UTSA Downtown Campus is set to change with plans to add additional programs and student housing to the area.
UTSA's Downtown Campus is set to change with plans to add additional programs and student housing to the area. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

University of Texas at San Antonio President Taylor Eighmy has some lofty goals for his university over the next decade: increase enrollment to more than 45,000 students, grow the first-year student retention rate to 85 percent, and raise the six-year graduation rate to 60 percent. The latter two goals he wants to achieve by 2023.

If the university accomplishes these, it will mean about 13,000 new students, 700 new faculty members, a more than 10 percent hike in first-year student retention rate, and a more than 20 percent increase in the six-year graduation rate.

To get there, the university has to plan for growth. That’s one of the reasons UTSA is embarking on a master planning process for its main and downtown campuses. The UT System requires each school to go through such a process every 10 years, although officials involved say the master plan can impact UTSA’s operations for several decades.

Provost Kim Espy is leading the charge and told the Rivard Report that UTSA is in the “discovery phase,” in which planners seek feedback from stakeholders and the community. The process started in July and is expected to wrap up this summer.

The resulting master plan will serve as a framework for the next era of UTSA, one that Espy and Eighmy hope could merge living and learning into the same spaces. At a community meeting Wednesday night, master planners showed a map of UTSA’s main campus with labels describing the primary purpose of each space.

The visual indicated that the campus was built with academic buildings separate from residential. Both were also separate from campus life. This, master planning officials said, is a dated way to construct college campuses. In the future, they hope UTSA’s campus will look more blended – students should be able to park on the outer edge of the campus and walk inward to study, eat, shop, spend downtime, and live.

Members of the public gather around the station to discuss housing.
Members of the public gather around a community input station to discuss housing at UTSA’s main campus. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

With few details in place, Espy provided an overview of a number of projects already announced that will likely play a factor in the master plan. On the main campus, Espy mentioned Roadrunner Village, a new residential living community with some mixed space to allow for dining and retail. Plans also include a new freshman residence hall to add another 360 beds for first-year students and a new dorm dedicated to honors college students.

These residential buildings factor into the goal of improving retention rates because one of the biggest predictors of retention and success is whether or not a student lives on campus, Espy said. They would all add to the existing 4,100 beds that currently exist at UTSA’s main campus.

The Loop 1604 campus also will be the future site of the Roadrunner Athletics Center of Excellence, a multipurpose sports center for student athletes.

Downtown, UTSA is expanding its footprint through land transfers with the City of San Antonio and Bexar County. Land will be used to house the future National Security Collaboration Center, the School of Data Science, and a new facility for the College of Business. All of this will be located close to San Pedro Creek.

School officials also are planning a new residential tower in Cattleman’s Square that will also include mixed-use space and are mulling a potential residential tower called the Continental Hotel Residences.

The UTSA Downtown Campus ten year plan.
The UTSA Downtown Campus 10 year plan spans both sides of the interstate and includes student housing. Credit: Courtesy / UTSA

UTSA is using a separate process to plan out the future of the Institute of Texan Cultures. While not included in the master planning process, it is undergoing an external review.

In 2017, UTSA asked developers to submit proposals to redevelop the space where ITC is currently located. ITC has been part of the UT System since the 1960s, after it was built for Hemisfair ’68. Eighmy, new to his role in 2017, canceled the request after it was first issued to give himself time to review the plan for ITC.

The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures.
The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Last December, UTSA gathered stakeholders at ITC and asked what they wanted to see for the future of the site. Espy told the Rivard Report that the university is engaging in a process similar to peer review, asking experts from other parts of the country to evaluate the institute.

The provost acknowledged that the location of ITC, sandwiched between Hemisfair and Interstate Highway 37, has advantages and challenges.

“You couldn’t argue for a place closer to the Texan identity, in a way,” Espy said. “At the same time, it sure does pose a relative challenge to students going back and forth to our main campus.”

Espy said she hopes the review process will provide suggestions to strengthen the quality of the museum and bolster its connection to the university.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.