The new owners of the historic 1929 Tower Life Building plan to swap out its office spaces for condominiums and apartments, both market rate and affordable.
San Antonio businessman Red McCombs and real estate investors Jon Wiegand and Ed Cross purchased the 30-story building in May and will enter negotiations with Bexar County for tax incentives to include affordable housing units. Bexar County Commissioners Court’s Public Facility Corporation approved the negotiation process on Tuesday.
While full details of the building renovation and unit rental prices are pending, according to building owners, the initial plan is to convert the office space into 234 housing units, half of which could be reserved for households who make 80% or less than the area median income (AMI) and 23 of the units for households making 60% AMI.
“With Bexar County as our partner, our goal is to honor the [culturally and historically] significant building, to redevelop the project as a mixed-use housing project designed to provide homes for a diverse population of residents and mix of incomes and ages,” Wiegand told commissioners on Tuesday. “We want to make this building relevant to current and future generations.”
The building is currently only 40% occupied and is no longer sustainable as office space, he said.
“The office problems at the Tower Life building far predate the problems created by COVID, but COVID has been a detriment to urban centers all around our country,” Wiegand said, serving “as almost a vacuum of sorts, pulling office employees and business workers out of our urban center to remote work or newer office sub-markets.”
The result, he said, is downtown “streets quiet during the week, and local businesses struggling.” Redeveloping the Tower Life Building, Wiegand said, is “a leadership opportunity to show a path forward for one of our city’s proudest historic buildings and bring back a full-time resident population to the core of our downtown.”
The ground-floor retail space of the building, which has been vacant for over 20 years, will also be revitalized, he said.
It’s unclear how much the renovation process will cost, Cross said, but the previous owner, the H.B. Zachry family, which owned it for 70 years, took good care of the building.
“It’s got good bones,” he told commissioners. “One of the things we intend to do over this negotiating process with the county is to get our plans nailed down, get the construction costs lined up and figure out exactly how much it will cost.”
This year, the building’s appraised value increased from $6.1 million to $10.2 million with improvements in 2022 estimated to be $4.7 million, according to county appraisal district data.
Part of the plan includes removing the concrete barrier between the building and the San Antonio River Walk, Wiegand said.
“When the building was originally built in 1929, the river was an untamed flood risk … they had to armor the building with concrete to protect against these dangerous floods,” he said. “Now that San Antonio River is controlled and we can connect to one of downtown’s best amenities.”
The final agreement with the county’s Public Facility Corporation will likely look similar to its recent deal with Weston Urban to restore the former Continental Hotel, a county attorney said. In that case, the developer received property tax exemptions in exchange for providing affordable housing units with rent limits.
“With the foregoing of tax revenue, there has to be a public benefit,” said Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct.4), whose district includes the Tower Life Building.
He emphasized the need for the deal to provide truly affordable housing for downtown workers.
Calvert will serve on a working group that will craft the tax incentive agreement, which will ultimately require Commissioners Court approval.