1of4The facade of the Kress building as photographed on Tuesday July 10, 2001 in San Antonio, Tx. Photo by Robert McLeroy.Photo: ROBERT MCLEROY, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
Two historic buildings in downtown San Antonio have sat empty for years. But city officials hope, with the help of more than $1 million in tax incentives, the renovated structures can boost pedestrian traffic and revitalize the Houston Street corridor.
City Council members are expected to vote Thursday on a deal that would give local developer GrayStreet Partners about $1.3 million to make cosmetic changes to the Grant and Kress buildings on Houston Street.
Council will also vote on a $1.5 million package to fund sidewalk and other improvements in and around the Travis Park Plaza office building and parking garage at 711 Navarro St.
“We’re taking blighted properties, making small investments from public resources with significant investment from the private (sector) and bringing new life, reactivating buildings, reactivating spaces,” said Verónica Soto, director of the city Neighborhood and Housing Services Department.
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S. H. Kress & Co., a chain of “five and dime” stores, built the Kress building at 315 E. Houston St. in 1938 and operated there until 1992, according to a city agenda memo. The Grant building was built around 1946 and had its own dime store for years. For nearly two decades, the building housed the San Antonio Children’s Museum.
But both buildings have been largely empty in recent years. The Kress Building’s ground floor is occupied by a Texas de Brazil steakhouse but its upper floors have been vacant since the five and dime closed. The San Antonio Children’s Museum moved out of the Grant Building in 2015 and the building has since been unoccupied.
GrayStreet is already renovating the neighboring Grant and Kress buildings to feature a rooftop terrace, 75,000 square feet of office space — to be leased by New York co-working company WeWork — and a ground-floor food court with at least a dozen local restaurant vendors and a coffee bar.
The developer — which is spending more than $43 million to overhaul the two buildings — could be reimbursed for $1.25 million in expenses stemming from restoring the structures’ historic façades, waterproofing and landscape improvements.
“We want it to be as beautiful as we could make it so that the whole facade, not just the building, but that whole block, the whole of the Houston Street corridor benefits,” Soto said.
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The city reimbursements would come out of funds from the Houston Street Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ), a mechanism that takes increases in property tax revenue from land within the zone and plugs them into public improvements in the area like drainage and streets.
GrayStreet plans to replace concrete surrounding the Travis Park Plaza office building and parking garage, which the firm bought in 2015, with landscape beds and expand tree wells to capture more storm water — alterations eligible for another $1.25 million in TIRZ funds.
“We’re proposing these improvements when they coincide with something that is quote, unquote a public benefit that we can find reimbursement for. That’s always great,” said Peter French, GrayStreet’s development director. But the development firm is “not designing projects around ‘what can we get reimbursed for?’”
Officials also plan to give GrayStreet a $296,000 forgivable loan to renovate more than 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space that will house San Antonio-based Lola Coffee Bar and Hopscotch, an interactive art venue.
“It’s about connecting that block to amenities at Travis Park and making that whole space the public realm,” Soto said.
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The board that oversees the Houston Street TIRZ approved the incentive packages for the Grant, Kress and Travis Park Plaza buildings last month. If council members approve the incentives, city officials expect the properties to generate an additional $476,000 in annual property tax revenue.
French said GrayStreet plans to complete the Grant, Kress and Travis Park Plaza renovations by April.
Joshua Fechter is a San Antonio-based staff writer covering real estate, economic development and philanthropy. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | email@example.com | Twitter: @JFreports