Developers of the Soto Building at 711 Broadway offered a look inside a first-of-its-kind building in San Antonio to make use of wood as a building material. 

The Urban Land Institute and building developers hosted guests for a tour on Thursday, leading visitors up six stories constructed almost entirely of wood rather than the typical construction materials of concrete and steel for a structure of its size. The Soto is set to open in early 2020. 

“This is a very unique building,” Hixon Properties president Jack Spector said. “This is great for San Antonio. This is great for the Broadway corridor.” 

At 140,000 square feet, the Soto is what Chuck King, managing director of real estate brokerage JLL, called “the first true mass-timber building of its size and scale in Texas.” JLL is leading the leasing efforts for the property. A smaller boutique hotel using similar techniques is currently under construction in Austin.

Interest in mass-timber construction as an alternative to concrete and steel is taking off in North America, with trade group the Wood Products Council tracking around 600 such projects in the U.S. 

Advocates say the wood construction offers less overall greenhouse gas emissions than concrete and steel because of the ability of sustainably managed forests to capture and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, critics note the greenhouse gases emitted from logging, manufacturing, and transporting wood outweigh the benefits, according to Yale Environment 360.

The Soto building features structured mass-timber brought in from Austria and Canada.

Regardless of whether mass-timber becomes commonplace, the development by Hixon properties and San Antonio’s Cavender family is transforming the block of Broadway between Eighth and Ninth streets. The roughly 8-acre site is the location of a former plasma lab and the Cavender Cadillac dealership, which operated for 75 years before closing in 2014. 

Behind the Soto, developers are planning on renovating three older buildings for use as restaurants and breweries, along with a “small, limited, AirBnB-type hospitality option,” King said.

With beams and trusses from Austria forming the support structure, and 8-by-60 foot laminated panels from Canada making up the floors and the ceilings, wood makes up the vast majority of the building’s materials. Only the ground floor, the stairwells, and the elevator shafts are made from concrete, King said. 

“As I’m sure you’ve seen going up and down Broadway, it was very odd-looking when we built the core until we started wrapping the wood around it,” Spector said. “It’s fit beautifully. You see the craftsmanship is really unbelievable.”

Others involved with the Soto project include Byrne Construction Services, Canadian mass-timber engineering and construction firm StructureCraft, and architects BOKA Powell and Lake|Flato. 

The building also makes use of raised floors, which allow cool and warm air to circulate under the occupants’ feet.

Proponents say wood construction can easily meet fire protection and safety codes and often surpass them. Coincidentally, Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio did much of the fire-safety testing of wood building materials on behalf of the American Wood Council. 

The building offers 10,000 square feet of office space on the first floor and another 3,000-4,000 feet of retail and restaurant space. The project will include bike storage, men’s and women’s showers and locker rooms, and other amenities that encourage the use of the nearby Museum Reach on the San Antonio River.

“We hope people will utilize the river, the linear park as it is, for hiking, biking, running … and then be able to come back to their office,” King said. 

Hixon is planning to have tenants leased by the end of 2019 and have the building ready for occupants by April 1, Spector said. 

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.