In 2017, VIA Metropolitan Transit purchased a 270,000-square-foot property next to its headquarters just west of downtown. Four years later, the transit agency has chosen a firm to create a design proposal and give the historic warehouse complex a new life.
Known as the Scobey Storage Complex, the property containing six buildings is on a lot covering about 2.6 acres and is located on North Medina Street between Martin and West Travis streets. The Bexar County jail is just across the railroad tracks, while VIA’s Centro Plaza sits diagonally across from the property. VIA hopes to redevelop the complex and build what it calls a “transit oriented community” in the area that would make use of its bus system, VIA President and CEO Jeff Arndt said.
“The purchase gave VIA the opportunity to influence the redevelopment of these buildings, making use of transit-rich environments,” said Manjiri Akalkotkar, VIA’s director of capital and service planning. “It has the potential to generate revenue to support VIA services and capital [projects]. It may provide affordable housing or offices, depending on the market conditions.”
VIA has selected DreamOn Group, a local development and construction firm, to draft a proposal for the Scobey property redevelopment, Arndt said. In June, VIA staff will ask the board to consider approving an exclusive negotiating agreement with DreamOn Group under which VIA and DreamOn will be able to continue the project design process without being bound to complete it.
“If things don’t work out, both parties can walk away,” Akalkotkar said.
Though still in its early stages, Arndt said VIA could potentially draw revenue from the Scobey redevelopment by acting as a partner in the project. VIA originally purchased the Scobey property for $5.2 million in April 2017.
“One of the prospective ways that we develop a revenue stream out of the property would be to essentially provide the property as part of the development, but then have some kind of return on the revenue that’s generated through that development,” he said. “So we would become, if you will, a partner in the project, and the cost of the property would be kind of our partnership contribution.”
At a VIA board meeting Tuesday, Akalkotkar presented trustees with several options for how the property could be used. Consultants enlisted by VIA came up with a few all-office or all-apartment options in its redevelopment brainstorming for the Scobey properties, but ultimately the property will likely be a mixed-use development, Arndt said.
“They do indicate that office space from a cost-return perspective probably will work better than affordable housing, for example,” Arndt said. “But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be an affordable housing element and office space element at this location.”
Because VIA still does not have a design for the Scobey project, it’s too early to put a price tag on it, Arndt said. Rough cost estimates presented to trustees for an all-housing redevelopment were $57 million while an all-office redevelopment was less, at $47 million. The estimates gave VIA Chair Fernando Reyes pause.
“Is there an option to phase some of these in? Like a phase one or phase two, phase three, rather than going and dropping … $57 million [at once]?” he asked.
Consultant Andrew Knudtsen said that whatever the project ends up being, it would be better for the whole thing to be ready at once.
“[But] I do think it’s an important consideration and it might be a good way to mitigate risk, and we can take that into account and figure out ways to carve it off,” he said. “[The Scobey complex] was built in six different phases. So maybe it’s renovated in multiple phases that reflect the delineation of those walls.”
VIA began discussing plans for the property with the Office of Historic Preservation and the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) more than two years ago. Parts of the building will have to remain as is, but VIA is still in the “discovery process” of design, Arndt said.
“There are historic elements and we understand,” Arndt said. “And we don’t have any final word because we haven’t submitted a project, but in talking with the [HDRC], clearly, much of the façade would need to be retained and there are perhaps parts of the buildings that would have to be retained and other parts that would be potentially demolished.”
Investing in a “transit oriented community” is not a new idea, Arndt said. He pointed out that businesses often congregate along highways and rail lines, which are seen as permanent mobility options.
“I think they’re pretty confident that nobody’s going to pick that highway up and move it somewhere,” he said. “Same thing with rail, same thing with [bus rapid transit]. … We believe that this transit center, Centro Plaza, has that sense of permanence within our organization. It’s a major investment and therefore we’re looking at transit oriented community opportunities.”
Geoffrey Bley, another consultant working with VIA on this project, told trustees Tuesday that the decision to begin the Scobey redevelopment project now would position VIA in a place ahead of a development expansion on the West Side of San Antonio.
“Scobey sits on the West Side, which is a quadrant of San Antonio that has not seen as much investment activity as the others,” he said. “However, as growth continues, sitting where we are in Central Texas, that’s going to change, and is changing. … As it relates to timing, we believe that this is likely a good time for VIA to be negotiating with a developer for the potential redevelopment of Scobey.”