Six years ago, local officials cast a hopeful eye toward the Mission Road power plant property on the banks of the San Antonio River, imagining it bustling with researchers and entrepreneurs, crafting the future of energy.
While many had dreamed of transforming the turn-of-the-century power plant after the utility decommissioned it in 2003, perhaps the most prominent vision came from Doyle Beneby, who preceded current CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams. He envisioned it as the site of the EPIcenter, an 80,000-square-foot project costing as much as $74.5 million.
But last week, the CPS Energy board voted to declare the 5-acre tract surplus property, the first step towards putting it up for sale. Last February, the nonprofit charged with raising the money to create the energy innovation hub at the site officially abandoned the effort.
Although Beneby’s vision to transform the Mission Road power plant property has definitively been laid to rest, recent land purchases near the riverfront property may bode well for its reimagined future.
Today, the cluster of red brick buildings and the prominent smokestack sit empty on the slight hill overlooking the river, cleaned and cleared and waiting for the next vision.
A “New Energy Economy”
Beneby, who made diversifying CPS Energy’s power portfolio with more renewables a top priority during his tenure, sought to make San Antonio home to a “New Energy Economy” that would leverage the utility’s public buying power to benefit the community through job creation, education, and innovation, according to a 2015 blog post on CPS Energy’s website.
He convinced several of the utility’s new partners, including OCI Solar Power, Silver Spring Networks, and Landis+Gyr to donate $15 million to seed-fund a standalone nonprofit, dubbed EPIcenter.
Central to his vision was having the EPIcenter independently raise another $55 million to renovate the Mission Road power plant into an “energy and technology innovation center” complete with a think tank, new energy co-op, fabrication laboratory, exhibit space, conference center, and venues indoors and out.
Renderings done by Lake/Flato show a modern, vibrant development along the San Antonio River. Then-District 5 City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales said at the time she was “brought to tears” by the ambitious plans and what they could mean for the surrounding neighborhoods. As late as 2019, plans for the facility were still on track.
But raising the additional millions turned out to be an impossible task for the tiny nonprofit. Today, the EPIcenter lives on in a more compact form as a “think tank, incubator, and accelerator,” according to its website.
CPS Energy officials said last week they’re hoping to have the plant ready to put on the market in the next few months.
Electrifying the city
Originally built in the early 1900s, the plant was one of the earliest and largest power plants in San Antonio. The plant expanded several times over its life, but was decommissioned in 2003. It had been eyed for redevelopment since then, but remained part of CPS Energy’s property portfolio.
While the property was valued at roughly $6.2 million four years ago, according to EPIcenter CEO Kimberly Britton, a more recent appraisal has not been conducted, said Curt Brockmann, interim vice president of compliance, ethics, and facility master planning at CPS Energy.
“Our next step will be to hire a broker and then to put it out on the market for a full market process,” Brockmann said. “It’s a pretty dynamic market right now.”
Sale of the property will generate revenue to go in CPS Energy’s normal budget, CPS officials said during last week’s board meeting.
Prime riverfront real estate
With its prime location along the San Antonio River, the property would make for a good multi-use development similar to the Pearl, said Scott Smith, former director of environmental planning and compliance at CPS Energy. Smith, who also served on the EPIcenter board when the nonprofit was founded, has long championed the reuse of the plant. He said he hopes whoever buys the property develops it into a “work, play” concept.
Smith said CPS Energy hired a consultant, held several public meetings, and blocked walked in the adjoining Roosevelt Park neighborhood to get residents’ input. “It was pretty clear that the neighbors wanted to see a mixed-use type of facility that was affordable to the people that lived in that area — one that was accessible,” Smith said.
The power plant property is one of several along or near the river in the Roosevelt Park area that are either planned for redevelopment or have been recently purchased.
That includes the 32-acre Lone Star property, which developers say they’ll spend $709 million developing over ten years; a 4-acre site off Probandt Street just north of Lone Star, recently purchased by developer David Adelman; and the former home of Martin Linen, a nearly 4.6-acre parcel near the Mission Road power plant and adjacent to Roosevelt Park, recently bought by Lifshutz Companies.
“I have really high hopes that we see someone come in with a dream and a vision for it,” Brockmann said of the Mission Road property.
Disclosure: CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.