Owners of the historic WOAI building and its 46-story transmitter tower want to build a 29-story mixed-use tower on the San Antonio River Walk site. 

On Wednesday, the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) granted conceptual approval for the project, which involves both restoring and demolishing portions of the century-old brick building at 1035 Navarro St., owned by a Sinclair Broadcasting investor group. 

Constructed in 1920, the building originally was home to the Embleton Motor Company, according to documents the applicant submitted to the Office of Historic Preservation. Founded in 1922, WOAI moved into the building in 1927, occupying and modifying the structure through the years. 

In 1949, WOAI-TV went on air as San Antonio’s first television station and occupied the structure until owner Sinclair Broadcasting Group moved the studios in 2014 to its current location in northwest San Antonio. 

(Today, WOAI radio is an AM news/talk station owned by iHeartMedia and operates from studios in the Stone Oak area.)

Historic design guidelines require an archaeological investigation of the site because the project area is within a River Improvement Overlay District and is a designated local historic landmark. It’s also adjacent to the historical alignment of the San Antonio River, “an area known to contain significant historic and prehistoric archaeological deposits,” according to the HDRC documents.

The historic structure features an original brick facade as well as a stucco and ledger stone facade added in the 1940s and an addition. The owners plan to remove the tile exterior and restore the original brick facade along the Navarro and North St. Mary’s street sections and rehabilitate the newer facade on the west side of the building.

The addition and rear portions of the structure will be razed. Following the demolition, the owner is required to submit for HDRC approval more detailed plans for the treatment of the remaining historic portions of the building.

Design plans for the new tower, developed by architect Miguel Saldana of B&A Architects, show a condominium and hotel tower perched atop a three-level parking podium. A covered driveway faces the River Walk and a pedestrian ramp will provide access to the river. 

The HDRC granted conceptual approval for a 29-story mixed-use development at the old WOAI building Wednesday.
The HDRC granted conceptual approval for a 29-story mixed-use development at the old WOAI building Wednesday. Credit: Courtesy / B&A Architects

Renderings do not include the transmission tower, and Saldana did not respond to a request for more information about the project. 

But notes from a design review committee meeting in May state that Saldana told commissioners the transmission tower, destroyed and rebuilt following a 1956 airplane collision, could remain “as a memorial.”

The WOAI property is located between the Riverview Condominiums and Hotel Indigo in a section of downtown near the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts that has experienced a wave of new residential and commercial development in recent years. 

Earlier this year, the towering Thompson Hotel and Arts Residences opened at 115 Lexington Ave., and on Augusta Street, a new residential development has replaced the Junior League of San Antonio’s former Bright Shawl event center. 

Near the Southwest School of Art, the same developer behind the Thompson has proposed a mixed-use development straddling the River Walk that will include a Dream Hotel. 

The 1960s-era El Tropicano Hotel at Lexington and North St. Mary’s street is undergoing a refresh and CPS Energy’s recent rehab of the former AT&T Buildings on McCullough Avenue is complete.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.