Port San Antonio is officially opening its innovation center and events venue Tuesday, a major milestone in the industrial hub’s mission to be a catalyst for San Antonio’s future workforce.
The Tech Port Center and Arena, as the $70 million facility is called, is intended to be a new model of economic and workforce development.
“The vision is to be a connection point,” said Jim Perschbach, the Port’s president and CEO. “Connecting people and opportunities, buyers and sellers.”
Perschbach said the center will offer a way for visitors, who come for the entertainment and meeting spaces, to rub shoulders with those at the Port developing space-based robotics, orbital research, electric cars, autonomous vehicle sensors and other industrial applications. “We want to provide people who are inspired a path to be connected.”
Similar to how Geekdom has sought to build out downtown’s amenities for the tech sector, Port San Antonio is trying to make the Southwest Side attractive for businesses involved in defense, cybersecurity, robotics, aviation and more.
The facility at General Hudnell Drive and 36th Avenue will feature an e-sports arena, upscale cafeteria, LAN gaming center and a new location for the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg will inaugurate the new 180,000-square-foot facility Tuesday in a way fit for the center’s tech focus: pushing a button.
Until then, the center is still abuzz with workers in hard hats and yellow vests, applying the finishing touches on the building.
The centerpiece of the facility is its e-sports arena, one of the biggest of its kind in Texas, and the first to be built from the ground up for competitive video gaming.
But the venue, which can seat up to 3,500 in retractable stands, isn’t just for video game tournaments. Concerts and comedians are also imagined for the space. The Smashing Pumpkins is scheduled to play a debut set on May 2, followed by a series of other musical acts through the rest of spring. An e-sports match and event is scheduled May 6.
Above the stands, a VIP balcony level is filled with couch suites and a bar.
Lining the side of the arena are a series of Tesla coils, which Port leadership said are among the only ones for public display in the country. The coils, which light up with electric arcs, are integrated into the arena’s lighting and sound system.
Down the hall is a publicly accessible forum for LAN gaming, where visitors can pay a few dollars to play competitive multiplayer video games on state-of-the-art computers. The gaming PCs are fast enough to run Valorant, a popular but computationally intensive game, at 400 frames-per-second in multiplayer matches.
Super-charged internet tubes allow network speeds many times that of convention halls. “If you lose here, it wasn’t because of the internet,” Perschbach jokes.
Sam Elizondo, who oversees the LAN center and e-sports at the arena, said an emphasis has been put on making the LAN center affordable. “This is some of the nicest hardware you’ll ever find, accessible for a nominal fee,” he said.
Patrons can also bring their own laptops to take advantage of the fast internet speed. Elizondo said the room could also be used for cybersecurity exercises or assisting with complicated 3D renders.
The Port has long seen video games as a viable recruitment pipeline into technology and defense fields.
The facility will include a new offshoot of the nearby science and technology museum, though it won’t be open until summer. In addition to interactive exhibits, the museum will feature a broadcast studio available for rent, as well as a cybersecurity lab.
A cafeteria, called Tech Port Provisions, has several San Antonio restaurant staples operating booths, including Big Bib BBQ, Capo’s Pizzeria and Brevity Coffee. Cherrity Bar is operating two booths specializing in Mexican and Japanese food respectively, and Earl Abel’s will have an outpost for its homestyle cooking like pies and fried chicken.
A bar in the middle serves fast and fancy drinks alike, from a casual rum-and-coke to a more carefully crafted whiskey sour with egg white. Thirty-two craft beers are available on tap.
All profits from the facility’s food court and VIP lounges, gaming tickets and fancy drinks, go to the Kelly Heritage Foundation, a Port-affiliated nonprofit supporting education and workforce development.
Behind the cafeteria, an industrial kitchen has the capacity to serve as many as 1,000. Next week, it will serve hundreds of plates in a three-course meal for the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Perschbach imagines that the cafeteria could be a meeting hub for students, entrepreneurs, robotics clubs and more.
The center will also be home to other ventures, such as a branch of Capitol Factory’s incubator-like Center for Defense Innovation, as well as the official video gaming departments of the Air Force and Space Force.
General Manager Eric Blockie, tasked with executing the vision of Port San Antonio at the center, illustrates the center’s use with a hypothetical: a family of two parents and their child come to the center. The child goes left, to the LAN gaming center, while the parents enjoy dinner and a show at the arena.
Perschbach said more news will be coming about the Port San Antonio. “This building’s already proven too small for what we need to accomplish.”