Nearly three years after vacating City Hall, many of its occupants soon will be returning. City officials say its $40.8 million renovation is nearing completion – more than a year behind schedule.
“I walked it just this morning again, and the fourth floor and the third floor are looking really good,” Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez said Friday.
He said the basement and the first and second floors are coming along, but “there’s still some work to do. But I feel pretty confident we’ll have it all done by March.”
When City Hall occupants moved out in July 2018, they expected to be back by February 2020. But City staff have pushed back the move-in date a few times – mostly due to the building’s age, Sanchez explained.
City Hall opened in 1891. Its fourth floor was added in 1927.
“It’s a historic building, so [we] have to be gentle with it,” Sanchez said, mentioning delicate plasterwork as one example. “The windows were another thing. You can’t put brand new window frames on a historic building. You have to preserve those window frames, and that’s not easy to do.”
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said he remembers those windows.
“I can tell you when it rained, those windows leaked,” he said with a laugh. “So hopefully they were able to solve that issue.”
Accounting for $3.4 million of the project budget, the front entrance of City Hall now has dual wheelchair ramps extending diagonally from the entrance more than 100 feet in each direction. Before the renovation, people who used wheelchairs or other mobility aids had to take a roundabout route – around the back and down a ramp to a basement door, Treviño said. A buzzer at that door prompted a security guard to escort the individual to an elevator to reach the lobby.
“That’s not setting the right example of the city of compassion, of the city that can find ways to make sure that everybody is treated fairly and compassionately,” Treviño said.
Treviño launched a search for City Hall’s main entrance design accessible to people of all abilities in 2017 with the help of local philanthropist and developer Gordon Hartman.
Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) is still in her first term, so she hasn’t worked from historic City Hall as a member of City Council yet. But she said she loved the renovation project’s focus on inclusion.
“Our people that come to City Hall need to feel like they are welcome,” she said. “This is the people’s home.”
City Council approved a $38 million project price tag for the City Hall renovation in 2018 but set aside extra funds during the budgeting process, Sanchez said. One of the biggest budget overruns came from security concerns, Sanchez said, citing a deadly 2019 shooting in a public works building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“[City Manager Erik Walsh] said, ‘We do not want this to happen in San Antonio,’ so we really enhanced the security that we were putting in for City Hall and in the City Tower building,” Sanchez said, referring to the former Frost Bank headquarters a block from City Hall. It will house additional City offices.
The security enhancements include “rapid” body scanners to detect weapons and bulletproof walls, Sanchez said. That added about $900,000 to the project budget, which now totals $40.8 million.
The offices of the mayor and City Council members currently are in the Plaza de Armas building, next to City Hall. Before the officials can move back to their original home, construction crews need to complete a few more items on their checklist, Sanchez said – wiring, painting, tile work, and so forth. Because of the building’s age, things had to be brought up to code, Sanchez added.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, City Manager Erik Walsh, City Attorney Andy Segovia, and City Clerk Tina Flores will have offices on the second floor, while City Council members will occupy the third and fourth floors.
And unlike before, Council offices will be district-specific, ending a “musical offices” practice, Sanchez said.
“For a while, the Council would change offices as elections came,” Sanchez said. “More senior members got to pick their offices. … Every two years as new Council members came in, it was musical offices. So we won’t be doing that anymore.”