Via riders arrive at Cento Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.
The VIA Metropolitan Transit Prímo 103 Zarzamora line will be free to ride on Valentine's Day. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The City of San Antonio and VIA Metropolitan Transit plan to breathe new life into the neighborhood surrounding VIA’s Centro Plaza transit hub on the near Westside, 909 W. Houston St, thanks to assistance from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

The FTA chose San Antonio as one of nine U.S. cities for the National Public Transportation/Transit-Oriented Development Technical Assistance Initiative, a four-year project that aids local community efforts in implementing “compact, mixed-use, equitable development” around transit stations.

“In order for transit to work effectively you need to have people, so that means homes and businesses,” said Terry Bellamy, City Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) assistant director. “What (we’ll) attempt to do is create a community by allowing the live-work-play mentality to exist, and by creating adequate density that people can use to service their everyday lives.”

The federal assistance will provide TCI and VIA with technical development opportunities from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Smart Growth America, a national advocacy organization for the smart and sustainable growth of cities and neighborhoods. The aid, Bellamy said, will include examining and potentially modifying zoning codes, as well as “working with the community to coordinate land uses around the area.”

“In our case, they’re going to help train us and our staff in the community with the knowledge and understanding of how transit-oriented development takes place in an urban setting,” he said. “They know all the ins and outs of it.”

The FTA has previously invested in VIA’s Centro Plaza, which officially opened last November as the city’s newest, state-of-the-art transit hub, Bellamy said. The surrounding neighborhood – Cattleman Square – is dotted with vacant buildings that have been dormant for years, save for the Haven for Hope homeless shelter and services complex, the Bexar County Adult Detention Center, and the San Antonio Municipal Court.

Through the FTA initiative, the area could be transformed into a neighborhood with more economic development and opportunities, and ideally more residents. The City and VIA will meet with the FTA this month to discuss more concrete plans for Centro Plaza, as well as determine if there will be other transit areas incorporated into the initiative, Bellamy said.

The area has several possibilities for mixed-use development– a combination of residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or industrial uses – and the potential to preserve affordable housing.

“As the Mayor of San Antonio and an urban planner, I know the impact that transit-oriented development can have on revitalizing communities,” stated Mayor Ivy Taylor in a news release. “This grant award extends the ladders of opportunity directly to residents, using strategies that support equitable, appropriate development linked to transit service and is consistent with the City of San Antonio SA Tomorrow initiative.”

A key component of SA Tomorrow, and VIA’s Vision 2040 transportation plan, is finding solutions that will more easily connect the 1.1 million people expected to move to the city by 2040 to various places of work, residence, and entertainment throughout the city.

Bellamy sees the federal assistance as just another step in the right direction to fulfilling those goals.

“What we’re doing is just a continuation of that planning and that implementation, so this is a way to get that technical assistance to help move forward,” he said.

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*Top image: VIA bus passengers arrive at Centro Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com