Originally published by the Virtual Builders Exchange

By Adolfo Pesquera

San Antonio (Bexar Co.) – A creatively designed residential mid-rise planned for the horseshoe bend of the River Walk received many compliments from the city’s design review board, but was detoured to another committee.

The Floodgate, as the project is being called, attempts to do a lot on a very small footprint, just 9,888 square feet at street level. The most dramatic impact of the design, however, would be construction of a pasillo cubierto (covered corridor) leading up from the River Walk to Commerce Street at a crucial pedestrian chokepoint on the San Antonio River.

“The River Walk is extremely active and vibrant in this location,” Overland architect and principal Madison Smith told the Historic and Design Review Commission.

However, because of the flood gates at the horseshoe, traffic becomes very compressed because pedestrians tend to stop at that point, turn around and go back east, he said. Exacerbating the problem is the narrow width of the Hugman sidewalk here; only two people can walk comfortable side by side, Smith said.

Overland’s concept is to excavate a chunk of the foundation of the existing buildings on the proposed project site, thus widening the path and creating a new patio area for an eatery. The opening would continue upward to Commerce and become an alternate route for foot traffic that would then walk past new retail development within the corridor.

Smith said the opening also benefits the developers of the Hilton Canopy, a hotel tower project recently approved by the HDRC, by bringing more daylight onto the River Walk and opening more views.

“We think it creates the type of porosity that will be very helpful to bringing the street back to life,” Smith said, adding the design would enhance what is arguably San Antonio’s “ground zero,” the Main Plaza and San Fernando Cathedral.

Project manager Charles Schneider, also with Overland, said creating the opening would also have a beneficial effect on the micro climate. Because the street paving and building canyon of Commerce Street creates and traps hot air, a corridor from the cooler, shaded river level would create a convection current that would cool down that section of Commerce at certain times of day and attract the attention of passersby to the corridor.

Chris Hill, the owner and developer of the Hilton Canopy at the corner of St. Mary’s Street and Commerce, also owns the Esquire Tavern which is adjacent to The Floodgate project site. Hill also owns the Witte Building on the other side, which he is also in the process of renovating.

Hill was generally in favor of the project, but noted, “There is a good deal of historic material on site, none of which is being incorporated in the present design.”

The buildings are historic and include many features that date to the mid-1800s. However, due to their poor condition, the Office of Historic Preservation is in favor of the developer’s petition to demolish them.

Keller Henderson, the developer representative, said he had plans to incorporate materials into the new structure. However, the details as to how this would be accomplished had not been worked out. He did say that possible uses of the historic limestone retaining wall could be as pavers on the pasillo, or they might be repurposed as part of a vertical garden “living wall.”

Henderson wanted to emphasize that he had not realized the existence of the flood gates prior to getting involved in this project. He recognized their importance, since that infrastructure made the River Walk extension possible. He decided to name the tower after them and put the flood gates at center stage.

“There’s an opportunity there to work with the city … to enhance the actual flood gate itself and bring it into context to this new part of the River Walk.”

Rather than vote on whether to approve demolition and the conceptual design, the HDRC passed a motion proffered by Commissioner Betty Feldman to send the project back to the Design Review Committee to address in more detail the developers approach to the river level designs and their use of historic materials.

Henderson introduced himself as a native San Antonian who had recently returned after years of living in New York City, were he was a developer of high-end residential and commercial projects. Henderson said he was excited to see the recent boom in real estate activity in the downtown area.

“When the Hilton Canopy project just to our east received approval, I recognized we had an oportunity to pursue a concept that could generate quality enhancement to the site, to Commerce Street, and to the River Walk experience,” Henderson said.

Parking is a minimal feature of the project, but it is being addressed through an innovative automatic garage. Schneider said this would operate by parking cars at street level on a turntable that would slide cars onto and off an elevator. Parking would only be for residents and parking spaces would total 35 to 40.

Located at 139 and 140 East Commerce, the building would have a total of 10 levels, including the level on the River Walk.

“The applicant has proposed for the tower to include river level, street level and second level commercial space, as well as seven levels of residential space,” an OHP staff report stated.

The development team includes KHI Inc. and Burgos LP/Uriarte LP.

The original story can be found here.