The owners of a long-vacant and overgrown southeast San Antonio golf course are taking another swing at developing a master-planned community designed for veterans. 

Known as Valor Club, the development is a plan by a California-based developer for a sprawling 20-acre residential and recreational development geared toward transitioning veterans. It will be located at the former Pecan Valley Golf Course, which hosted the 1968 PGA Championship, at Pecan Valley Drive and East Southcross Boulevard.

With approval in late May from the San Antonio Housing Trust, the project will center around affordable multifamily housing for veterans with supportive services, job training and placement, and recreation, including a 9-hole golf course. 

Every year, more than 200,000 service members leave the military for the civilian world. For many, making that transition is a struggle, said Mike McDowell, president and CEO for Valor Club. 

“We have to understand that the housing linchpin is critical for the success and independence of veterans,” McDowell said. 

For the project to go vertical and become sustainable, it must meet affordability criteria that make it eligible for tax exemptions. 

The Valor Club concept, which emerged three years ago, is the brainchild of Dan Pedrotti, a longtime real estate developer and president of the golf management company Foresight Golf

At the time, Pedrotti pitched Valor Club as offering affordably priced, market-rate housing along with health, fitness, and competitive sports facilities, an entertainment complex, and retail space. The $200 million development would be open to the public but designed for veterans with onsite programming and services.

To pursue the idea, he partnered with developers Irwin Deutch and Bill Deutch of Century Pacific, and former Haven for Hope CEO George Block. In 2018, the San Antonio City Council approved rezoning the site from three zoning designations to one for mixed use.

The Deutches are moving forward with the project and hope it will become a model for similar developments in other U.S. cities, according to attorney Jamie Smith whose firm is assisting with the tax-credit financing. Pedrotti is no longer involved.

On May 26, the San Antonio Housing Trust board approved the terms for an initial agreement that would exempt property taxes in exchange for providing its one-to four-bedroom units to residents with lower income levels. It also relieves developers of sales taxes on the purchase of construction materials.

Of the 324 units in the first phase of the project, 90 units will be offered for rent at 70% of the area median income (AMI); 129 units at 60%; 65 units at 50%, and 32 units at 40%.

“We agreed to it because it’s going to produce a substantial number of units under the 60% AMI level,” said Pete Alanis, executive director of the Housing Trust. “The project is a veteran-centric project and is an area of the city that’s pretty difficult to redevelop. That property has had some challenges in the past with being able to move forward.”

One of those challenges was an objection from the Pecan Valley Neighborhood Association which voiced concerns in 2018 about the development’s impact on vehicle traffic and flooding. Alanis said area residents are now more supportive of the plan because of its focus on veterans. The superintendent of the East Central Independent School District also submitted a letter of support to the Housing Trust board.

Although targeted at veterans, affordable units at Valor Club also will be open to qualifying members of the general public due to fair housing laws.

Amenities for visitors including a hotel are planned for Valor Club. Credit: Courtesy / Gensler

Without the Housing Trust’s involvement, Valor Club would not make financial sense for developers at those rent levels, Alanis said. But the timing of the project is now dependent on the Texas Bond Review Board and its ability to issue bonds. 

“There is a very long line right now of projects that are waiting to receive that allocation of bonds,” Alanis said, estimating there are $2 billion worth of projects pending. “But once they do … they have about six months to close financing on the project.”

Meanwhile, McDowell is working on a plan to attract veterans especially from outside of San Antonio by working with veteran transition officials at deployable military installations such as Fort Bliss in El Paso and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. 

He has also been meeting with major manufacturing employers such as Toyota and those at Port San Antonio to coordinate job training and employment opportunities.  

Those plans will solidify, he said, when the project is further along, which could take two years or more. 

“I don’t want to overpromise,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of promises made, and it broke the hearts of a lot of stakeholders and community members, and I’m not doing that.”

A 15-year veteran of the Marine Corps, McDowell knows how difficult the transition to civilian life can be. “I struggled coming out, and I struggled as a field grade marine officer with an MBA from [the University of Southern California],” he said. 

It’s not for a lack of groups trying to help, but rather the difficulty in accessing services without the one-stop-shop concept that Valor Club proposes, he said.

Since being named CEO in 2019, McDowell has been traveling between San Antonio and his home in California every two weeks while he completed his doctoral dissertation on a living-and-learning approach to successful veteran transition. 

Now he is eager to make the city his permanent home and will move with his family to San Antonio later this month as he works toward making Valor Club happen. 

“I just want to show action on that campus; I’m sick of looking at the same stupid sign,” he said. 

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...