SAN ANTONIO — After years of being stuck in a bureaucratic purgatory of inaction, it appears as if a couple of small, smoky fires at the abandoned Friedrich complex on East Commerce Street may have led to salvation for a long-delayed redevelopment project.
Pete Alanis, executive director for the San Antonio Housing Trust, said he requested an emergency demolition order from federal housing officials, and expects to have it in hand within days.
Alanis cited a series of recent fires in the near-east-side area.
“I told them about the issues that we're seeing here on the eastside, our issues with recent fires and so forth.”
Alanis said he believes concerns for human health and safety pushed officials to grant the order.
“Luckily we pushed the right buttons with the right folks up at the federal level,” he said.
With regard to a series of recent fires in the area, a fire spokesman said they were continued to investigate the potential of arson.
Recent major fires in the immediate area that have led to total structural devastation include:
- March 15 at the corner of Center and Swiss.
- Saturday at the corner of Delaware and Hoefgen.
- Sunday on the 300 block of North Pine.
- Tuesday on the 100 block of Omaha.
There were also two small fires to contents inside the Friedrich building, the first sparking on March 23 and the second on March 29.
The redevelopment plan, which has been stalled for years, calls for a number of buildings on the old campus on the 1600 block of East Commerce to be demolished and replaced with new multi-family housing.
Alanis said he's thankful to be able to move forward.
“The HUD (Housing and Urban Development) process is a very long, complicated and drawn-out process at times, but I'm really proud of HUD to come through in an emergency way to make sure that we have the ability to move forward and get rid of what is a pretty dangerous structure.”
Alanis said Provident Realty Advisors is a partner in the project with the Housing Trust. The agencies will work together to continue the process, and get the appropriate clearances from the city’s development division.
“I think everybody would agree that the non-historic portions of this site do need to come down and it's about time,” Alanis said. “I know the city will be very responsive. They always have been to the needs of the Housing Trust and what we are trying to accomplish in our community. So I have every faith they will expedite what we need to get things done."
Looking over the site on Wednesday, which is adjacent to the IDEA Carver school campus, Alanis said this is a joyous event.
“With all that's going on, it's good to see some good progress, especially next to a school, the Carver Theater, to see something that's been so blighted have an opportunity for redevelopment, you know that's going to be outstanding for our community,” Alanis said. “It's going to make a world of difference, especially to the kids that are across the street, the parents who drop them off to and from school each day. They’ll have that confidence that there's not a blighted structure, with who knows what going on inside; that's really going to make a difference in their lives.”
Neighborhood safety has been top of mind for residents in the Dignowity Hill area.
Activist Monica Savino said she hopes that the emergency order will not lead to short cuts that could endanger the health of people nearby.
In a Facebook post, Savino asked: “How will the hazardous materials be addressed for the massive amounts of lead, asbestos and other hazards?”
She also said she has questions about how the process will work, since some of the site is historic and scheduled to be saved.
“Who is in charge here?" she said. "And who’s paying for this?”
The redevelopment project was unveiled in June of 2018, at a business breakfast for east-side community leaders:
While he was traveling back to the city Wednesday afternoon, Alanis shared the following statement about the history of the process:
"Provident Realty Advisors is partnering with SAHT PFC to redevelop the non-historic portions of the Friedrich complex. The demolition of the non-historic portions of site have been delayed due to pending approvals needed from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The developer is ready to start, they just need the go ahead from HUD.
"Last Wednesday afternoon, I was notified of a small fire in one of the empty areas of the complex, and the San Antonio Fire Department sent a crew to the site. It appeared that someone broke through the construction security fence and entered the property. The development team sent a crew to re-secure the perimeter security fencing.
"The next day I personally walked the site with SAFD teams and provided updated access codes and contact information of the development team. We agreed the best solution is to try and begin the demolition process as quickly as possible. We also contacted Eastside SAFFE to provide courtesy SAPD shift patrols over the next 14 days.
"Following my meeting with SAFD, I reached out directly to HUD Headquarters in Washington D.C. to request HUD leadership provide expedited emergency authorization to proceed with demolition, relaying the urgency and alignment with SAFD. The next morning we received a response stating they may be able to provide that emergency clearance as early as this week.
"In the meantime we are looking at onsite security options to put eyes on the property perimeter in an effort to prevent future intrusions until we can start demolition."