San Antonio: Harris Bay’s Aspire Project in Southtown Gets Partial OK on Concept
Feature Illustration (above): Early concept of the Aspire Multifamily project in Southtown, with new construction and adaptive restoration of historic structures. Sections that have been faded may be removed from the final design. Courtesy: CREO Architecture.
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) — The Historic and Design Review Commission gave concept approval to most of the elements for a residential project that requires a mix of historic building restorations with new construction in Southtown.
Harris Bay, the developer, acquired rights to four contiguous lots northeast of the corner of South St. Mary’s Street and Jacobs Street. VBX previously reported this as a zoning case on Oct. 1 and carries it as Project ID 2019-79B2 – Aspire Multifamily at S. St. Mary’s and Jacobs.
Two of the existing structures have been vacant for years and the third is underutilized. Harris Bay was attracted to the location because of Southtown’s ongoing resurgence and close proximity to downtown.
The original proposal involved rehabilitating the two-story red brick building (1714 S. St. Mary’s) and the corner stucco building (1722 S. St. Mary’s); saving the façade of the center building (1720 S. St. Mary’s), but otherwise removing the rest and constructing a four-story midrise.
Kris Feldman, the CREO Architecture architect, presented evidence that the 1720 building, originally a garage, was too dilapidated to reconstruct. He also argued that the rear wall had to be relocated to stretch the floor plate enough to make it viable for a multifamily project.
However, the four-story height and the proposal to scrap everything at 1720 but the front façade was too much for the commissioners.
Above: Original west elevation of Harris Bay’s S. St. Mary’s Street project. Below: Revised version of the west elevations. Courtesy: CREO.
A fourth building of new construction that is to be located at the far northeast corner is also being proposed. Feldman designed the new building to have a much more modern look so that it would not be confused as some sort of cheesy imitation of an early 20th century structure.
Architectural guidelines in historic neighborhoods generally require that additions be distinctive and not an attempt to mimic authentic historical buildings. This can lead to confusion. Staff and committee comments forced Feldman to revise the plans and make the facades look more like the originals.
Instead of the use of metal materials, Feldman submitted an alternative for the new structure that uses a stucco façade. He also eliminated a rooftop deck with metal rails that–although popular in urban design–also got a thumbs down from the critics.
As to the four-story building (1720), Feldman submitted a last-minute alternate site plan that adds a fifth building that would be located behind the new building at the northeast corner. He said it could be two stories with four units and would allow the developer to meet the unit count while sacrificing the fourth floor of 1720.
Alternate site plan adds a fifth building, ‘Phase 2 Alternate’ in upper right corner, to compensate for loss of a floor in the Phase 3 (1720) building. Courtesy: CREO.
The commissioners agreed this was a step in the right direction, but referred the alternate site plan to their Design Review Committee for further study. The concepts for the other three buildings–1714, 1722 and the new structure–were given conceptual approval.
Under the alternate plan, 1722 will be two-story duplex with 1,600 square feet total. The dilapidated garage will be converted to a three story building with 12 units, but the square footage is now in question (it was 9,800 SF).
The two-story brick, 1714, has 7,400 square feet and an undetermined number of units. Initially, Harris Bay wanted the option to have a commercial use on the street-front end of the ground floor, but with the addition of a fifth building where parking was supposed to go the attorney for Harris Bay said any commercial use was very unlikely.
The fourth building is to be a two-story of 4,000 square feet and eight units. City staff insisted on a front door so that it be “front-facing,” not an element originally envisioned because St. Mary’s is such a busy street. Feldman added a front door but recessed it from the front wall with a covered porch to make it viably residential in nature.
In the deferral action for 1720 S. St. Mary’s, Feldman sought guidance on the staff insistence that the original side and rear walls not be removed. They are crumbling, as is the slab foundation, and the floor plate has to be expanded to the rear.
Commissioner Anne-Marie Grube told Feldman he held a misconception that saving the walls meant he couldn’t extend the building. She said he could, but by rebuilding with some salvage materials.
Comparison of existing structures to a 1920s archive photo, with bullet point of proposed improvements.
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.