For decades, the 500 block of Dolorosa Street, downtown’s Street of Sorrow between South Laredo and South Flores streets, was home to wayward adults locked in jail cells. That long-forgotten and blighted block is now being transformed as the centerpiece of UTSA’s ambitious downtown campus expansion, where university students will now acquire the skills and knowledge to unlock their own promising futures.

For San Antonio, it’s a welcome infusion of new public investment and new public life in a downtown hit hard by the pandemic. A street once associated with prisoners in jumpsuits being escorted to and from courthouses, and later, vacancy and abandonment, is now coming back to life with inspiring new architecture and university students toting backpacks. 

Two years ago, the wrecking ball leveled the former Bexar County jail-turned-privately run jail for federal inmates awaiting trial, after an adjacent city-owned warehouse and eyesore had been demolished. A third lot to the west, which is a former city-owned parking lot, completes what today are UTSA’s three contiguous properties on Dolorosa, the result of an innovative collaboration forged by the university, the City of San Antonio and Bexar County.

When the first class of 400 undergraduate students complete degrees at UTSA’s National Security Collaboration Center and School of Data Science in the coming years, they will walk confidently into a bright future, ready to take jobs in an economy and society increasingly reliant on and redefined by data.

The newly opened $91.8 million building at 506 Dolorosa St., the first of its kind in the state, was jump started with a foundational $15 million gift from Rackspace and Weston Urban co-founder Graham Weston in 2018. Informally known as San Pedro I for its perch above the nearby historic creek, the new school sits on the site of a former city-owned warehouse.

San Pedro I will be located just across the San Pedro Creek Culture Park from UTSA's newly opened School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center.
San Pedro II will be located just across the San Pedro Creek Culture Park from UTSA’s newly opened School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

This summer, UTSA will break ground on the former county jail site on San Pedro II, the $124 million building dedicated to entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary programs in business, engineering and the sciences. Like San Pedro I, it will be designed by Overland Partners and the global design firm Gensler, the latter also designing the Alamo’s new Visitor Center and Museum buildings.

Fewer people of color and women hold data science jobs than in any other sector of the tech economy, according to Uyi Stewart, chief data and technology officer at Data.org, who delivered the keynote address at UTSA’s ribbon-cutting ceremony last week. In a city where two out of every three people are Hispanic, UTSA is poised to change that calculus.

A new UTSA partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, announced at the event celebrating the opening of the School of Data Science, underscores UTSA’s nationally recognized strengths in the cybersecurity and data science space and as a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution.

Plans to develop a university presence on the former city-owned parking lot are in the development stage.

Several years from now, the UTSA downtown campus will help activate multiple pulse points on the downtown landscape. 

The completion of the buildings on Dolorosa Street, the county’s San Pedro Creek Culture Park and the city’s $36 million reconstruction projects on Dolorosa and South Flores streets, as well as the 2017 bond projects to improve the Zona Cultural on West Commerce Street, will better connect the new buildings to UTSA’s original Downtown Campus buildings west of Interstate 35.

Farther north a bit, UTSA’s acquisition of the former Southwest School of Art and several undeveloped properties that are adjacent to the historic campus will give the university a significant presence on the San Antonio River.

The eventual redevelopment of UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures at Hemisfair, also undergoing major redevelopment, will give the university a more prominent place in the park and just north of bustling Southtown. East of I-37, UTSA’s rise as a nationally ranked football program promises six weekends or more each season of downtown crowds, tailgating and college sports.

UTSA President Taylor Eighmy has said he envisions 10,000 students at the Downtown Campus in the coming years.The challenge now is for developers working with the city to accelerate housing projects, including student apartments, in the urban core. 

In time, the expanded UTSA downtown campus likely will be seen as the leading catalyst for another decade of robust downtown development.  

This article has been updated to correctly reflect UTSA President Taylor Eighmy’s projection of the university’s future downtown student population. UTSA, Graham Weston’s 80/20 Foundation, Overland Partners and Gensler are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.