When I moved to San Antonio in 1989, my daily commute down Broadway took me by declining auto dealerships, proliferating fast food franchises, and ever-present street walkers. There were a few pleasant exceptions along the way: the Witte Museum and a reviving Mahncke Park, to name two. The Pearl Brewery and ButterKrust Bakery were still in business.
As the years went by, Broadway became less and and less appealing. The bakery closed, then the brewery. More dealerships moved to Loopland. Enter Kit Goldsbury. The 23-acre Pearl was saved from probable demolition in 2002 with its purchase by Goldsbury’s Silver Ventures. That purchase was the start of something so big no one back then could quite imagine all the possibilities.
Fast forward 25 years from my early commutes. Broadway is becoming a genuine boulevard, teeming in stretches with new community: pedestrians, apartments, bars, cafes, restaurants and retail. The new Children’s Museum opens in 2015. The area north of downtown bounded by the San Antonio River, North Alamo Street and Brackenridge Park and the Witte, and anchored by the Pearl, is now seen as a destination: A place to live, a place to be, a place that beckons.
Broadway is still a work in progress, but the drawing board promises much more in the immediate years ahead: condos and more well-designed apartments, a modern streetcar line, protected bike and pedestrian lanes, a canopy of new trees. Broadway is becoming its own community, a place with enough attractions and distractions to make locals and visitors slow down and savor life.
All “it” needs is a name to capture that magic.
What’s in a name? In a word: Identity. The Westside. The Eastside. Southtown. Downtown. Monte Vista. Jefferson. These are names that immediately convey identity, and leave no confusion on the part of the user or listener in a conversation.
What will we call the near-north sector of the city that has come back to life with such force it now attracts national media attention in the way of travel writers, food journalists, architecture magazines, urbanists and others? What do you think it should be called?
As tens of thousands gather along Broadway for the Battle of Flowers Parade today and the Fiesta Flambeau Parade Saturday evening, the Rivard Report would like to hear from you. What do you think this part of the city should be called? Just scroll to the bottom of this story and leave your comment, or post a comment on our Facebook page.
Broadway. Lower Broadway. River North. Pearl. Midtown. Museum Reach. SoBro. LoBro. Something else? Can I jokingly offer an irreverent alternative: SoHi?
Kelly Beevers, development manager with Hixon Properties, which is building the 261-unit River House multi-family project on the Museum Reach, said the district is still a part of the city with no commonly agreed-upon name.
“I don’t think it’s defined yet,” Beevers said. “There seems to be a distinction to the north of the highway and south. Midtown runs up at least to Mulberry, and south of the highway it’s River North. I think together it’s all most often called Broadway Corridor.”
What is evident in 2014 is that a number of well-defined places have come to life within the larger district, each with its own name. At the heart of the district is Pearl, now a symbol of a rising San Antonio. A decade after it welcomed its first tenant, the Pearl is helping to broaden the city’s profile beyond the Alamo and River Walk, Tex-Mex food and theme park attractions.
The Midtown Brackenridge Park District, a TIRZ, or tax increment reinvestment zone, lies farther north. A revitalized park, the expanded Witte, the coming Children’s Museum, and the area’s proximity to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens and the University of the Incarnate Word have inspired frequent references to the Broadway Cultural Corridor.
“For me Midtown north of the freeway works, from Pearl to Hildebrand,” said Irby Hightower, a principal at Alamo Architects, a prime consultant on the Midtown Brackenridge master plan. “The only problem with that designation is it means Alamo Heights must be Uptown.”
Hightower said the name Midtown came from locals already living near the park, but the working group settled on Midtown Brackenridge Park because the City of San Antonio already referred to the area of the city in and around Alta Vista and Beacon Hill as Midtown.
Those historic neighborhoods, located in what is really the original Northside of the city, date back to the second half of the 19th century. Click here to read the Midtown Neighborhoods Plan.
Midtown is north of River North, a TIRZ established in 2006 (see map below) that lies south of the I-35 freeway and is bounded by St. Mary’s Street on the west and Avenue E to the east. It reaches even farther southeast to the Bonham Exchange. The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, on the southwest corner and set to open in September, will be River North’s main cultural anchor.
Andrés Andujar, now the CEO of the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corp. is widely credited with naming River North.
“The first name idea for River North, when we started the area’s thinking process – before the City, before the TIRZ – was Rio Norte,” Andujar said. “That was 2004-2005, a time when we were doing Spanglish interpretations that have multiplied – Vistana, Alteza, Cascada, etc. So I decided on River North…I like River North for that District.”
Then there is a hybrid alternative.
“Lately, I find myself defaulting to River North Pearl,” said David Adelman, a principal with AREA Real Estate, which recently re-opened Taco Land on West Grayson Street and is a partner in the award-winning 1221 Broadway project. “One challenge is that River North is not distinct enough or far enough from the Central Business District to be considered a ‘midtown’….there is not enough of a divide. To that end, the Pearl can definitely be considered Midtown due to the separation by the freeway.”
The Museum Reach of the San Antonio River is another distinct zone within the larger district, taking its name from the San Antonio Museum of Art to the south and the Witte Museum to the north. The so-called Park Segment of the Museum Reach stretching through Brackenridge Park north to Hildebrand Avenue remains unfinished, but the Urban Segment stretching south to the Downtown Reach is completed.
“My preference of the terms commonly used are either Lower Broadway or Midtown,” said Bill Shown, managing partner for Silver Ventures, owner of the Pearl. “In part this is a process of elimination. SoBro sounds silly and contrived to me, so I’m not a fan. River North has confused from the beginning since so much of the area is not on the river and is actually located south of a good stretch of the river. Museum Reach seems a bit staid, and Pearl is definitely an area within the area, but doesn’t define the whole area.”
“I’m in agreement with Bill,” said Elizabeth Fauerso, chief marketing officer at the Pearl. “I actually prefer Midtown because I think it’s descriptive and straightforward. I use Museum Reach to describe the river, as in ‘the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River’, whereas I use Midtown more broadly, as in ‘Pearl, located in Midtown San Antonio’.”
SoBro, as of now, is the name of the newest pizzeria in the city, SoBro Pizza Co., not the accepted name of a larger district. Partners Paul Hughes and Gerry Shirley (who is married to Amonrat “Mon” Shirley of Mon’s Thai Bistro in Alamo Heights) opened for business Monday.
“Gerry came up with the name,” Hughes said. “We were originally going to be in a building south of our location in the Mosaic. “It’s been really interesting. People say, ‘What?’ when they first hear the name. We think it will catch on. We’ve actually been mentioned in an article in the Current, which said people in the know actually refer to the area as SoBro.”
The Current story is tagged with the name Lo Bro, which also is used for SEO purposes by area apartment brokers and other online marketing entities, but it isn’t commonly heard in and around, um, the district.
“None of the names have struck me as the ‘right’ one yet,” said developer and broker Ed Cross with SAC Advisors. “I alternate between ‘River North’ and ‘the Pearl district’ pretty interchangeably, albeit, River North more typically for locations south of the freeway. Glad you are taking this on, we need a resolution.”
Whatever we call it, most of it lies in City Councilman Diego Bernal’s district.
“True story: someone wanted to label the area south of Southtown, ‘SoSo,’” Bernal said. “Mediocrity as your brand? No thanks. I suggested BeSo, Below Southtown, which also means ‘kiss’ in Spanish.
“I tend to use Lower Broadway or the Museum Reach because they’re strictly geographic,” Bernal said. “Pearl is good, but potentially (and unintentionally) too specific. Midtown and Uptown are both vague and strike me as being overly ‘me-too’ with regard to other cities that have proper uptowns, etc.”
Let’s see what readers have to say about it. Let us know in the comment section below.
*Featured/top image: The Pearl Brewery complex, as seen from “Midtown.” Photo by Chrissy Breit.