It’s been six years since Dan Pedrotti began working toward his vision to transform the former Pecan Valley Golf Club and surrounding land on San Antonio’s Southeast side into a community geared for transitioning veterans and their families.
With the City Council’s unanimous approval May 17 to rezone the 215-acre site from three zoning designations to one, for mixed use, the Valor Club is now one step closer to reality. Construction on a new and adaptive, nine-hole golf course as a centerpiece of the development will begin in August.
Located near the corner of Pecan Valley Drive and East Southcross Boulevard, the Valor Club project will eventually offer affordably priced, market-rate housing, including apartments and single-family homes; health, fitness, and competitive sports facilities; an entertainment complex and retail stores; and a bike trail that connects to the Salado Creek Greenway trail system.
All amenities at the $200 million development will be open to the public, but the entire campus is designed for veterans – a place where they can “thrive, live, play,” according to the development’s motto. Plans call for local agencies and nonprofits to offer on-site counseling, education, and job training services focused on the needs of transitioning veterans.
Pedrotti said that as veterans talked to him about the civilian world they were trying to adjust to they would say, “I don’t get this place at all.” For the first time, Pedrotti understood how difficult the transition from military to civilian life could be for the men and women who served. It left many of them feeling isolated for the first time in their lives, he realized, many also struggling to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those first conversations with the men – and later women – who came to learn and play at his Republic Golf Course as part of a transition program were not only eye-opening, but inspiring to Pedrotti, a longtime real estate developer and president of the golf management company Foresight Golf.
And he said that realization came about the same time the Pecan Valley Golf Club was failing and, sadly he said, headed for closure.
Established in 1963 and host of the 1968 PGA Championship
s, Pecan Valley had been a point of pride for nearby residents for many years. But the course was losing money even before he bought it, Pedrotti said. “We thought we could right this ship, and it never did.” He and his partners shut the doors on Pecan Valley in 2012 after four years of ownership.
“That’s really when Valor Club was born,” he said. “It will be a community of people with similar experiences, where you can turn to someone right here [for help], to people who can say, ‘I know, but I’m here and I got your back.’”
About 1,300 military service members, spouses, and children transition into civilian communities each day, according to the Department of Defense. And while studies by the University of Southern California Center For Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families show that the majority of veterans look favorably upon their military experience, many also report difficulty adjusting to civilian life, leading to problems such as joblessness, homelessness, and untreated mental health conditions.
San Antonio is home to 153,000 veterans and a growing number of them are former Gulf War service members, according to a report by the Military and Veteran Community Collaborative. Pedrotti’s resolve to help them transition successfully has not wavered even as the specifics of his plans for the Valor Club have progressed.
“The truth of the matter is I kept working with planners and engineers and the City and perfecting the plan and adjusting and tweaking it and making sure the City staff understood the flood considerations, the project considerations, and all the rest of it, and I also spent all that time with the veteran community in furthering our research through the nonprofit, and I prayed a lot, I mean a lot,” he said.
A year ago, he teamed up with California-based real estate developer Irwin Deutch, Hiring America CEO and Executive Producer Bill Deutch, and former Haven for Hope CEO George Block to continue work on Valor Club. Consultants include Russel Yeager, director of civil engineering for Big Red Dog; Steven Upchurch, co-managing director of architecture firm Gensler; and Jonathan Kelley, Gensler’s principal and sports practice area leader.
The par-3 course will be built first, to championship golf standards and for people with all abilities. Though it will look like any other nine-hole course, Pedrotti said Valor Club’s course will be designed for people with limited mobility and provide specialized equipment. Weather permitting, he expects it will be complete within a year of groundbreaking.
Other parts of the development will follow, to include 1,400 units of housing and Olympic- and Paralympic-style athletic training centers, after the golf course is opened. Among the groups Valor Club will partner with on programming and support for residents are numerous veterans’ services organizations and local universities, along with San Antonio Sports, The First Tee, USA BMX, and USA Swimming.
Jim Shelton, design director in Gensler’s San Antonio office, said Valor Club will be designed as a community well-integrated with its landscape, having three distinct neighborhoods each with a town “green” surrounded by public and retail spaces. Veterans’ services will be incorporated throughout the community.
“This will be an opportunity to pull the services together, so a veteran doesn’t have to go all over town,” Shelton said. “The whole idea is to get people out of the house and around others. [The development] will grow in phases, which will also help to break down the scale.”
Residents in the neighboring Pecan Valley and Highland Hills have voiced concerns that the proposed development will bring more crime, congestion, and traffic to the area, and increase flooding risk.
“There’s a long history with this development,” said Toni Moorehouse, president of the Pecan Valley Neighborhood Association, who for 25 years has lived in a home there that her uncle helped build.
Some residents’ concerns began when the golf course was closed and continued with the development of the Masters Ranch apartment community. “We are saturated here with multifamily,” Moorehouse said, referring to the income-restricted development made up of 252 apartment units.
Their unease does not mean area residents are against veterans, Moorehead said – and in fact, there are several retired, high-ranking service members living in the neighborhood. Instead, she called it “a trust issue,” with residents wanting more information from the developers and for the City to address their concerns, especially when it comes to flood control.
The area has a history of devastating floods arising from Salado Creek, which bisects the Valor Club property.
In recent letters from Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert and former commissioner and attorney Tommy Adkisson sent to District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, both expressed concern about the potential for flooding and recent increases in crime.
Viagran said that she supports the development.
“The rezoning that happened last week was important in that we were able to put some parameters on there that hadn’t been there before,” Viagran said. “Now we have assurances on zoning that single-family residential will go in there and there will be a cap for the number of units as well as no access point from Pecan Grove, which is the residential street adjacent.”
Viagran said flood-control plans surrounding the development have not yet been completed or reviewed by the City or the San Antonio River Authority. But she expects the project to serve as a tool to create more precautions and safeguards than exist today, and to actually help mitigate potential flooding.
The councilwoman pointed out that the development brings a golf course back to the area as well as economic development activity that could halt a “downward spiral” the surrounding neighborhoods have seen since Pecan Valley closed. “It’s also a great opportunity to bring our veterans and military personnel needed services,” she said.
The community will be open to veterans of all ages and conflicts, and every veteran will be a member of the Valor Club, Pedrotti said, “There are no dues. You just are.” And for civilians, he added, it will be “the best place on earth” to spend time with vets. Pedrotti also hopes it will become a model for the future of the nation’s transitioning armed forces.
And yet, “It’s not meant to be a vacation place, but a place to engage in transition from military to civilian life. It’s designed to prevent [veterans] from becoming homeless,” Pedrotti said. “We expect them to leave here and go and serve others … whatever their career path leads to.”