The owner of a Southside building declared historic in February can’t demolish the brick structure to construct a car wash, according to a decision handed down Wednesday.

The Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) denied developer Mark Granados’ request to raze the former furniture store at 4007 S. Flores St. which he said can’t be saved or sold. He requested permission to install a car wash business on the triangle-shaped city block similar to those he has developed in other parts of town. 

The City’s rules regarding historic structures state that demolition of a historic landmark should occur only after every attempt has been made to rehabilitate or reuse the structure. Development codes require the owner to present “clear and convincing evidence” that an unreasonable economic hardship exists in rehabilitating the building for another use and that, despite reasonable attempts, the property can’t be sold to another buyer. 

Granados submitted his request based on those factors, he said. “This is the textbook case of economic hardship,” he told commissioners. “I invest $3.2 million to get back $700,000. I lose two and a half million dollars.”

City staffers, however, said Granados had not provided enough documentation to show financial hardship or evidence that he had explored reuse options and had not actively marketed the property. In addition, the building was found to be structurally sound and architecturally significant during a recent site visit. 

Built in 1926 with Spanish Eclectic features, the structure first served as a community center, hosting regular dances and concerts. It was remodeled in 1941 and became the fifth Toudouze Super Mart location in San Antonio. The store closed in 2000 and had been vacant for eight years when Granados purchased it in 2018.

In February, commissioners voted in favor of designating the Toudouze Building as historic – against Granados’ wishes – and the Council backed the decision as well.  

Historic designation can make gaining permission for demolition of a building more difficult but could also allow developers to apply for state and federal tax incentives for historic renovation.

Granados insisted to commissioners that he had made every attempt to prove that the Toudouze Building could not be rehabilitated or sold.

“I personally take offense to the comment that we’re lazy and didn’t do our work or make no effort,” Granados said. “I’ve been seeing this thing for two and a half years. We’ve talked to over 60 tenants. We do know something about doing this, OK? So I don’t see where the staff can say that we haven’t met the burden of proof on economic hardship.”

During the review of Granados’ application, the developer and commissioners discussed at length whether the developer had considered all the options for increasing the number of parking spaces on the property, or sharing nearby parking, in order to make the Toudouze Building more desirable for reuse and to meet building code requirements. 

Granados described some of those options, including demolition of a back building for surface parking and renovating the building for covered parking. But none were economically or logistically feasible, he said, nor would they provide sufficient parking for potential reuses of the building.

“I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t have any way of validating that,” said Commissioner Matthew Bowman. “And that’s kind of the creative stuff that we’re looking to see – we’re trying to see you prove that this doesn’t really work.”

Commissioners also questioned the degree to which Granados had attempted to market the property. If a building owner can’t meet the financial requirements of maintaining a historic structure, and has not been able to sell it, then the owner must demonstrate that in a request for demolition approval, according to the Uniform Development Code.

Granados said the listing is on his company’s website and he has tried for two years to sell the property. But Commissioner Curtis Fish pointed out that the application Granados submitted to the HDRC did not include evidence of an active listing. 

Jeffrey Fetzer, an architect and HDRC chairman, said he was relying on City staff’s report that economic hardship requirements had not been met. “[But] in terms of the architectural significance of the building and what’s still intact [and] remaining, I did visit the property last month or so, went inside, and observed that there is still significant historic fabric intact.”

Following the nearly hourlong discussion, the six commissioners present voted unanimously to deny the request for demolition. City staff said Granados can appeal the decision to the Board of Adjustment. 

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...