Converse has started 2019 in a big way, opening a new 10,300-square-foot municipal complex and a new fire station just this month.
The new city hall facility provides city employees with bigger and more flexible work space and consolidates many city administrative functions, an improvement over the older, 7,000-square-foot complex across South Seguin Road.
But more than that, the new city hall and fire station both reflect the commercial and residential growth that is happening in Converse. And more people are headed to the northeast Bexar County suburb of about 25,000 residents.
It’s been nearly two years since Converse and San Antonio signed off on a multi-year, multi-phase program that will add to Converse’s size through annexation and municipal boundary adjustments.
“Our population has doubled since 2000 and our workforce has increased to 116 employees,” Mayor Al Suarez told a crowd gathered for the new city hall opening Jan. 12.
City Manager LeAnn Piatt said the new city hall is more efficient than the old facility, part of which will be razed. The remaining parts will be studied to determine potential future city use.
“We now have everybody under one roof,” she said. “This building is planned for the future, and the future growth of this city.”
To date, Converse has expanded its city limits southward to Weichold Road near Loop 1604 and Farm Road 1516, and has added Northampton, a neighborhood of more than 1,000 homes, from San Antonio’s jurisdiction.
In past years, Northampton residents complained that San Antonio police response time was slow. There also had been complaints about the poor condition of many Northampton streets.
“Northampton got the best deal. We have a plan to improve their roads,” Suarez told the Rivard Report.
“Waste Management is handling their trash collection. They’re able to enjoy [City of Converse] police and fire services. Their biggest concern was about speeding and crime. I’ve told them, ‘You’ve never really had a full-time police force here until now.’”
Converse Police Department, with 46 officers, is hiring more officers each year and currently has two openings. The city also recently hired six more firefighters.
The city’s expanding corps of police, fire, and EMS personnel also are charged with covering newly annexed properties to the south. These properties are smaller and are mainly populated by farmers.
“Those folks were happy to get into the city because now they have full services,” Suarez said.
Additionally, Converse is either undergoing or will undergo locally and state-funded road projects totaling nearly $250 million, including South Seguin Road, an extension of Rocket Lane, and two sets of improvements along Loop 1604 between Interstates 35 and 10.
There is a change, however, to potential larger annexation plans, thanks to actions taken by state lawmakers two years ago. Senate Bill 6, which took effect in December 2017, requires voter approval of annexations in counties with a population of 500,000 or more.
The original pact between San Antonio and Converse outlined how Converse would annex The Glen neighborhood by the end of 2020, and the Camelot II neighborhood by the end of 2033, the latter being the final part of the agreement.
Residents in both neighborhoods, in unincorporated Bexar County, have complained about crime, lack of code compliance and garbage collection, and lagging response time from law enforcement. To address piles of uncollected trash in Camelot II, San Antonio
, introduced city trash pickup in 2015.
Residents in both neighborhoods eventually will get to vote on whether to be included in Converse, under the terms of Senate Bill 6, but no timetable exists.
Suarez said Converse and San Antonio have modified language in their agreement to accommodate future annexation elections. Suarez added he and fellow city officials will talk about which neighborhood to approach first about an annexation vote and when such a vote could be scheduled.
“My biggest argument against the whole thing is that it costs money to run elections, but I respect the will of the people,” Suarez said of annexation elections. “If residents want to be in our city, great. If they don’t want a change, we’ll respect that. We’d give residents the pros and cons of annexation before an election.”
Regardless of the outcome of those elections, leaders who represent Converse and people who do business in the community say the city’s expansion, economic growth, and infrastructure projects all show Converse is on an upward trajectory.
Bexar County Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert, attending the city hall opening, said Converse is experiencing a “golden era” given its residential and commercial growth.
“Unprecedented prosperity is on the horizon for this city,” he said. “[The county] is proud to be partnered with you on everything from the 51 acres on [Loop] 1604 to the expansion of [Farm Road] 1516.”
Calvert referred to Santé 51, a 51-acre master-planned development that the County hopes will result from a public-private partnership.
Preliminary plans unveiled in 2018 call for County-owned property south of Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph to be developed for retail, office, and dining space. Santé 51 could also include a hotel and amphitheater. Area roads that could serve Santé 51 are set to undergo nearly $4 million in improvements.
The property already hosts a newly opened sheriff’s substation, an $8 million, 13,500-square-foot structure, and has space for an envisioned County Precinct 4 services facility.
Then there’s the 185 acres that developer and philanthropist Gordon Hartman has been developing in some of the newly acquired land in southern Converse between 1604 and 1516. The tract, including three subdivisions from Lennar Homes, Liberty Homes, and KB Homes totaling nearly 800 houses, is located off 1604 and Binz-Engleman Road.
The extension of Binz-Engleman, included in Hartman’s development, provides Converse with a critical east-west street in the area.
North of Binz-Engleman, Hartman is setting aside 19 acres for a potential school or another residential development and 16 acres for a potential multifamily development. He is also donating three acres for public parkland and five acres for additional future use by the City of Converse.
“That area has been empty since the inception of Converse,” Suarez said. “We either leave it alone or do something with it to spark growth.”
Hartman said Converse is in a high-growth location, primed for more compatible development, and city officials are supportive of his project plans.
“The city of Converse is in need of housing to address their growing population,” Hartman said. “The mayor and City Council in Converse have illustrated leadership by aggressively addressing infrastructure improvements. These improvements will be beneficial to the city in the short and long term.”
Former Mayor Craig Martin, who attended the city hall opening, said Converse is moving forward with carefully planned growth.
“This is just one step to serving all of the community once we bring all of [San Antonio’s extraterritorial jurisdiction] into the city and we start expanding even more,” he said.
Martin pointed to the importance of the new, modern fire station serving the northern part of Converse, north of the railroad tracks that run parallel to Gibbs-Sprawl Road/Farm Road 1976.
“You’re going to see the new fire department open up to serve that side of the tracks and all of the growth on that end of the city,” Martin said. “We have a fire department on this side serving all of the growth here. The police department is able to expand. What a great time this is.”