The creative arts nonprofit that got its start at the Blue Star Arts Complex and has been serving economically disadvantaged youth for more than two decades in San Antonio has put its home on South Alamo Street up for sale.
SAY Sí, a nationally recognized creative youth development program, began with 12 students from one high school. Now in its 25th year, the organization currently serves 163 students who come from all over the city to a campus that sits in the heart of an arts community where property values are rising sharply.
As demand for more programming and student admissions has grown, the organization is now hunting for a larger space and seeking buyers for the 26,000-square-foot building it purchased following a $2.5 million capital campaign in 2007. SAY Sí renovated additional storage space at the former brewery and office furniture warehouse in 2013 to accommodate more students and programs, and by 2014 was serving 200 middle school and high school students.
But in recent years, SAY Sí has had to deny admission to more than 35 to 40 percent of applicants.
“It’s not because we don’t want to support them but because we are at capacity – in our facilities and our human resources,” said spokesman Stephen Guzman. “So we are looking at a larger facility and expanding our programs. It’s something we have been thinking about the last couple of years, and now we are getting serious this year.”
But the ability to relocate depends on selling to the right buyer first, Guzman said, and a deal has not been finalized. With an operating budget of about $1.1 million, SAY Sí is one of the few nonprofits that own its facility, which has an assessed value of roughly $2.5 million, making it the organization’s largest asset even though assessed values can sometimes be more than the actual market value.
“We have had offers of $3.2 million to $4 million,” Jon Hinojosa, SAY Sí artistic executive director, said of interested buyers. “Based on the purchase price and the two renovations we’ve done, it’s twice the value now based on the growth of what’s happening in this area and the interest of people wanting to be here. Every day the value seems to increase.”
But departing from the arts community it helped build is a move the organization doesn’t take lightly, Hinojosa added. “So what we did in starting to think about where we are and where we could go, we looked really long and hard at properties that were close by and where we could still be part of this [community]. But that’s been biggest frustration – based on the growth and gentrification, those places are hard to find or don’t exist, especially in the context of what we can afford.”
The bulk of SAY Sí’s funding comes from private foundations, City, State, and federal sources, and large corporations such as H-E-B and Valero. The King William Association, which helped launched SAY Sí, remains one of its major donors.
“I can tell you we are looking at properties just a few minutes away via cars, so we’re not going to go very far,” Hinojosa said. “The frustration for us is it’s disappointing we can’t find a place to be part of the art scene. But what we can do is move to another space and work with the community to create a new opportunity for the arts.”
Students at SAY Sí attend at no cost, and more than half come from households with low income levels. Thousands of youth participate in SAY Sí’s outreach program, Artists Building Communities, which partners with other organizations to bring arts education to underserved areas.
The arts education programming at SAY Sí – focused on the four disciplines of visual arts, theater arts, film, and new media – is about helping young people find their voice and place in their community, Hinojosa said, as much as it is about closing the arts gap in public schools.
“We’ve been talking to a lot of folks and why [the move] is important, and what’s been the most exciting piece of this is that everybody gets excited about it,” he said. “It just makes sense.”