A rendering of the future VIA Metropolitan Transit paratransit facility. Credit: Courtesy / VIA Metropolitan Transit

A former nightclub is set to be reincarnated as a VIA Metropolitan Transit facility serving riders with disabilities.

VIA board members unanimously voted Tuesday to greenlight the construction of a $33 million paratransit facility. The project, which has been in the works for several years, will serve as a centralized headquarters for VIAtrans, the agency’s transportation service for people with disabilities. VIA’s paratransit operations are in three different buildings currently; a central location would make VIAtrans operations more efficient and effective, project manager Tom Carrasco said.

“These three functional locations will now be consolidated into one state-of-the-art paratransit operation facility,” Carrasco said.

The new facility will contain offices, lockers, lunch rooms, washing and fueling stations, a parts room, and a warehouse, he said.

In 2017, VIA purchased the former Graham Central Station nightclub at 4902 Fredericksburg Rd. for $8.1 million to serve as the new paratransit facility. The site is 11 acres, with one 100,000-square-foot building and another that is about 10,000 square feet, Carrasco said. 

Project designers are working to repurpose as much as the existing building as possible, Carrasco said. For example, a prior tenant left “entertainment rooms” behind that can be used as conference rooms or offices.

Project designers also decided to keep part of the dance floor as a historical artifact, a nod to the building’s former purpose, said Rachel Benavidez, VIA’s director of communications.

“Many artists … walked there during Tejano music awards and night club performances,” Benavidez said.

Architectural engineering and miscellaneous expenses up until now have cost VIA about $1.95 million, Carrasco said. Renovating the larger building will cost $23 million, bringing the total project cost estimate to $33 million. Construction costs will be covered by a $6 million federal grant and $17 million from Texas Department of Transportation funding. 

The board members voted Tuesday to award the construction contract for the paratransit facility to F. A. Nunnelly Company, a local general contractor selected by VIA staff.

Construction is projected to be completed next August and the facility should open the following October, Carrasco said. 

“Congratulations to everybody who’s been working on this project,” VIA Trustee Bob Comeaux said. “And about the same time we’ll be cutting that ribbon, we’ll also be opening the HOV lane on 281.”

On Tuesday, board members also elected board secretary Ezra Johnson to serve as the new board vice chair on Tuesday. Johnson replaced Comeaux, who resigned from the vice chair position early but will remain on the board. Johnson’s term as vice chair will end on Dec. 31. Board members will vote on Johnson’s replacement as board secretary at their August meeting.

The City will be seeking a new trustee to replace Amanda Merck, who marked her last meeting on Tuesday before leaving San Antonio to pursue a doctoral degree in regional planning in Illinois. She left her colleagues with encouragement for their pursuit of more transit funding, a contentious issue that ended with VIA and Mayor Ron Nirenberg working together to ask voters to reallocate a one-eighth-cent sales tax to the City first for about four years and to VIA after that.

“[Compromise] feels like a distraction while privileged populations are continuing to benefit and vulnerable populations are continuing to face barriers and burdens,” Merck said. “For the umpteenth time in 40 years, local and state leaders have said VIA can wait. Or they only supported investment in VIA as part of a package with something else.”

But, Merck said, she has confidence in VIA leadership, staff, and board will make the right decisions and “necessary compromises” to provide the best transit service.

“I just hope that y’all continue to push local, state, and federal leaders to think about household transportation costs of time and price amid COVID recovery plans, and just to invest more in transit,” she said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to Selena performing at the former nightclub.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.