Rollin' on the River: Waterfront Development in Cities like San Antonio-Destination for Success Series 2007-Spurs Economic Development and Tourism

Article excerpt

No matter the town, the waterfront is the place to be these days as owners, residents and tenants seek the cache that comes with working and living along the water. Even in the dry Southwest region of the United States, cities like San Antonio realize the economic advantages of waterfront development.

A developed waterfront can be a major boon to municipalities, helping to revitalize depressed areas and pump in more tax dollars through new businesses. A solid development calls for a good mix of retail and entertainment venues to bring in the tourists; commercial components to draw business; and increasingly, residential options as more and more people want that waterfront view.

RIVER OF SUCCESS

One such successful waterfront is the San Antonio River Walk, a picturesque pathway of retail, restaurants and hotels lining the banks of the San Antonio River in downtown San Antonio. Mona Lowe, CPM[R], and immediate past president of the IREM San Antonio chapter, said the river walk is like an "oasis."

"Everyone gravitates toward water," she said. "The reason that it's so important [in San Antonio] is we're in Central Texas. It's really pretty hot everywhere, so this is kind of the oasis effect."

First developed as part of a Works Projects Administration project in the 1930s, the development of the river walk really took off in the 1960s as plans for the 1968 World's Fair, held in San Antonio, got underway. Development came in the form of a Hyatt hotel along the river, plus extensions of the natural riverbank to facilities built for the fair, like the building that eventually became the city's convention center.

Today, the river walk and Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, along with the nearby Alamo historical attraction, draw about 20 million tourists and conventioneers to the city each year, said Mario Hernandez, president of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

"That's a lot of business," Hernandez said. "We've recognized [the river] for what it is--a tremendous asset and a tremendous draw for business. And the community is going to maximize that."

In fact, IREM and the CCIM Institute will hold their annual education conferences and Success Series 2007 in San Antonio in October.

"San Antonio is a wonderful city--full of history, but not lost in the past. It is on cutting edge of development; it's vibrant; and it's fun for the whole family," said Bob Toothaker, CPM and IREM president.

DEVELOPMENT CURRENT

Even now, the river continues to spur development along its banks and adjacent areas. The convention center has expanded from 200,000 square feet to 1.3 million square feet of space today. Hotels also continue to be developed along the river walk. Hernandez said riverfront property commands rental premiums of between 15 and 30 percent for both retail and commercial space.

As president of a local property management company, Lowe was instrumental in the recent redevelopment of the downtown area's Houston Street into a destination of hotels, theaters, restaurants, office buildings, and residential lofts and apartments. She said a new group will be developing the northern part of the city along the river, noting in particular the redevelopment of an historic brewery dating back to the 1880s.

Hernandez said this next step of development will provide accessibility at river level all the way back near the headwaters of the river in Brackenridge Park, just north of downtown San Antonio. …