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New owners want to convert Tower Life building space for housing

Developers seek to convert office space to 234 apartments or condos in the historic building. Some of the units would meet "affordable housing" standards.

SAN ANTONIO — The Tower Life building's new owners want to convert office space into housing units. 

A group of developers pitched their plans to Bexar county commissioners Tuesday. The county may offer tax breaks or monetary incentives to advance the project. 

Any potential deal would almost certainly require the developers to reserve some apartments or condominiums for tenants who make slightly less than the average median income. 

"We want high-end products, we want middle-income products, and we want affordable products," commissioner Tommy Calvert said. "We want a diversity of options."

Developers say they'd like to reserve half the units for people who make less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). Of that tranche, 10 percent of units would house people who make less than 60 percent of the AMI. 

"We really want to serve all aspects of the community - all ages and incomes," said Ed Cross, helping to develop the property. 

The tower, built in 1929, soars 30 stories into the air. For some time, it was San Antonio's tallest building. 

But only 40 percent of the available office space is currently occupied. Bexar county judge Nelson Wolff noted the pandemic drove thousands of workers from downtown skyscrapers to home offices. 

"Office buildings are having a little bit of a problem all across the United States, particularly in the inner city," he said. 

Developers said Tower Life lost its vibrancy before the pandemic, though. 

"The underlying fundamentals of the building have degraded rapidly," said Jon Wiegand, speaking on behalf of the ownership. "It's left our streets quiet during the week, and local business struggling."

The businessmen intend to redevelop the bottom floor of the building, along the River Walk, for restaurant space. The adjacent parking garage can fit 145 cars, with nearly 3,000 parking spots in surrounding areas. 

A number of questions must still be settled. There are existing tenants who don't know where they'll move, commissioner Justin Rodriguez said. 

Developers have not yet determined the apartments' layouts, though they said the lower floors could host loft-style homes. It's not clear how much each unit would cost to rent. 

The outer façade would not change, Cross said. 

County commissioners agreed Tuesday to negotiate details with the investors. 

"We're all San Antonians," Wiegand said. "We're all deeply respectful to what the Tower Life building has meant to our downtown community."

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