Funding Approved to Plan West Commerce Improvements

Last week, District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales got one step closer to kicking off her West Commerce Economic Corridor project, which she’s named the Gateway to the Historic West Side of San Antonio. When City Council approved the 2015 budget last Thursday, it signed off on $1 million in funding for the planning stage of the project, which will include infrastructure improvements under the West Commerce Street bridge, improved lighting and a pedestrian-friendly zone.

Take a tour under the West Commerce Street bridge now and you’ll find empty lots, tall chain-link fences and rundown streets in disarray.

But Gonzales sees great potential in the area and so do other businesses. Just within view is the University of Texas at San Antonio’s downtown campus, and VIA Metropolitan Transit has begun phase two of the construction of its Westside Multimodal Transit Center, a highly anticipated transportation-oriented plaza sure to draw more people to the area. More than $200 million in housing projects have sprung up nearby, including the forthcoming Peanut Factory Lofts, and nonprofits and medical facilities have made the neighborhood home.

Gonzales envisions a well-lit, artistic area under the bridge for walkers, bikers and transit riders to enjoy. Likening her vision to Chicano Park in San Diego, California, Gonzales would also like to see murals painted on the support beams, multi-colored lighting and maybe even food trucks.

“We already have so many major investments in the area,” she said. “We’ve got $1 million for planning and with that, we’ll determine what all we can do.”

VIA is also moving its corporate offices to the former International and Great Northern Terminal building adjacent to the underpass and bridge. Charlie Gonzalez, VIA’s senior vice president of public engagement, said VIA welcomes the proposed improvements.

“We believe in the area, and we’re looking to be making future investments,” he said. “We are just thrilled that she has a vision for the West Side that means bringing all of us together to make sure it’s a collaborative effort.”

The councilwoman’s plan also includes a “pedestrian priority zone” between UTSA and the new Multimodal, with the proposed boundaries on César E. Chávez Boulevard to the south, Colorado to the west, West Martin Street to the north and Frio Street to the east.

“It would be … like an open-air museum, some retail, a little bit of everything,” she said. “This will encourage people to come to the historic West Side.”

Gonzales is also requesting that $10 million of the $32 million the city had set aside for the now-defunct downtown streetcar be channeled toward infrastructure improvements on the West Side.

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