City Council unanimously approved a $150 million mixed-use development project at the Eastside’s Red Berry Estate Thursday. The public-private partnership with NRP Group and two Sugar Land firms, Terramark Homes and Wallace-Bajjali Development Partners, will include 600 apartments, 66 townhouses and more than 300,000 square feet of commercial space. Much of that space will become medical offices, sorely lacking on the city’s Eastside, with the remainder devoted to retail shops and restaurants.
Council members and Mayor Ivy Taylor agreed the Red Berry redevelopment project is long overdue and “so welcomed in this part of town,” Taylor said, who served as councilwoman for District 2 when project talks were initiated in 2010, and when the City purchased the 84-acre property and 14,300 square foot mansion for $2.25 million in 2012.
“Citizens of the Eastside have been asking for and patiently waiting for catalytic development on the Eastside,” said Jackie Gorman, San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE) executive director, during the Citizens to be Heard session. “This is that development.”
Gorman also praised the project for including affordable housing and bringing jobs to the district, adding that she’s already had conversations with other developers about more projects in the area.
This is the kind of economic development that the AT&T Center was supposed to spark more than a decade ago, said District 9 Councilman Joe Krier, a spark that never came after the arena’s completion in 2002.
“One of the things we thought of back then was the Red Berry estate,” Krier said.
Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development & Operations Department, presented the development agreement to Council which includes the City turning over the estate to the San Antonio Housing Trust Public Facilities Corporation (PFC) until details of design, construction, and finance are completed. The PFC will then release acreage to the developers for commercial construction, public right of way improvements, and developing public amenities. Developers will receive an $8.46 million tax rebate that will be repaid with property tax revenue generated by the project over 20 years.
“No longer a hidden gem,” Houston said. “(We want the estate) to be open and accessible to the community … a link to Salado Creek.”
About $2 million of project money is designated for restoring the historic mansion, and $17.5 million is earmarked for infrastructure costs. As part of the deal, the City will be responsible to “haul and provide to the project up to 420,000 cubic yards of fill to the Red Berry Estate,” to be used in the nearby flood plain. The estate, which includes a 12-acre artificial lake, is located along Salado Creek.
“I am wildly enthusiastic about almost every single element of this project,” said local resident Sue Calberg. “But I have serious, grave concern about the concept of filling in the floodplain.”
Calberg held up a simple drawing of a map, indicating that she lives uphill and across the street from the Red Berry Estate. After the 1998 flood, her down-the-hill neighbors were driven out by floodwaters, she said. The City removed 600,000 cubic yards of fill at a cost of $1.6 million in 2001. Calberg fears adding landfill now could cause flooding again.
“I’m happy with a lot of elements,” she said. “But let’s continue to demand adequate, sensible policy … (we shouldn’t) break something that’s not broken.”
“I am not frequently caught by comments made by citizens to be heard,” Krier said. “But Ms. Calberg caught my attention … that’s a lot of fill.”
Assistant Director of the City’s Department of Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) Arthur Reinhardt said that no fill would be added until an environmental impact study is completed on that stretch of the creek. Further complicating the flood plain is nearby illegal filling activity, which also affects the flood plain, but isn’t measured or reported to authorities.
If the study finds the fill to be detrimental to the function of the flood plain, steps will be taken to “balance it out”, Reinhardt said.
Construction on the first phase, which will include 300 housing units, is scheduled to start next summer and be completed in 2017. Phase two is expected to be complete in 2019.
The estate is the former home of the late Texas State Rep. and Senator Virgil Edward “Red” Berry (1899-1969). Berry was the former owner of The Turf Club, a gambling club in downtown San Antonio. His life and estate are shrouded in mystery and myth, a sort of real life Great Gatsby.
“(This project is) preservation of a colorful page in our history,” Taylor said.