Feature Illustration (above): Images of potential development that received the most positive responses at public input meetings. All images are courtesy of City of New Braunfels.
by Adolfo Pesquera
New Braunfels (Comal County) — More than two years into an information gathering initiative and six public input meetings later, City Council is near to adopting a final plan for its property on South Castell Avenue.
When the council relocated City Hall and most of the city’s operations into a remodeled grocery store, that opened up 10 acres for redevelopment. Douglas Architects was hired to prepare a document that would serve as a guide on how new development would proceed.
The hope has been that the site, being a few blocks east of the historic downtown district, could be a catalyst for downtown growth. Douglas estimates the land has the potential for more than $100 million of investment. On Sept. 17, Andrew Douglas gave council an update.
The draft document has since been submitted to City Council and it is on track to be considered in October as the final and adopted version.
At previous public comment sessions, the Douglas staff and city planners presented participants with three option, referred to as options A, B, and C. Options A and B have been preferred by the public, in part because they include a central plaza and a parking structure.
All of the versions include a mix of housing, retail and office, but the intensity of development increases dramatically.
- Option A: 1,057,179 square feet of total development, including a 386 residential units and a 192-room convention hotel.
- Option B: 797,162 square feet of total development, including 150 residential units and a 187-room convention hotel.
- Option C: 336,882 square feet of total development, including 72 residential units and a 137-room convention hotel.
Douglas said the concepts for redevelopment have generally been well received by the community. The architect also relied on the expertise of two commercial developers to get the development community’s perspective.
Don Thomas, a partner at REATA Real Estate, told the council that he worked with Federal Realty on the conversion of nine building along downtown San Antonio’s Houston Street into a mixed use project. Thomas said he has been assisting Douglas on the South Castell Avenue plan for a couple of years.
“I think this is a project that needs to happen here,” Thomas said.
The center of downtown is Main Plaza, where Seguin Avenue and San Antonio Street intersect. The South Castell Avenue properties are in the southest quadrant of that intersection, and Thomas noted that development along San Antonio Street is saturated. A redevelopment project on Castell would be a natural extension of what is happening on San Antonio, he said.
“It becomes the bookend opposite of San Antonio,” Thomas said.
If there is a 200-room convention hotel anchoring any potential retail, the 300 or so people visiting New Braunfels on a daily basis would be an attractive draw.
Geoffrey Bley of Landbridge Partners said he analyzed the financial viability of the site for commercial development and various ways the city could participate through a public-private partnership, and concluded that he was in support.
Douglas said that once the plan is adopted, City Council should proceed to creating a new zoning district and establishing a Design Review Committee.
A component of the concept includes creating a park along the southern boundary, but that is land owned by Union Pacific Railroad. He suggested the city take steps to acquire that parcel.
The Public Works Department still operates from South Castell. The department will have to be relocated to a new facility.
With a final plan, new district and an oversight committee in place, the city will be ready to solicit the Request For Qualifications from developers, go through the screening process and enter a development agreement.
Douglas cautioned in closing that the options presented in the plan can act as a guidance about what the citizenry hope to expect from a developer.
“What will be submitted will more than likely be different than what you’re seeing today. It will be market based.”