East Commerce Street views and the historic bridge which also connects into the Powell Law Firm’s top floor. Photo by Winslow Swart.

The San Antonio Spurs, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine and others have left the St. Paul Square Historic District for greener pastures. The future of this urban treasure was uncertain during this so-called exodus, testing major investor and stakeholder Zachry Holdings’ resolve. But business has begun to trickle back into the near Eastside.

There is new writing on the wall from newcomers and survivalists in St. Paul Square.

“We are seeing more mixed use with the new investments,” Councilmember Warrick said. “We have both 9-5 establishments and a growing night life happening here.”

Warrick spoke at a recent grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony at the Powell Law Firm on East Commerce Street. “There is now another good reason to turn left on Commerce Street.”

The City of San Antonio’s Department of Planning and Community Development will host an open house at the Little Carver Civic Center for community members and property owners to discuss the past, present and future of the historic, largely vacant commercial district on Tuesday, Oct. 20, from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

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Rosemary Kowalski of the RK Group and San Antonio Councilmember Alan Warrick (D2) praised the Zachry family for their staying power and commitment to St. Paul Square’s future and for weathering the economic storm of the past eight years.

After the event, Warrick said that there are a lot of reasons to turn left on Commerce Street and new additions are lining up on the horizons.  The University of Houston Satellite Campus, the Alamodome, the RK Group, Powell Law Firm, the Cameo Theatre, Ford Powell and Carson, SA2020, UTSA Football, events at Sunset Station, the historic cemetery and a little further down the best burgers anywhere are at Mark’s Outing and Amaya’s Taco Village are all great reasons to turn left on Commerce Street. Smoke restaurant is coming to St. Paul Square and there are other food and drink venues in the planning stages.

“The ownership and/or lease model is giving business owners a way to be part of the downtown resurgence and at an affordable price point.” Warrick said. “We have added 8,000 to 10,000 residences in the downtown area in less than a decade, and this neighborhood is helping add to that growth capacity.”

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Rosemary Kowalski talked recalled her childhood days, about 90 years ago when the neighborhood was not as diverse as today and only Jewish and African-American businessmen worked side-by-side.

“The Society didn’t come down here until they opened up a speakeasy during prohibition and that was only after 2 p.m. at night … if I remember correctly, it was called Froggy Bottom,” Rosemary said. “I think it might have been right under where the Powell’s opened their law firm.”

Now Rosemary relishes the diversity that St. Paul Square, Dignowity Hill and our entire City inculcates.

“It’s much better now,” she said.

The RK Group, one of San Antonio’s premier catering companies, has been operating at St. Paul Square across the tracks from Sunset Station for 36 years.

“Next year in November it will be 70 years we’ve been in business” Kowalski said. “This used to be the Steves Lumber Company, we had to pull up some old track here in our parking lot where the rail cars would come right up and unload materials.”

Jon Powell is known for having sued the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Humana, big oil, big trucking and construction companies all to the tune of more than $100 million in settlements, jury verdicts and judgements. He recently opened his new law offices in a beautifully restored property at 1148 E. Commerce St. right in the heart of St. Paul Square.

“I’ve always been a downtown lawyer,” Powell said. “Being close to the courthouse, good restaurants and the downtown scene is great but there is a trade-off to having a downtown office and that’s the cost, congestion and parking. What I really like about being here in St. Paul Square is the convenience and access of being just a few blocks from the center of downtown without some of the hassles. Don’t get me wrong, we have our parking problems as well, and I look forward to solving that.”

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Powell appreciates how much of the City of San Antonio has invested in historical preservation and economic development in the area.

“It looks like the business community is really starting to respond to the incentives and the opportunity that is here,” he said.

We met up just before Hillary Clinton was to address 150 members of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at Sunset Station in a closed Q&A session. While walking over – and I had no trouble parking – Powell said, “It is great to just come downstairs from my office and walk half a block to attend a national event that’s happening right next door.”

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When looking back at St. Paul Square, many reflect on how the construction of IH-37 signaled the beginning of the end as it served to separate the neighborhood and the Eastside from downtown. Now, residents talk about how the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center bridge serves to re-connect the neighborhood to downtown, and how St. Paul Square’s “cool factor” is helping it become a district on the rise.

*Top image: Well-preserved Historic shells show additional opportunity for redevelopment. Photo by Winslow Swart. 

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Winslow Swart is ABLDP’s facilitator, chief inspiration officer at Winslow Consulting, and co-founder at One Million Dreams. He is co-chair of Leadership Development on the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber’s...