More than a year after they expected to, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council are moving into their newly renovated offices at an updated City Hall.
The building, located downtown on Military Plaza between Dolorosa and West Commerce streets, has been undergoing a $40 million renovation for nearly three years. City Council members moved out of City Hall in July 2018 but expected to be back inside by February 2020.
Earlier this year, City staff estimated that City Hall would be ready for move-in by March. But that, too, was delayed, thanks to construction hurdles related to bringing the 130-year-old building to contemporary standards.
“It’s an old building,” Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez said Friday. “Trying to modernize it, bring it up to code, we experienced some issues with air conditioning.”
City Hall opened in 1891 and added its fourth floor in 1927.
On Friday, Sanchez walked through the building and showed where the mayor and city manager would work. They share the second floor while the City Council district offices will take the third and fourth floors. The city attorney and city clerk will work on the first floor. And when City Council convenes for their next weekly Wednesday meeting in June, it will be held in City Hall.
Before, the old City Hall was very dark and closed off, Sanchez said. Now, bright lights hang in all of the rooms and glass paneling divides staff offices, allowing more natural light through the building.
“It was such a dark building,” Sanchez said. “It felt dark. I don’t think I realized it until now. ‘Whoa, we brought a lot of light in here.’”
City Council originally budgeted $38 million for the project. That cost rose with some changes, notably with security enhancements – like the gated entries and “rapid” body scanners that check for weapons – that Council did not previously consider. Though Sanchez estimated in February that the updated project cost was $40.8 million, he said Friday that the final total has yet to be determined.
“We’ll have a meeting with [construction company] Guido to try to figure that out because obviously, they’re late by a year and a half so there’s liquidated damages,” he said. “We’ll have a conversation with them about who owes who what. Then we’ll take the final dollar amount to Council and ratify it.”
Installing new security systems at each entrance also took time, Sanchez said. Gesturing toward the sleek keycard-scanning security gates, he explained that getting the technology behind it to work properly held up the final move-in date as well. But he said the final results made it worth it.
“We took a historic building over 130 years old [and] brought all the modern-day conveniences and standards to the building,” Sanchez said. “It’s not easy to do, but I think we pulled it off.”
At the front entrance, City Hall also has a new accessible pathway from the street level to the doors, which Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) championed in 2017. Though the whole building has been transformed with new paint, new furniture, and a new layout, it still sports the original tile work on its walls and floor that was there before, Sanchez said. Local artists have their work featured throughout the building, including a triptych of sculptures that features the old City Hall, Mission Espada, and the Bexar County Courthouse.
The mayor’s office features another piece of history – the desk of former Mayor Maury Maverick, brought out of storage and restored. Nirenberg’s nameplate now rests atop it, and from his window, he can see the San Fernando Cathedral. Maverick served as mayor of San Antonio between 1939 and 1941.
The mayor and City Manager Erik Walsh move into City Hall on Monday along with their staff, Sanchez said. City Council members will move in on Monday and Tuesday, and the city attorney and city clerk move in on Wednesday.
“I have a very small office, so there’s not much [to pack],” Walsh said on Thursday. “I think I can put all of my personal items in one copy box.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to a triptych of sculptures being commissioned by City Council.