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New life brewing for iconic Lone Star Brewery in San Antonio | Commerce Street

Following a trend of mixed-use developments popping up in the Alamo City, the Lone Star Brewery is undergoing a historic transformation.

SAN ANTONIO — The Lone Star Brewery site is one of fascination for San Antonians, and several owners have taken a shot at redeveloping the space since it closed years ago. Now, new owners and developers believe they have the right timing, mission and vision to make it stick.

Plans are underway to develop the historic buildings and massive 32-acre property near Lone Star and Probandt into a mixed-use development packed with apartments, shops, restaurants, art and culture, with input from the community helping to shape options and events at the site.

In this episode of Commerce Street, KENS 5 speaks with Peter French, director of development for San Antonio-based GrayStreet Partners, which is working with Houston-based Midway on the project.

To listen to the full episode, find Commerce Street on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or play the episode here (article continues below):

Initially, Sabinas Brewing Company constructed the brewery site in 1933. It transformed over the years as new attractions grew it into a gathering space nad point of pride- until it closed decades later. The oft-admired site has sat empty since then.

French spoke about how the new development will weave in the area's unique natural features and art and culture scenes.

Note: the interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

KENS: I want to first touch on- why this site? What was it about the Lone Star Brewery site that was so exciting, and why now?

FRENCH: We've been tracking the project for the last decade or so as it's moved potentially towards development. And as that market has continued to change... sort of all roads lead to Lone Star. You've got the river improvements, the [Missions'] UNESCO World Heritage designation, lots of exciting things on the art and food scene, new living opportunities. The south side of San Antonio just seems very poised for a great mixed-use lifestyle destination project and certainly from an urban project development standpoint; finding 32 acres all in one spot where you can really chart out a great neighborhood is really difficult to do. So we were super excited both about the scale of the project and its location and all the surrounding amenities. It just checks all the boxes for how to create a great new neighborhood.

KENS:  I know a lot of the plans are still in the works, but what is the overall vision for the project?

FRENCH: So...depending on which buzzword you like, a 24-hour neighborhood, or a 15 minute neighborhood. And so those are both defined as a place where you really live, work, play...the things that you need for your daily life within a 15 minute walk. So we'll have living, we'll have retail, food and beverage, lots of recreation opportunities with the river trails and with parks on the site and then office. And certainly we hope to have hospitality at some point in the future. But so you ought to be able to do everything you want right there on site. 

KENSYou kind of touched on this when you mentioned that there aren't a lot of places that you have this much space within the city of San Antonio. We really see San Antonio growing outward. And this is an opportunity to kind of build on what's already within. What is the value in that and why do that? Why focus here? 

FRENCH: One of the great opportunities about 'infill' development is the infrastructure is already there and we don't have to build everything from scratch, which again, is great. We've got Roosevelt Park right across the river and, of course, the huge improvements on the river. So a lot of public investment has already been made to make this project viable. 

We have cultural amenities and neighborhood amenities and active neighborhoods and associations, you know, people that come live, work and shop there already surrounding the project. And so it makes our job so much easier. And it's really exciting. And and the response from the community we've had several community meetings has been hugely, very popular, very supportive. People are really, really excited about seeing Lone Star come back to life. Our leasing team has been commenting on the fact that even just, you know, counting likes and social media follows on on our new Instagram account, the response to this project has been huge and vast and it's exciting. It really is.

KENS: I only came to San Antonio two and a half years ago. So I'm still learning about the things San Antonio would love and are interested in. But ever since I got here, there's been a fascination with what what is why is that why you think there's so much excitement and a kind of nostalgic investment in it? 

FRENCH: The brewery activity or, I guess the brewery itself, started in 1933, which was the Sabinas Brewing Company back then. And so for 60 years it was a hub of activity on on the south side of San Antonio. People were working there and obviously people were coming to visit. You had the Buckhorn. And so, every day we get emails or encounter people who we area meeting with and they say, 'I went as a kid or my dad worked there. My grandfather worked there. We went for picnics. My mom did synchronized swimming". There's been people who've been touching the site for decades. And so I just think it holds this really sort of special spot. There's this nostalgia around it for people not just from San Antonio, but from all over the place who have fond memories of their own or a family members of going there and being there. 

And then they were sort of locked out. You know, we kind of make the joke about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and it's like 'and then one day the gates closed and that was it'. And so everybody's been sort of anxiously awaiting its return. And it's just thrilling to be able to do that. As part of our activity on the redevelopment, we want to capture these memories and have people share their memorabilia and share their stories with us. And so we actually have an email address specifically to collect those. And so we want to be sure that people send us send us those kind of memories and give us the opportunity to to then figure out what to do with them and engage local artists to to share those again. So it's really neat. 

You can send your stories and photos to history@lonestardistrictsa.com

KENS: I know that the site, as you mentioned, has been closed off. And if you drive down there, you can't get in or anything...not that I've tried... But you probably have seen it...what dud it feel like to kind of see the bones of these buildings. Are they still good? I know you guys plan to try to restore some of them. How is it looking? 

FRENCH: You know, the adaptive reuse or historic redevelopment, it's definitely challenging. It's a challenging thing. We've been doing it with the San Antonio Light building, which, you know, is right there on Broadway. And so it presents all kinds of interesting challenges, but opportunities, the rebuilding itself, and the stacks. And there's this whole collection of buildings out there which are going to be something really phenomenal. And yet people just don't build things like that anymore. 

So, you know, the project is going to be a mix of new and old. Our first phase will include the the original brick buildings and, of course, the restoration of the of the stacks and that sort of thing. Figuring out exactly how those get used is still something that we're working on. But, you know, again, having these iconic buildings that everybody recognizes, it's just it's it really creates an art that. City and its amenity, obviously, that new projects just don't have. So I think it adds a lot of value. 

KENS: I think I read that the groundbreaking breaking you're hoping to do this year, phase one into like 2025. Is that about right? What does that encompass at first?

FRENCH: First there's got to be some addition by subtraction. So groundbreaking will first begin with with, you know, taking some of the old buildings that we're not going to use down. I guess what you'd call  the newer old buildings, things from the things from the 70s and 60s- and then so demolition of that begins in 2021. We'll probably be going vertical on new construction starting in 2022. And then, yes, we hope to have that first phase, which, right now, the plan is a 100,000 feet plus or minus of offices and 50,000 feet of food and beverage retail and about 250 apartment units. That's phase one. And and then we'll just keep going from there. So the groundbreaking, you know, it's kind of phased. They'll be opening buildings and all these things will sort of happen in turn.

KENS: I know our plans for this to be kind of a participatory project. As you mentioned, people can send in their photos and their memories and there's also going to be kind of some community input into it. What are what specifically are looking for them? 

FRENCH: So, there's a whole lot of things. In fact, I spent two hours with the Lone Star Neighborhood Association the other night, kind of talking about this local artist who is going to be something that's very, very important and a public art program. And so finding and meeting local artists who want to participate in the project, you know, engagement with additional stakeholders, whether it's the River Authority or the River Foundation or local schools and charter schools. Obviously, the neighborhood associations, finding local food and beverage operators and then the early activations, even prior to having the buildings up and ready, will include drive-in movies or pop up events. And we're still trying to work out what those are, but those will be very local and community-centric. 

And then, of course, there's the collection of the of the stories and memorabilia and then other you know, there's other soft, good retail. You know, we know if you have a lot of great makers in the San Antonio community and we want to engage them in the project and just, you know, make it a place for San Antonio. It was for decades.

KENS: What role do you envision playing with all of those partners already within the neighborhood, and what do you kind of feel when you walk down there even now?

FRENCH: Yeah, well, there's you know, there's an authenticity in the in the Lone Star District, in the Lone Star neighborhood, and that you just you can't recreate it. But we have an opportunity to be both sort of ground zero for some of those bigger public events, as well as really a launching spot for the whole mission reach, you know, that whole river extension. 

And, of course, the Missions and their UNESCO designation. All are a huge opportunity for local folks and visitors to have a sort of starting spot for the way that they can come and experience that part of San Antonio. So creating that that central meeting point, I think it's going to be an opportunity for us. And then with the buildings and the scale and the site that we have to figure out what other public amenities or resources, whether it's museums or venues for community gatherings. 

It's something that's exciting to explore, but we've got a great opportunity to to fill that. In addition to art spaces for the showing and making of art. And music was something that kept coming up in this meeting the other day. And I know there's a story the other day about San Antonio's 60s garage band history. And I was hearing a lot about that kind of jazz and radio stations that existed back in the day. And so really trying to tap into that authentic vibe of San Antonio and give it a spot.

KENS: What else do you think is important for people to know or what do you want to make sure people understand about the project at this phase? 

FRENCH: We have these guiding principles that we've developed for the for the Lone Star District, which is what we're calling, you know, the neighborhood, and that it's going to be an all day district that is going to be for the people of San Antonio. That the river is going to be very, very important in activating that, and we just want to be sure that we touch as many local folks as possible and they know that they have a place here and that we want to hear from them. And right now we're in the very creative stage where more ideas are better. We heard from some people the other day who wanted to pitch farming and farmers markets. It's really neat who's reaching out to us and all the different opportunities that there are going to be to engage with the community. So it's not too early for any idea, big or small. And we just really want to hear from people.

KENS: And a couple of things that you mentioned when you talk about music possibilities, our possibilities and possibilities for somebody like me, acres and feet is it's hard for me to imagine how big we're talking about. This site is really, really big, right? 

FRENCH: It is. We have thirty two acres, which is huge. And and, you know, the first phase is about 12 acres. APearl, which is a comparison, obviously, that's always going to be drawn, started at about 20 acres and they've been expanding. And then the frontage along the river obviously is is significant. It's a big, big site. Yeah. I mean, we're going to be at this for 10 years or more, creating this neighborhood. And you just don't get opportunities like this all the time. I've been in the in the mixed use community creation business for a long, long time. And one of the other great things about a site of this size is you get to learn as you go. And if you make mistakes or do something that you're not so crazy about, the great thing about 32 acres, is you have the opportunity to do it better, you know, the next time. 

And as the markets change and as new opportunities present themselves, you can you can amend your plan to to make the neighborhood better and better and better. So we're thrilled. Something that came up the other day is this Rails to Trails project that the city's been working on to convert some of the former railroad lines down in the area and the hike and bike trails. And so we're now looking at how to tie into that. But it's it's really exciting. And the activity level, again, that people are walking by on the river and using that Mission Reach trail every day. And, you know, can we put kayaks on the river down there? You know, how can we make this an active a really active neighborhood and make it accessible for folks to walk in and out of? It's cool.

To learn more about plans for the project, click here.

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