News Counterpoint 

A river of money runs through it – Andres Andujar’s River North vision is bound by SA’s moguls

“`Andres` Andujar says a deep-pocketed investor — he’s not at liberty to identify him or her — has already acquired considerable property in the study area and is interested in redeveloping it in accordance with the River North concept,” wrote a certain daily-paper columnist known for his curmudgeonly outlook on SA’s future. The writer was referring to architect Andres Andujar’s proposed plan for the downtown area bordered by Broadway to the east, McCullough to the south, St. Mary’s on the west, and I-35 to the north. The swath of land, which encompasses the stretch of the San Antonio River slated for improvement under the San Antonio River Authority’s Museum Reach plan, is shaped roughly like Connecticut, but it’s not nearly as pretty. `See “No Dick’s need apply,” March 17-23, 2005.` Much of the area is zoned light industrial, and the business fronts that line the major thoroughfares conceal lots filled with stray cats and rusting barrels, vacant factory buildings, and a handful of decaying houses.

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But seeds of change have also been planted in the neighborhood: The San Antonio Museum of Art, celebrating its silver anniversary this year, fills much of Jones Avenue, and will eventually develop or landscape the lots it owns along the river; the San Antonio Housing Authority has plans to build a mixed-use, multi-income housing development on the site of the old Rex Apartments at Brooklyn and St. Mary’s; the AT&T headquarters fills a handful of well-manicured buildings at McCullough and St. Mary’s; and apparently “a deep-pocketed investor” is interested in following the River North concept — which calls for mid-rise in-fill with condos, shops, and cultural attractions.

We couldn’t help wonder who the secret fairy godmother or godfather might be. Perhaps the words “at liberty” were a clue. According to the Bexar County Appraisal District, developer James Lifshutz of Blue Star fame and recent Big Tex infamy now owns the block at Jones and Broadway via Liberty Properties, for which Christopher Hill — of Government Canyon fame — is the registered agent (making Hill and Lifshutz landlord for Mayor Phil Hardberger’s community office). Liberty also holds lots on the west side of the river directly across from SAMA. Another good-size block at Ninth Street and Avenue B with riverfront access is owned by Josef Seiterle’s Belle Rive Investments.

The largest chunk of land by far, however, seems to be in the hands of George Geis, whose Villaje del Rio project at Broadway and I-35 is currently tangled up in litigation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Geis’s Rio City Et Al also owns five lots bordering the river south of the highway, but Geis’s attorney, Thomas G. Kemmy, would not comment on whether those plots were affected by the Villaje suit.

Although Geis’s legal wranglings may hold up part of Andujar’s River North dreams, the architect is now in an even better position to influence the area’s revitalization. He recently joined the board of the San Antonio River Foundation where, says Executive Director Gayle Brennan, he is helping to develop a plan that will encourage commercial investment. Although, to look at the map, it appears commerce may have the jump on him.

By Elaine Wolff


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