the zoning change.

Eastside business and property owner Charles Williams spoke in favor of the change.

“If we can do something with the Fredrick Building to make it attractive to developers, it will serve as a catalyst to development in the Eastside,” Williams said.

Williams and Franklin were the only citizens that signed up to speak. No one spoke in opposition of the change.

*Top image: Merchant’s Ice & Cold Storage building on East Houston Street.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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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