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Westside business owner Jaime Macias has a tagline for the bar he opened in October: built for the barrio and beyond.
“I built this thing because the West Side, especially the inner West Side has been stigmatized for so long,” said Macias, owner of Jaime’s Place, 1514 W. Commerce St.
But “it’s slowly changing,” he added. “And if we’re not involved – those [of us] that have been here for decades upon decades – it’ll lose its identity.”
Now the organization created in 2006 to support economic development for the West Side is taking on a new name – one leaders hope will reflect how it operates.
The Westside Development Corporation (WDC) is set to announce Thursday a name change to Prosper West and kick off a new initiative to develop more commercial outdoor spaces like the one Macias created.
“The biggest piece of [the rebrand] is really about inviting the public into the organization,” said Ramiro Gonzales, president and CEO of the Westside Development Corporation.
“It is really taking a different spin on the way that this organization has thought to accomplish its mission and, rather than being in a kind of silo, really inviting the community to help actually move things forward.”
The organization was created to serve as a redevelopment authority similar to Brooks and Port San Antonio – but without the property, Gonzales said.
“In the case of the West Side … they created an entity with the intent to assemble land and then redevelop which would then spur the economic activity,” he said.
Instead, without the resources to acquire property, the organization settled into a niche of small business development.
While that’s been effective in helping individuals, Gonzales said, it hasn’t been a significant catalyst for economic development.
“Small businesses on the West Side can only grow so much before they realize [the business] is probably going to be more successful at this point by just leaving the West Side,” he said. “So as a result, we end up losing a lot of potential and we lose all that investment in that business. And then the West Side is no better as a result of it.”
As Prosper West, the organization’s strategy will focus on the entire business and real estate ecosystem on the West Side and work as “an organization where people want to plug in and be part of that transformation,” Gonzales said.
The organization will form “impact teams,” made up of area stakeholders, who will examine what programs and services and opportunities already exist and work to fill in the gaps.
The first teams to be created will be focused on housing and real estate, small business, workforce, and placemaking, which Gonzales called the cornerstones of economic development strategy.
The approach is tied to the strategic plan that the organization is developing for the West Side and the plan expected to be completed this summer.
“That will really allow us to see what are those levers that we need to pull to really have transformational change in these different areas,” he said. “The work groups can rally around each of those components to then see what the implementation of the strategic plan actually looks like.”
WDC also will get a new logo and website design. A St. Mary’s University student conceived of the name Prosper West, which represented everything the WDC board of directors envisioned.
“We want to give them an organization that [Westside residents and business owners] can feel ownership of, and we feel that they can rally around an organization like Prosper West,” Gonzales said.
But the rebranding and wrangling participation from residents and business owners is also intended to ease fears about gentrification and displacement as new development marches west, spurred by expansion at the downtown campus of UTSA and more.
“Investment is coming to the West Side one way or the other … kind of like a wave,” Gonzales said. “We can sit on the beach and … scream at it, or we can help people build boats so that they can benefit as a result.”
The organization also has plans to purchase more property in the area as it did with the former garment factory, Basila Frocks, at 500 N. Zarzamora St. Gonzales said the WDC is nearing a long-anticipated partnership agreement with the DreamOn Group to turn the historic property into a mixed-use development.
In January, the organization began discussing a proposal to create a public improvement district to help support its efforts. But that idea has been put on hold while the WDC works to provide more value for business owners ahead of asking for their support.
The idea to provide patio construction loans came from the organization’s efforts to increase positive street-front activity.
“[We] have so many great restaurants on the West Side, but most of them are all interior – they’re all kind of closed off,” he said. The program will help business owners create outdoor spaces or upgrade existing spaces to be more welcoming.
Macias founded his Westside bar with assistance from the WDC, opening during the COVID-19 pandemic when many businesses were struggling financially or even closing for good. He said he sees great potential in the area not unlike what he experienced while visiting San Diego and his daughter, a service member in the Navy.
“Barrio Logan was once a blighted community – it was rundown and the city was going to basically take it over,” Macias said. “But the community organized and they made a stance, and they created a cultural hotspot.”
That’s what the “beyond” refers to in his tagline and what motivates the Westside property owner to get involved as president of the West Commerce Business Alliance and also through the office of City Council District 5.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, whose term serving the district ends this month, acknowledged WDC probably needs a “refresh,” through rebranding, but she would like to see the organization realize its potential to make a difference by making more capital investment on the West Side. There’s been little private investment on the West Side, she said, which also partially lies in Council districts 1 and 7.
“What we have really needed in this community is bridge financing, and so I would like to see them do more of that,” Shirley Gonzales said. “[Also,] there has been a lot of discussion about gentrification in the community, but the reality is we’ve continued to lose population, and businesses can’t survive without people.”
The exodus is due to a lack of quality housing of all types, she said.
As part of its strategic plan, WDC has also applied for funding from the San Antonio Housing Trust and the Westside Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ), the WDC leader Ramiro Gonzales said, adding it plans to purchase and rehabilitate some of the many distressed homes on the West Side, then sell to families at 80% or less of the area median income.
“The West Side is changing, and you know it can be for the better,” he said. “We have to be very deliberate and thoughtful about what that growth looks like to make sure that we bring everyone along with us.”