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  • This two-story office building, built circa 1945, is one of more than a dozen buildings in an East Side industrial zone targeted for redevelopment into a mixed-use, high-density retail and apartment community.

A “Mini” Pearl near the Alamodome?

Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange

Posted:  2-11-2016, 12:40 p.m.

by Adolfo Pesquera

San Antonio (Bexar Co.) – The East Side has been experiencing a modest real estate revival, but nothing in the private sector seen to date compares to one developer’s plans to construct a Pearl type mixed use community about five blocks south of the Alamodome.

The 7.7-acre site, an area about half the size of the Pearl complex, has been overlooked by other developers for decades. One landowner that has been in talks with the developer said this is the first time anyone has shown interest in the neighborhood.

The site being eyed for an urban revival is zoned industrial, but the Planning Commission recently approved a land use change to mixed use in order to pave the way for a zoning change. It is an asymmetrically configured acquisition that roughly equates to about two city blocks.

The site enjoys numerous advantages that make it ideal for an urban infill project. It is just a block away from Interstate 37’s Carolina Street exit, making it convenient for future commuters traveling to and from what promises to become a high density rental community. It is about six blocks east of Brackenridge High School and walking distance from the Alamodome.

Efraim Varga, the developer and head of Varga Endeavors, told VBX he envisions a city block with retail and restaurant enterprises at street level and rental units above. Structures throughout the property would be three and five stories in height, he said.

“It’s going to be something like the Pearl, but I think it’s going to be a little bit cooler,” Varga said.

The Pearl is known for its historic buildings and the great lengths to which Silver Ventures went to find adaptive reuses during their restorations. The site Varga is targeting does not have such a heritage, therefore he would be free to come up with a 21st century concept. The development would be “like the Pearl” only in the sense that it would be a hip and walkable urban town center for residents, shoppers and after-hours patrons to whatever nightlife appears.

Varga is making a name for himself as a developer of modern multifamily infill developments. He has three such projects underway in the Southtown area, but none of them include a retail component. These include The Park at Lonestar, 519 Roosevelt Avenue; Sunglo Urban Homes, 1519 S. Presa St.; and Lotus Urban Homes, 1603 S. Presa St.

Sprinkle & Co. Architects have been designing Varga’s communities and Sprinkle has built a reputation, according to their website, for combining minimalist compositions with an inventive use of materials, “creating purposefully anti-heroic constructions.”

Sprinkle designed the Cypress Campus Student Center for Alamo Colleges, the Henry A. Guerra Jr. Branch Library, and the SAHA Medical Facility.

It bears repeating that most of the site, if not all, is free of buildings with any architectural or historical significance. Varga hopes to demolish every structure–there are about 14–in order to start with a clean slate. There may be one glitch in that plan, a two-story office building at 604 Carolina Street that was built in 1945, according to Bexar County Appraisal District records.

The office building appears to be architecturally unique to its period, but it is not a designated historically significant structure, according to the Office of Historic Preservation. In any case, that will get sorted out through OHP channels should Varga seek a demolition permit.

Varga has the site under contract and anticipates closing on the properties during the month of April. He said plans are to have architectural plans complete by the end of the year and he would like to begin construction in the first quarter of 2017. Varga acts as his own general contractor. He works with Big Red Dog on the civil engineering.

The project has caused a lot of buzz among neighboring landowners. City planner Mary Moralez-Gonzales approached Varga after the Wednesday Planning Commission meeting. She is responsible for notifying neighbors of a zoning change; she said neighbors are excited that such a project is being planned, and some were wondering if their properties might be wanted for future development.

This industrial park is surrounded by more aged industrial properties to the south, west and partially to the north. To the east and partially to the north, it is adjacent to Denver Heights, a very old neighborhood in terms of housing stock. Most of the homes were built between 1910 and 1950 and are in poor to fair condition.

Varga expressed an openness to the idea of future land buys. Maybe the project will grow?

Staff comments from Development Services Department:

“The applicant requests this Plan Amendment and associated zoning change in order to rezone to … Infill Development Zone Airport Hazard Overlay District with uses permitted in ‘C-2,’ Commercial, Multi-family Residential Uses not to exceed 100 units per acre, bar, micro-brewery, beer garden and hotel. The requested mixed use classification supports the Arena District/Eastside Community Plan objectives of establishing land use patterns that are responsive to the existing land uses and provides the necessary improvements to enable infill development and redevelopment.”


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About the Author:

Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.

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