By Benjamin Olivo
Thursday, May 15, 2014
The redevelopment cat left the bag when University of Houston regents last week approved spending $2.5 million to rent a building at St. Paul Square for a branch of its Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. Starting Aug. 25, the college will begin offering classes at St. Philip’s College, until the three-story building at 122 Heiman St. is ready, which could be as soon as January, said Graham Bowcher, the college’s assistant dean.
Plans for the school hinted that there is much more in store for the historic St. Paul Square, much of it Zachry Realty LLC either owns outright or leases from the city of San Antonio.
“The current thinking includes urban living, educational components and dining and retail opportunities that will transform the area into San Antonio’s next great mixed-use neighborhood,” said Rene M. Garcia, vice president of Zachry Realty.
The company is partnering with REATA Real Estate to revitalize St. Paul Square, which sustained a heavy blow when anchor tenant Ruth’s Chris Steak House moved in July 2013. Many of the historic buildings remain vacant. Once a hotbed for concerts, the pavilion at Sunset Station, which Zachry is leasing to the RK Group, just sits. In short, St. Paul Square has been a ghost town recently.
Zachry Realty and REATA hope to capitalize on the cache that the University of Houston will bring to the historic district.
The strategy is to start with signing office tenants, which could come within year’s end. From there, they’ll look to fill street-level spaces with retail and restaurants.
Down the road, they’re looking to add 300-700 residential units — possibly two separate developments — to the area; construction could start next year, they said.
“We’re trying to do something similar to what the Pearl has been successful in doing,” said Don Thomas, a principal with REATA. “I’m not suggesting we’ll be what the Pearl is, but we hope that we’ll have the kind of success that they have.”
Building residential on existing parking lots is one option, but then they’d have to solve the problem of finding parking for current tenants, like those future office workers and students of the Hilton school.
Thomas would not divulge possible tenants, but said he’s hopeful that he’ll lease the office spaces, some 100,000 square feet overall, by the end of the year.
Though desolate, the district has a lot going for it. If new residential development is built, it would join the Vidorra condo tower a block north. The Convention Center expansion and HemisFair Park project should have a positive impact on the square by improving foot connectivity from downtown, under I-37, to St. Paul Square, and vice versa. VIA Metropolitan Transit has plans to refurbish its nearby Ellis Alley station. The Staybridge Suites Sunset Station resides in the middle of the property. A handful of bars and the Cameo Theatre continue to survive despite the bleak environment.
And, soon, the Conrad N. Hilton college, which is partnering with St. Philip’s College to offer a bachelor’s of science in hospitality and restaurant management. The location of St. Paul Square is perfect because it’s next to the plethora of hotels in the downtown core.
“We love the location,” Bowcher said. “We are equidistant from downtown, which is our playground as far as work experience is concerned. But it’s also easily accessible to St. Philips College.”
Students will be able to take lower level hospitality classes at St. Philip’s — where they’ll get the general education core — and then transfer to the Hilton school for the higher level classes. They’d get the exact same degree, Bowcher said, as if the student attended four years at the University of Houston.
In 2-3 years, Bowcher said, the school anticipates around 300 students taking courses at St. Paul Square location.
“We are starting from scratch and it takes a little bit of time to get the ball rolling,” Bowcher said.
Though the lease has yet to be finalized, the University of Houston is close to finalizing it — a 10-year agreement for 9,500 square feet of space.
The Conrad N. Hilton college is considered to be one of the Top 3 hospitality and restaurant management schools in the nation, Bowcher said.