Yesterday the City of San Antonio released its latest schedule of food truck locations and vendors, highlighting some of the changing dynamics of the program downtown. Gone are the City Hall Hall Annex, Hemisfair Park, and the never really started Maverick Park. Added are Main Plaza, the Weston Center, and Travis Park. The vendors seem to be the same set of vendors launched under the first round of the pilot. This pilot is expected to last through Oct. 31st when the city will evaluate it one more time. Yea, I had to put that emphasis on the the statement because it really feels like the CoSA is overanalyzing this issue. I’m beginning to wonder if this issue will get so piloted and analyzed everyone will hope it goes away, or at least the city will hope so. So why is this so hard to implement in San Antonio when other cities around the nation have active downtown food truck environments?
I thought I’d get a to take a breather before San Antonio kicks into its summer of festivals. I mean, sure we celebrate Cinco de Mayo here in San Antonio. But after eleven days of Fiesta, it’s really anticlimactic and pales to something as big as Fiesta. However, that little rainstorm we had back in March pushed one of our other big celebrations to May, this weekend in fact. So, for the first time I’m going to experience something all my friends have been enjoying for several years – Luminaria. In fact, not only will I be seeing it for the first time, I’ll be a part of a team from the Social Media Club of San Antonio helping NowcastSA live stream the fun and festivities from Hemisfair Park.
Yesterday I met a friend of mine who works in the Weston Centre for lunch at one of the food truck pilot locations. It was a good break from the usual downtown dining and also the chance to be a part of something potentially big for downtown San Antonio. While the selection of trucks at the Weston Centre was pretty limited (Cheesy Jane’s and DUKTRuck) the food was pretty good and the atmosphere Puro San Antonio. Far from the penetration of trucks you’ll find in downtown Austin, it’s a pilot by the city to see how to infuse these mobile eateries amongst the many restaurants and storefronts of our downtown. One thing I can attest to in the first week, it’s definitely a pilot with some things needing to be tweaked.
Since moving downtown, I’ve found the experience to be interesting in many ways but it hasn’t really had a true urban feel. Yes, where I’m at is really in the urban core, located right across from Milam Park and between Houston and Commerce Streets. When there’s a march down Commerce I hear the drums and shouts. When Friday or Saturday night rolls around I know it’s best to drive away from the Riverwalk on Houston. When I have a meeting downtown, I walk or take the bus to it. But to say I’m “living” downtown, I have to say there are several things missing. But last night it was apparent things are starting to change and in a good way.
This past week I had an invitation from a Facebook friend to attend an event helping Steve McHugh, executive chef of Lüke and a good downtown friend, in his candidacy for King of the Riverwalk. Of course I’m going to be down for that. Steve’s a great guy and one of the friendliest people you’d ever meet. Top that off with the wonders that come out of the kitchen at Lüke and you have a great combination. Besides, I’m all for helping out anything associated with downtown and the Riverwalk. But I had to ask the question – where did this new set of royalty come from and what’s going on with it? Didn’t we used to have a Mud King and Queen of the Riverwalk?
This past month has made me realize we may be turning the corner into the “Decade of Downtown,” as proclaimed by Mayor Julian Castro and described by Andi Rodriguez of the Downtown Alliance. Ever since I moved downtown over two years ago, I’ve never seen as much activity as I have during this past year. What’s even more encouraging is the level of conversation by people about downtown and what’s happening here. More of my friends are asking about living downtown and where are the places to live, work, play and eat. People are buzzing about the possibility of a grocery store and new transportation options. More and more people seem to be getting bitten by the “downtown bug.”
The past several weeks have been busy for anyone following the redevelopment of downtown San Antonio. Last week city council gave the go-ahead to help fund planning and implementation of a downtown streetcar system that would criss-cross downtown. After much negotiations and route wrangling it looks like we’ll have a North/East line that starts at the Pearl Brewery and runs through downtown and Hemisfair Park to the Thompson Transit Center on the eastside of downtown. Couple that with both The Mosaic and 1800 Broadway breaking ground and starting construction and you have a downtown going through some significant changes. With all this new development coming we need to make sure to take advantages of all the opportunities.
San Antonio’s potential foray into rail-based transportation seems to be getting a lot of play lately, and for good reason. VIA is floating a number of proposals to both the city and the county to help fund a rail project with the most likely candidate being streetcars in the downtown area. While the county seems to be committing up to $55 million for almost any plan mentioned, the city is being a little more cautious on its commitment of funds, to the point of having city staff analyze the various proposals. Now it appears Mayor Castro and the city have a desire to move forward with a plan, albeit it different than what the county agreed on with VIA. The interesting part is that the city’s new plan is somewhat of a hybrid of what VIA had originally proposed after a period of studies and planning. So what plan are we committing to in San Antonio? Where’s the darn thing going to run?
Yesterday about 15,000 people came down for the city’s first ever SiClovia, a four hour bike, jog, walk, skateboard, Zumba, you name it time when folks just enjoyed a good time “playing in the street.” The event was sponsored by the Mayor’s Fitness Council and was designed to get people out and about Sunday. Everyone I saw had come out to participate but started the day wondering who else would show up. We were all pleasantly surprised and had a great day on Broadway. The next big question is when’s the next one and will it be on Broadway again? The answer to the first is yes and I kind of think the answer to the second will probably be yes. You see, Broadway is starting to become the city’s big fixer-upper for transforming the urban core so it makes sense to continue the project on Broadway next time.
Tonight and tomorrow night people interested in helping plan and improve downtown San Antonio will come together for two workshops, one including beer along with the fun. The first event, a face to face conversation about how to improve the downtown area, is scheduled for tonight at the Central Library at 5:30 p.m. Tomorrow night Texas Public Radio is hosting the second event called Views and Brews: Placemaking at Warehouse Music over by Tucker’s Kozy Korner. Both are leveraging the information already collected by the Placemaking effort being managed by the Center City Development Office. So, what’s all this placemaking really about?
Today I joined some members of the Downtown Residents Association in a monthly gathering they call the Lunch Bunch. Not to be confused with the DRA’s bi-monthly mixer/happy hour Zocolocos, the Lunch Bunch is a little more subdued but just as much fun. It’s when a smaller gathering of DRA members get together at a restaurant downtown and just catch up on all the things happening downtown, and there’s a lot going on. What’s interesting about the DRA gatherings is how much we have in common as residents of downtown San Antonio. It truly is a neighborhood association, albeit with some of the same and some different problems than your average neighborhood association.
Yesterday I spent some time at Plaza de Armas’ June Readers Forum “World Premiere – The Future of the Performing Arts” held at the Radius Center. It was a panel discussion moderated by Elaine Wolff with a great panel of people involved with the performing arts in San Antonio. The discussion focused on what state the performing arts are at in San Antonio and what’s in store for the future. With the renovation work currently under way for the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts (formerly Municipal Auditorium) and with some of the new ideas planned for River North and the Museum Reach, San Antonio might actually be on the way to developing a true performing arts district downtown. So what’s in the cards and does it stand a chance?
In an article in Tuesday’s Express-News, Jennifer Hiller reported on a new residential approach that won zoning approval in the Lavaca Historic neighborhood just south of Hemisfair Park. The project by designer and builder Hilary Scruggs, the Mews on Devine, is a development of five live-work units with 250 square feet of work space on the first floor and 800 to 1,000 feet of living space in the floors above. The units would be constructed on a space that once held a single-family home. As would be expected, the project is being met with mixed reactions by residents in the historic neighborhood, with several citing potential issues with parking and allowing more commercial use into the neighborhood. What this project is testing is what type of mix is appropriate for a center city neighborhood.
There has been a lot of discussion about the potential renaming of Durango Boulevard in San Antonio to César E. Chávez Boulevard. After Phillip Cortez proposed the ordinance to rename the street, the battle lines began to be drawn, almost as dramatically as Col. Travis’ fabled “line in the sand” in front of the Alamo. Several opposed the new name for Durango including the San Antonio Conservation Society, citing historical reasons for protecting the original name. Others, including Mayor Julian Castro, claimed the legacy of legendary civil rights leader César Chávez as reason enough to change the name. Regardless of what the reasons might be the fight has started to create lines of division throughout the city that seem to be opening old wounds.
Today was a pretty cool day. One of those days where there’s really no agenda or plan, just kicking back with a friend taking in what comes at you. It was a Ferris Bueller Day in my terms. In fact, short of the 1961 Ferrari 250GT Spyder California (Cameron: Less than a hundred were made. My father spent three years restoring this car. It is his love, it is his passion. Ferris: It is his fault he didn’t lock the garage.) you could say it had all the trappings. You need these kind of days. They re-energize the soul, albeit in a strange, chaotic manner. But even in the agenda-free experience things are gleaned which still connect you with the community around you, possibly even more than a planned outing. So where was my Wrigley Field, my Sears Tower, my “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte?” Read more…