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the BroadwayMoving ON UP!
Urban living brings out the best in San Antonio

By Janis Turk
Photography courtesy of the Broadway, Vidorra, and Refugio Place

It only took three days, and we were in love all over again.
A recent weekend splurge — a mini-vacation in our own hometown — reminded my family why we love San Antonio so much and renewed a long-forgotten dream that one day we’d live downtown.

During our stay in a suite in the Emily Morgan Hotel, our room offered towering cathedral windows with views of the Alamo, Alamo Plaza, the historic Menger Hotel and the Tower of the Americas. At night the sparkling city was lit by a full moon and the glowing golden colors of the Tower Life Building.

I ♥ San Antonio
In the morning we arose before the tourists and shopkeepers awakened and strolled past a quiet Alamo, had breakfast in the Colonial Room at the Menger, grabbed coffee-to-go from a little place called “Sip” near the Majestic Theatre and walked the empty River Walk in happy silence. We enjoyed sausages and hot German potato salad at Schilo’s delicatessen before shopping at the Rivercen-ter Mall. I had a marvelous massage at the Watermark Hotel Spa.

Then we took our little boy on a tour of the Alamo and wandered through its storied grounds. At night we ate at Boudro’s on the River Walk and heard jazz at Jim Cullum’s Landing at the Hyatt. Seeing our city anew through tourists’ eyes, we discovered what a jewel San Antonio residents possess.

Surely the heart of this ancient city is its downtown area along the San Antonio River, connecting cultures and peoples along the Mission Trail. For nowhere is life quite so exciting as there in the main chamber of the heart of the city where the river, like a strong green artery, runs through the center of it all, bringing bustling life and color to each moment.

Downtown living
We couldn’t help thinking how wonderful it would be to live as a San Antonio-sort-of-Eloise at the Menger or the Emily Morgan with the River Walk as our playground. “There’d be no better place to live in this city than here,” said my husband as we strolled along the river and noted how many condos, apartments and homes are there. And so we began to investigate all that’s available in the way of urban living spaces in San Antonio.

VidorraMoving on up
A quick perusal of lists of lofts and condos available downtown took us to a building on East Commerce Street that has been renovated to create lofts in the historic former San Antonio Loan & Trust building. Featuring large windows, high ceilings, hardwood floors and open spaces, the loft units are located in the Irish Flats district next to the fashionable Watermark Hotel and close to fine restaurants, historic theaters, clubs and shopping. Imagine having an early treatment at the Watermark’s world-class spa and making it back home in time for breakfast!

Another downtown space where you might not expect a condo is 724 S. Alamo. There, three spacious lofts are located on the second floor of the Southtown building, while downstairs is reserved for retail spaces. High ceilings, hardwood floors and open floor plans enhance this historic structure.

Likewise, the Andalusia offers pleasant surprises for urban living. With 20 units, these for-purchase-only condos at 221 Lexington include some lofts and a rooftop deck with a great view. These are among the most recently constructed lofts downtown, and each contains hardwood floors, one to three bedrooms, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

Lofty living
Urban lofts have long been popular with downtown dwellers, and they’re even more desirable if the space they inhabit is reminiscent of the town’s rich history. Nothing could be sweeter, says downtown real estate sales specialist Lorie Campos, than living in a contemporary urban loft in a historic San Antonio building such as Judson’s Candy Factory. Campos and business partner Steve Thurlow are the owners of Downtown Dwellings LLC, representing exclusively downtown-area condos and homes for sale.

The Judson Candy Factory developers are but one of their clients, and Campos and Thurlow are excited about this historic space that’s recently been turned into loft condominiums. With high ceilings and expansive views of the downtown skyline, the former candy factory has been transformed into 84 sleek urban lofts located within walking distance of the River Walk, the King William Historic District and the Blue Star Arts Complex and a short trolley ride to the heart of downtown. About 70 percent of the condos have already been sold.

The Steel House Lofts being constructed in the historic Peden Iron and Steel Building just south of downtown are another Downtown Dwellings enterprise. Steel House is in the reservation stage with construction to begin early this year, and plans include luxury condominiums in this historic mercantile-style warehouse designed at the turn of the last century by architect Atlee B. Ayres, who also designed homes for prominent San Antonians as well as the Tower Life Building. The Steel House Lofts have been planned to incorporate the finest contemporary styles and amenities while respecting and preserving the character of the historic structure they will occupy.

Refugio PlaceMore coming attractions
But all the buzz seems to be about three special places now under construction.
The Broadway, a high-rise with spacious urban living suites being built in Alamo Heights, may not stand in the center of town, but you can certainly see it from there. A view of the skyline and Tower of the Americas is just one of the perks for those choosing to live in this Alamo Heights landmark built on the site of the original Earl Abel’s coffee shop. “The Broadway … offers every luxury and convenience in a setting as impressive as its design,” explain its builders.

Ninety-two residences have been created from 11 floor plans. Each spacious and architecturally detailed residence includes expansive windows, designer appointments and finishes and quality appliances and fixtures. While construction isn’t quite completed, the Broadway offers finished units for visitors to view and floor plans to consider if high-rise urban living suits your style.

Another place to consider combines the best of hotel living and private residential life. At the Alteza, condominiums comprise the top nine floors of the Grand Hyatt Hotel near the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. These, the highest residential units in town, are named alteza, the Spanish word for height. Units here are designed to be some of the top urban living spaces in the city, with 19 condos.

There will be spacious common areas, a rooftop pool and in-house restaurants, shops, bars and entertainment, along with River Walk restaurants and shopping nearby.

Perhaps you’d prefer a marvelous rental adjacent to a special San Antonio landmark on Houston Street. How about calling the Towers at the Majestic home? These high-rise apartment towers contain 97 luxury apartments, from 450- to 3,550-square feet. There’s special access to the Majestic, and you’ll find a bakery, coffee shop, sushi restaurant, bars, clubs and a popular steak house just steps from the front doors. Furnished corporate housing spaces are also available.

Another appealing option is Vidorra, a $68 million high-rise development in the historic St. Paul Square neighborhood near Sunset Station. When the project is completed in spring 2009, Vidorra will feature 146 condominiums, penthouses and town homes in a 20-story all-residential tower. Amenities will include 24-hour concierge service, a private fitness center and swimming pool, coffee bar, business center and meeting room, two guest suites and a sky room for entertaining. A private parking garage will adjoin the building.

Interior appointments include wood floors, granite and marble counters and stainless steel appliances. Most units will feature a private balcony with spectacular views of the downtown skyline and beyond. The Vidorra’s developers are Drake Leddy of Presidian Development and Hotel Management Company, who builds condos and hotels all over the United States, and Jeff Rochelle of DTMLS LLC. Rochelle has overseen the redevelopment of Sunset Station since the late ‘90s.

Affordable San Antonio
While many of the new developments coming to San Antonio are described as “exclusive,” “high end,” and “luxury living,” not all of the new housing has to be expensive to be nice, according to the San Antonio Housing Authority, which is hard at work developing Victoria Commons, a 36-acre tract in downtown San Antonio, part of a three-phase revitalization project that began in 2004.

According to Melanie Villalobos, vice president of corporate and employee relations for SAHA, the housing community formerly known as Victoria Courts was constructed in 1940, with 660 units of public housing, and demolished in 1999. The site currently houses 210 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments at Refugio Place and 22 town homes at Artisan Park.

Additional construction is expected to begin early next year on 245 multi-family rental units — 49 units dedicated to public housing, 12 to affordable housing and 184 to market-rate housing. Future development will include 98 town homes and 26 single-family homes, for an eventual total of 601 units.

“Victoria Commons has provided an opportunity for people of different economic levels to live side-by-side, while enjoying the benefits of the community’s amenities, downtown location and affordable pricing,” says Villalobos.

A changing skyline
These are but a few of the many urban living spaces changing the San Antonio skyline. (Even the old Lone Star Brewery has development plans for multifamily dwellings, commercial spaces and more in the works). But more than changing the look of the city, these new places are changing the way locals and newcomers alike look at this city. No longer just a gently aging town with historic roots, San Antonio can now truly call itself a cosmopolitan city.

In fact, today San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States, and with urban living spaces in places like the King William District, the Blue Star Gallery area, Alamo Heights, Sunset Station and downtown, our city is now becoming the exciting urban hot spot we always knew it could be. San Antonio, you’re moving on up!