Summing up San Antonio’s Downtown Redevelopment Efforts Thusfar

If you’re new to my blog or haven’t really been following the recent media about downtown redevelopment this is the perfect article for you. In this week’s Current writer Michael Barajas has written a very strong article defining the key players, the issues, and the history of the push for increased downtown development and revitalization of HemisFair.

I highly recommend reading this very well written and researched article. Thanks for writing it, Michael.

Will efforts to revitalize the city core draw locals back or simply extend the Disneyfication of the River Walk?

By Michael Barajas

Published: July 20, 2011

HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation CEO Andres Andujar Photos: Michael Barajas

Justin Arecchi remembers brainstorming with local developers and pioneers like Hap Veltman and downtown jazz staple Jim Cullum for hours at a stretch at the long-since shuttered Kangaroo Court restaurant and bar along the River Walk. A popular topic was how to make downtown world-class, a vibrant place for locals to live, work, and play. Even during those 1970s-era chats, Arecchi and the gang kept returning to one central issue, one that still swirls about today’s discussions as millions in taxpayer dollars pour into another round of planning to revive downtown. “We’d each get on top of our soapboxes to make our pitch,” Arecchi said. “And what was clear is that even back then, we all thought we just needed more people living downtown.”

How to Build Community

A fellow blogger, Juan A. Garcia the President of the Dignowity Hill Association, posted this from a Syracuse Cultural Workers Poster. I couldn’t agree more.

How to Build Community

Turn off your TV- Leave your house
Know your neighbors – Look up when you are walking
Greet people -Sit on your stoop
Plant Flowers – Use your library

Play together – Buy from local merchants -Share what you have
Help a lost dog -Take children to the park
Garden Together -Support Neighborhood Schools
Fix it even if you didn’t break it
Have Pot Lucks- Honor Elders
Pick Up Litter – Read Stories Aloud
Dance in the Street- Talk to the Mail Carrier
Listen to the Birds -Put up a Swing
Help Carry Something Heavy -Barter For Your Goods
Start A Tradition- Ask A Question
Hire Young People for Odd Jobs- Organize a Block Party
Bake Extra and Share- Ask For Help When You Need It
Open Your Shades -Sing Together
Share Your Skills -Take Back the Night
Turn Up The Music -Turn Down The Music
Listen Before You react To Anger
Mediate A Conflict -Seek To Understand
Learn From New And Uncomfortable Angles
Know That No One is Silent Though Many Are Not Heard
Work To Change This

Source: Syracuse Cultural Workers Poster: How to Build Community

More housing and possible restaurant coming to SoFlo

Construction begins tomorrow on Steel House Lofts apartments and it could possibly bring a restaurant from La Gloria’s owner, Johnny Hernandez. I’m really watching the SoFlo area transform into the next great place to live in downtown. I completely agree with Hernandez’s quote, “I see that neighborhood really coming to life in the next couple of years.” I have several friends that call SoFlo home and are happy to see the area become the next hot spot.

Earlier this week I attended the Centro Partnership’s first Downtown Strategy Workshop that is working to fulfill the Vision 2020 desire for increased downtown living. A lot of discussion was had about the great opportunities for development and revitalization in the neighborhoods that edge downtown. Steel House Lofts is a great example of what our city needs to satisfy our desire for increased urban living.

Steel House Lofts project

Construction on rental units will begin Monday.

By Valentino Lucio
San Antonio Express-News Sunday July 24, 2011

Renderings for the Steel House Lofts, located just south of downtown near South Flores and Alamo streets. Photo: COURTESY PHOTO Alamo Architects

Construction will begin Monday on the long-awaited Steel House Lofts, a project that will turn a nearly 100-year-old building that once housed iron and steel into a modern living space just south of downtown in the South Flores area.

Austin-based developer Dennis McDaniel bought the 73,000-square-foot building in 2006 with the idea of creating condos and townhomes. But the collapse of the economy and the real estate market put that plan on the back burner and the plan then morphed into rental units.

There’s a new “sheriff” in town and his name isn’t Reggie Hammond

As a huge supporter of the numerous historic districts and historic preservation in San Antonio I am happy to see that the city has provided funding to now hire a Historic Enforcement Officer. For so long we have been without someone to actually enforce the rules and regulations regarding renovating in our historic districts. Welcome, Officer Ron Meyers!

If you notice potential violations or someone doing renovations you feel may never have been approved call the Office of Historic Preservation at 210-219-2093 or email OHP@sanantonio.gov.

Putting teeth in preservation

Man’s new duty is enforcing city rules on historic structures.

By Brian Chasnoff
bchasnoff@express-news.net

Wednesday July 13, 2011 San Antonio Express-News

A homeowner on Kendall street replaced a second story window with a door without seeking prior approval from the Historic and Design Review Commission, and now must replace the original window or face consequences decided by the city's new enforcer of historic regulations. Photo: SALLY FINNERAN

In the historic Tobin Hill neighborhood sits a dilapidated, two-story home with a strange feature: a newly installed door hovering on the second floor of the house where a window once was.

The Historic and Design Review Commission has ruled the renovation violates city preservation laws. And while the process for restoring such structures has dragged in the past, city officials expect a new enforcement position in the Office of Historic Preservation to boost compliance.

S.A. Cycle’s one year anniversary in Southtown

I am proud to call Jessica and Zach friends and neighbors. I applaud them in the risk they took to open S.A. Cycles and the success they have had in the past year. I’ve used their bicycle repair services a couple of times this year and would recommend them to anyone. They provide a great service to Southtown and to the many cyclist that ride the Mission Trail.

This article was published in Conexion.

Bicycle shop a community

Written by: Marissa Villa

Zach Seiter and Jessica Gonzales own S.A. Cycles is a neighborhood bike shop in Southtown that caters to all types of riders. Photo: HELEN L. MONTOYA

As the door to S.A. Cycles open, a bell chimes and a handful of friendly faces are there to say hello. Bicycles, both extravagant and simple, line the wall to the left, and bike accessories line the wall to the right.

New outside dining venue coming to River North

Andrew Weismann will soon be opening up The Luxury on the banks of the new northern Riverwalk expansion. I’m looking forward to riding my bike up and checking out the place as well as receiving a discount for riding. This looks to be a wonderful addition to River North.

This article was recently in the Express-News and was written by Valentino Lucio and photographed by John Davenport.

Cargo containers used for new restaurant

Name belies new eatery — it’ll be made of cargo containers.

By Valentino Lucio
vlucio@express-news.net

Cargo containers aren’t just for shipping freight anymore. San Antonio chef and restaurateur Andrew Weissmann is using them for his newest restaurant, The Luxury.

Restaurateur Andrew Weissman will be opening a new restaurant on the banks of the San Antonio River called The Luxury that will be using cargo containers as buildings and landscaped patio areas for its guests to enjoy. Located at Jones and Avenue B near the San Antonio Museum of Art, Weismann plans on having spit roasted pigs and goats, burnt end barbecue sandwiches and an array of comfort foods.

Weissman, the owner of Il Sogno and The Sandbar restaurants at the Pearl Brewery, anticipates opening his newest venture next month. The eco-friendly hangout is situated at the corner of Jones Avenue and Avenue B, across the San Antonio River from the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac launch foreclosed home summer sale

This article by Ken Harney was recently published in the San Antonio Business Journal. I checked out both of the websites and it doesn’t appear that there are many homes available in our historic districts or center city neighborhoods; mostly along the northern loops of San Antonio. Also, the incentives are for individuals that will occupy the homes and not for investors.

WASHINGTON — Looking for a deal where the home seller pledges in advance to contribute potentially thousands of dollars to your closing costs? If so, check out the summer sale terms available from two of the largest and most motivated sellers of foreclosed homes in the country — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

You may know the companies for their troubled mortgage businesses or the financial foibles that crashed them into the control of federal conservators in 2008. But the flip side of those problems is that they now have massive numbers of properties taken back through foreclosures.

Fannie Mae had 153,549 of them at the end of the first quarter. Freddie Mac owned 65,174. That’s nearly 220,000 houses for which they need to find new owners — quickly — or they’ll rack up even bigger losses for taxpayers.

To move that bulging inventory, both companies have begun time-limited sales campaigns with significant incentives for new owner-occupant purchasers — no investors allowed — and even extra cash for the real estate agents who bring buyers to the table.

Fannie and Freddie both are offering to pay up to 3.5 percent of the price of the house toward buyers’ closing costs, plus they’ll hand over a bonus of $1,200 to participating real estate agents. Fannie’s program covers properties on which contracts are accepted and close no later than Oct. 31. Freddie’s sale requires contracts no later than July 31 and closings by Sept. 30.

Fannie’s program even offers mortgage money to help finance these purchases, sometimes with as little as a 3 percent down payment. The company also has what it calls a “renovation mortgage” option that provides additional mortgage amounts to cover fix-ups.

Freddie does not offer special mortgage financing for buyers during the sale period, but has other inducements including two-year home warranties and 30 percent discounts on appliances.

All the foreclosed properties are listed with photos and descriptions at either HomePath.com (Fannie) or HomeSteps.com (Freddie), where you can search by price, local markets, ZIP codes and entire states. They run the spectrum from expensive detached homes, low-budget urban condos and suburban tract townhouses nationwide. Featured offerings on HomePath recently included:

– A six-bedroom, five-bath house in Littleton, Colo., with 4,990 square feet of space. Asking price: $424,900.

– A two-bedroom condo with 1,164 square feet in Las Vegas for $43,999.

– A $184,900 two-bedroom, one-bath home in Long Beach, Calif.

– A four-bedroom, two-bath house in Brentwood, Md. Asking price: $65,000.

The summer clearance sales are part of rapidly accelerating efforts by both companies to get ahead of the tidal waves of foreclosures flowing into their portfolios in recent months. During the first quarter of this year, Fannie Mae acquired 53,549 properties alone. However, during the same period, it managed to sell off 62,814 houses — a record number that produced a net outflow.

Freddie Mac also sold more foreclosures than it took in during the first quarter, acquiring 24,709 houses while selling 31,628. In some parts of the country, Freddie’s offerings are even stimulating multiple bids on houses, according to spokesman Brad German.

Both companies are targeting only buyers who plan to live in the homes — rather than non-occupant investors who want to flip or rent them out — as part of a larger neighborhood real estate stabilization effort.

The contribution of up to 3.5 percent of the sale price toward the buyers’ closing costs can be substantial. On a $200,000 house the buyers could receive $7,000 toward their closing expenses, which might well be the difference between their ability to afford to buy or not. Combine that with additional incentives, such as favorable financing or warranties, and the total package can look extremely attractive to first-time and moderate-income purchasers.

Are there downsides or restrictions for would-be buyers on either HomePath or HomeSteps? Absolutely. Top of the list: Keep in mind that these are foreclosed properties and some of them have been abused by previous occupants. Fannie and Freddie both do repairs to bring houses up to what they believe are marketable standards, but don’t be surprised to find they are not in pristine condition.

Second, though foreclosures do generally sell for less than non-distressed houses, you need to understand that both Fannie and Freddie are in the business of maximizing returns on assets for their federal creditors. Do not assume the listing prices are deep-discount giveaways. Be diligent in comparing prices and values before bidding and negotiating — just as you would with any other real estate purchase.