The Frost Tower is nearing completion and is set for a Summer '19 opening.
The Frost Tower at dusk. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Some of the best years in a 37-year marriage were when our two sons decided to return to San Antonio as young professionals drawn home by the forward trajectory of the city.

They came home to a very different city. They had left to pursue higher education and the kind of opportunities more easily found beyond this city’s limits. Fast forward a decade: San Antonio’s fast-growing economy, the city’s livability, and the opportunity to be part of its evolution proved irresistible. Today both young men are urban core homeowners, civically active, and part of the city’s very visible forward momentum.

Nowhere was that momentum more on display than Tech Bloc’s boisterous rally Thursday night at Southerleigh Brewery at the Pearl, where 1,300-plus people gathered to pledge their votes against the three charter measures muscled on to the Nov. 6 ballot by the firefighters union and their out-of-town paid petition peddlers.

Passage of any of those measures could bring San Antonio’s momentum to an ugly stop. Our children could stop coming home in droves.

I’ve been to my fair share of political rallies, including impressive gatherings for Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, but I haven’t seen 1,300 people at any of them. Transport that Tech Bloc energy and passion to the polls, friends, and the city won’t miss a step in its continuing progress.

Consider this: Through my work here at the Rivard Report over the past six years I have come to know, or least meet, most of the people at the Tech Bloc rally. The majority of them are employed in good-paying tech jobs that didn’t even exist a decade ago. Tech Bloc, only 3 years old, has become a force to reckon with in the city. Its power? Smart job creation.

Last week I also cycled by the former Rivard Report offices at the historic Rand Building – you know, the one where the name “Geekdom”  now beckons from the rooftop. It was my weekly check-in on the gleaming new Frost Tower and other downtown improvements. Workers at the controls of skid loaders were moving dirt near the tower’s main entrance, preparing the ground for landscaping. By next summer workers will walk through that landscaping into their new offices.

The Rand building on East Houston Street prominently features the Geekdom logo.
The Rand building on East Houston Street prominently features the Geekdom logo. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

(No time to pedal by yourself? Visit remotely via the Frost Tower’s Construction Cam.)

Houston Street, the city’s most walkable downtown thoroughfare, was also downtown’s deadest street a decade ago – a collection of vacant buildings, empty storefronts,  a museum to yesteryear, save for a few hotels and steakhouses catering to visitors.

Houston Street now is a bustling boulevard, its historic buildings teeming with tech workers, small businesses, startups, and cool places to gather, eat, and drink. That gleaming tower at 111 W. Houston St. serves as the symbol of all that smart job growth and the promise of so much more just over the horizon. At the rate San Antonio is growing, there probably will be another new gleaming tower downtown before too long, joining the multiple towers coming to River North along Broadway.

All of that – the private-public partnership that made possible a new Frost Tower and kept the venerable bank’s headquarters downtown, Southerleigh, the Pearl, the thousands of apartments that reach from Broadway south to the Mission Reach, might not be here if 20,000 anti-government people had signed petitions blocking the project incentives approved by past City Councils.

I am not suggesting this billion-dollar development surge would not have happened, but I am saying all such future projects will be at-risk if union bosses decide it’s time to bloody a few noses at City Hall. The merits of any given project will not be a factor; landing a sucker punch will be the aim.

It took vision, risk, and significant collaboration between City Hall and the private sector to usher in what then-Mayor Julián Castro called the Decade of Downtown and others have called “a city on the rise.”

Of course, the city has grown just as robustly or more to the northwest. More smart jobs have been created in the Medical Center, for example, than downtown. UTSA is moving into the future at an exciting pace. That growth has occurred in no small part to the City’s elected leaders and professionals and the social peace that allows them to act in the best interest of all citizens.

It’s what brought our sons home. Maybe your children, too. Maybe it will keep your children from leaving.

By now, you’d have to be a friend, family member, or a very loyal dues-paying firefighter to believe union President Chris Steele is a trustworthy leader with the best interests of San Antonio and its people in mind.

A win for the union at all costs is his only goal. He seems willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. Secretly leaked tapes that come from the ranks of firefighters and a partial release of Steele’s personnel files and law enforcement records paint an unflattering portrait of a man who lacks the character or intellect for leadership.

Voters have eight days now to the start of early voting in the Nov. 6 election. It wouldn’t surprise me this year to see the early vote approach or surpass 70 percent of the total. Eight days should be enough time to weigh the facts and conclude that the three charter reform measures on the ballot are meant to damage San Antonio. They are the product of backroom political scheming rather than civic aspiration.

Do we really want to elect leaders and then turn around every time a decision is rendered and challenge it with a petition and election at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars? Do we want to live in a city with a paralyzed City Council, our city the object of national ridicule?

The average citizen might not appreciate the relationship between a city’s tax base and its economic development. It will be a much easier concept to grasp if the City no longer has the funds to fix roads and fill potholes, build sidewalks, mitigate flooding, keep up parks, and fund libraries.

There is no reason to learn that lesson the hard way. A no vote, times three, come Oct. 22, will send a message: San Antonio’s remarkable growth of the past decade will continue apace. Our faith and trust in elected leaders and our institutions should trump union machinations. Voters should choose continued prosperity over political arson.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.