The Koehler House is still undergoing renovations. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

About 30 representatives from coffee shops, a “cupcakery,” a bar, an apparel shop, and other local businesses attended an informational session Monday morning to check out leasing opportunities for two historic buildings in Hemisfair Park.

The OK Bar and Koehler House are the two remaining historic properties that border Yanaguana Garden, Hemisfair’s popular urban core playscape that has hosted more than 365,000 visitors since it opened in October last year. The prospective tenants toured the two structures while Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation staff filled them in on what kind of businesses they’re looking for as well as the application process.

Hemisfair is open to a wide range of uses and businesses, but whatever they are, they must be publicly accessible and “they have to activate the park land,” said Hemisfair Director of Real Estate Omar Gonzalez. The more collaboration, programming, and focus on locals a business can bring, he added, the better.

“It would be here, if anywhere,” Barrio Barista owner Gilbert De Hoyos said as he approached the edge of Yanaguana Garden, which was already bustling with laughing children and watchful parents in the relatively mild morning sun. He’s thinking of opening up a second location to complement the original Westside coffee house at 3735 Culebra Rd.

Applications are due by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21. A selection team will begin tenant interviews and background research Aug. 22-30, and will notify applicants of next steps on Aug. 31.

(Read More: Hemisfair Seeks New Tenants for Historic Buildings)

Indigo Makers Collective, a locally owned and state-sourced apparel boutique, has a temporary lease for the OK Bar. Indigo co-owners Jessica Brown and Kass Carrell attended the Monday morning information session and tour of the buildings – which included a tour of their shop filled with clothing, jewelry, other wearable accessories, art, and some edible wares.

“We try to keep things very local, Texas-made,” Carrell said, adding that the store has started to host some art/craft classes.

Weekend business has picked up, but most of their clientele has been obtained through word-of-mouth promotion in the artist community and their large social media networks, she added.

The first round of tenant applications put San Antonio B-Cycle and Paleteria San Antonio in the Pereida House, which opened this summer. Con Safos Cocina Fruteria y Bar will open in Espinoza House later this year.

Carrell and Brown plan on applying to stay in the OK Bar, despite its need for a “full renovation,” as Gonzalez described the structure’s condition. It needs electrical work, HVAC replacement, plumbing, an ADA accessible bathroom, and Hemisfair wants the new tenant to open the east wall with large windows or another entrance to better connect to the park. Renovations would cost, Hemisfair staff estimates, a minimum $150,000 to half a million, depending on the need to install a kitchen.

Hemisfair Director of Real Estate Omar Gonzalez leads a tour of the OK Bar, which is currently being rented to the Indigo Makers Collective pop-up shop. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Hemisfair Director of Real Estate Omar Gonzalez leads a tour of the OK Bar, which is currently being rented to the Indigo Makers Collective pop-up shop. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The Koehler House needs significantly less work, Gonzalez said, and would only require a business to finish out their custom needs to move in.

Both buildings are recognized as State Archaeological Landmarks by the Texas Historical Commission, so there are a number of restrictions on what can be done to the interior and exterior. Hemisfair staff will be available to help guide tenants through the permitting processes and bureaucracies, including the Historic and Design Review Commission, Gonzalez said. There also are possibilities for rent concessions – reducing the amount of rent the tenant would have to pay, potentially to zero – if they invest a significant amount of money rehabilitating and building out the structures.

When it comes to tenant selection, passion and park activation will be considered over access to capital, Gonzalez said.

Many of the questions tenants asked on Monday had to do with the condition of the buildings, future plans for the Hemisfair district, and parking.

When completed, the multimillion dollar Hemisfair district will include almost 19 acres of parkland – three times the parkland that was open to the public before – more than 1,000 residential units, a boutique hotel, and more than 1,800 parking spaces by 2022. The mixed-use housing and hotel developments in Civic Park will need ground floor retail and more mixed-use tenant possibilities may be added as the third and final phase for the eastern most section of property, Tower Park, is still under development.

“If you don’t find something that you love today, you will in the next few years,” Gonzalez said.

Despite Yanaguana Garden’s popularity, the mixed-use developments to come, and the millions of dollars of private and public investment in the Hemisfair district, some small business owners are still hesitant to risk moving into a new, unproven location.

Charles Gonzalez, owner of Rosella Coffee who was a finalist in the previous round of applications, took the tour on Monday and noted that it may be difficult to get locals to realize that Hemisfair and its amenities are designed with them in mind. Hemisfair has been “under the radar” for so long, he said.

Gonzalez will open his second coffee shop at the Rand Building downtown, but is still considering putting Rosella’s hat in the Hemisfair ring.

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Top image: The Koehler House is still undergoing renovations.  Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org