In Saint Paul’s Square, promoters are working on the construction of a nightlife district in San Antonio

San Antonio dance clubs are scattered all over the place. There’s Bonham Exchange in the middle of downtown and the Brass Monkey on St. Mary’s Strip. The Discotheque hotel and DZĪR are miles apart in the far north.

Local builder David Adelman and his partners Michael Jersin and Don Thomas believe San Antonio should have a nightlife district like Nashville and Miami and so many other cities. They are therefore working to create it, on Place Saint-Paul, a historic district just east of the city center which challenged past revival efforts.

In 2017, the partners became the dominant landowner in the neighborhood when they purchased more than a dozen buildings from Zachry Corp., including the Sunset Station rail depot with its iconic high vaulted ceiling. They then converted it to Espee, a venue that houses the 1902 nightclub, complete with a Prohibition-era design scheme and state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment.

They recruited entrepreneurs to open new bars and restaurants such as Cuishe Cocina Mexicana and Toro Kitchen + Bar with the Cellar Mixology underground bar in its basement.

“San Antonio is a great city, but we don’t have a nightlife district per se,” Adelman said. “There are some pretty cool restaurants outside, some pretty cool bars outside, but people don’t know they exist. It’s kind of a collaborative effort among all tenants to transform that.

Saint Paul’s Square benefits from its abundant historical architecture and its proximity to the city center, the Alamodome and the convention center. The partners’ vision owes a lot to construction manager Bartell Zachry, who spent last year. Decades ago he saw the potential for an entertainment district there.

“It might have been a little early,” Adelman said, pointing to the recent growth in the downtown housing market. “But I think his vision was great. So now what we’re trying to do is hone that vision and take it to the next level.

Adelman and Jersin recently discussed their plans for the neighborhood, their methods of finding the right commercial tenants, and their thoughts on city council housing policies. They were joined by Moris Saide, a partner of the 1902 Entertainment Group which operates the 1902 Nightclub. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Question: Do you think there is an appetite in San Antonio for a nightlife district?

Moris: Let’s move on to the economy of this formula. What we’re saying is what if we can get tourists to spend one more night in San Antonio? Imagine the Ubers, the meals, the accommodation, whatever they would spend if they stayed an extra night. So we’re trying to give them that excuse – here in 1902, and all around St. Paul’s Square.

San Diego, New Orleans, Nashville – all of these cities have nightlife or an entertainment street. San Antonio doesn’t have it. We need it.

David: I have no doubts that if we run right on all the properties here what the pearl is to food, what Blue Star is to art, I think the historic St. Paul Square can be to entertainment and entertainment. ‘experience. With the experience of food and drink, it’s not just the food you eat, it’s how you enjoy that food. It’s the dinner experience. If you go to Cuishe there is good energy. And Toro has a great energy and a great vibe.

Question: Apart from 1902, what else have you planned?

David: We are talking to a number of tenants. We are considering the possibility of having a private club, such as a Diamond Club, in one of our buildings. We see the private catering club starting to take off across the country, certainly for a younger set. There are private catering clubs in San Antonio for older people, but there is nothing for young professionals, and we think it can have a place here. We’re exploring a wine bar right now, a more casual type place.

We actually hired the CE group. They did a lot of the original planning and activations at The Pearl. They’re engaged with us, starting to think about what kind of property-wide activations we could do that would also draw people to this location. It can be a small-scale music festival or a food-focused festival.

Question: Do you expect the hospitality and convention industries to regain the strength they had before COVID?

David: What I hear from my sources is that the leisure industry has grown so dramatically that it has almost replaced the loss of business travel. Convention business, I believe, will come back entirely. I attended my first convention in the fall – I went to Chicago for the conference (Urban Land Institute). I wouldn’t pay a dime for a virtual conference. I am in the camp for a 100 percent return to convention business. I think business travel in general will be affected. I think a lot of people were able to move some of their trips with Zoom meetings, virtual meetings and the like, but I think a lot of those business trips will come back. Pleasure travel is what’s really on the rise, mainly because a lot of international travel is going down, so people are forced to travel within the country, and San Antonio has taken advantage of that.

Question: How do you go about filling the commercial spaces?

Michael: Having complementary businesses is really important. We believe in success with numbers, so it’s important to have multiple entertainment concepts where you can go to two or three places on each visit to experience something different. We are looking for unique opportunities, top notch operators. Even groups from out of town looking to come to town. A few of our prospects come from out of town and recognize this is a truly unique and exciting opportunity.

Question: Do you make an effort to get to know the owner of the business?

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. Some kind of understanding of their thought process. When we made this filling (from Toro), this is their second restaurant. These guys did an amazing job with a tapas restaurant and they’re in a bar downstairs. So we thought, “We would love to have one of your other concepts. They came in and they built the space themselves and did a great job with their creativity. They have the Midas touch with what they do.

David: I would say there’s a difference between what we’re doing here, which is hyperlocal, and what you see in the suburbs, where generally you’re going to have more channels. Therefore, this idea of ​​knowing these customers and choosing the right horses is really important. And I have chosen bad horses in my experience. Hope you learn from some of these mistakes.

It has certainly been difficult. I can’t tell you how many people said, “Yeah, but it never really worked. It was on the wrong side of the highway. You’re just going to be another failed effort. I have heard this so many times. But what you are seeing now is a new generation coming. I think that Bartell Zachry, whose original vision was to restore this and create an entertainment and nightlife district 30 years ago, was on the right track. He might just be a little early.

Question: What makes you think now is the right time?

David: Return migration to the central core. Previously, the only thing you had in the city center was that they were central business districts. They had no housing, almost exclusively. Now you start to see the accommodations move in. We don’t have enough, we don’t have enough. We need so much more. But we are definitely on the right track. From the time Julian (Castro) took over as mayor until now, we’ve probably added 10,000 people to the greater downtown area.

Michael: I think the other thing to mention is that we are creating a neighborhood, and there aren’t a lot of neighborhoods in San Antonio with unique offerings like the ones we have. The Pearl has done a tremendous job of creating a neighborhood; Southtown a. It’s going to have music, it’s going to have entertainment. We have a disco, we have venues. I think people today want to experience things differently than in the suburbs.

David: Ultimately, it’s about creating a vibrant, sustainable 18-hour city. We’re trying to be competitive, frankly, with some of the other cities that are on a roll, like Denver and Nashville, Miami, places like that. My great hope for San Antonio is that at some point the word spreads. I’m not sure people understand how awesome it is here. We do! I’m not even sure some people living in San Antonio know how awesome it is.

Question: We have a new city council with members who are critical of the city’s practice of offering market-priced housing incentives. Are you worried about this?

David: Yes, I am worried. It is portrayed as either / or when it should be both / and. They confuse affordable housing with market housing; we need more of both. One does not come at the expense of the other.

Question: They could argue that when you build market-priced housing, new residents move in and the neighborhood becomes more expensive, driving out old residents.

David: This is the basic argument of gentrification. The answer is that the most sustainable neighborhoods are mixed income neighborhoods. You want to do affordable projects and projects at market price in these neighborhoods. The people who own their homes, they are really great, they benefit financially. Now, culturally, there can be challenges to gentrification. We could probably spend about 10 hours on it. It’s super complicated and super contextual to the neighborhood.

I am of the opinion that I would rather see a city progress in terms of investment and renovation of these neighborhoods, rather than trying to restore them through social housing. There just isn’t enough money in the public sector to do it. And it is generally the jurisdiction of the federal government, not the local one. So if all the local government has the capacity to do is limit development, through a regulatory environment or a lack of incentives, then all they are going to get is more. nothing. This is what worries me.

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