Incentives for downtown grocery questioned

Kevin Wolff: Downtown cannot support big store now


SAN ANTONIO - Incentives designed to lure a grocery store to downtown San Antonio to serve a growing residential population are being questioned by a public official with grocery store experience.

County Commissioner Kevin Wolff said despite the growth in housing units downtown, the population cannot support a large grocery store right now.

From the Can Plant at the Pearl Brewery to the Twelve Twenty on Broadway to the Casa Blanca Lofts on North Alamo, downtown is booming with new residential development.

Lori Houston, the director of the city’s Center City Development Office, said the city wants to spur more downtown growth by bringing in a grocery store for residents, tourists and downtown workers.

"Those three users would help us generate enough spending potential for up to a 20,000-square-foot grocery store," Houston said.

She said a study found $10.1 million in potential spending yearly at a downtown grocery.

The city has advertised state and nationwide for proposals on a downtown grocery, offering fee waivers and a million-dollar incentive.

"We want to see that they have a sound proposal, that their development team has property, that it's a financially feasible proposal," Houston said.

A 4,200-square-foot store is now being remodeled at Brooklyn and North Alamo, but the city is looking for something at least 15,000 square feet.

But Wolff said the whole concept is bound to fail for the grocery, the city and taxpayers.

"I truly believe the council has itself in a pickle on this one," Wolff said.

Wolff's family has owned Sun Harvest and Green Fields Market.

He is currently looking at opening a small grocery at Broadway and Newell downtown or somewhere else, but said a big grocery will not work here yet.

"Can you cobble together incentives and all those other sorts of things and get something done? Yes,” Wolff said. “Can you sustain it? Not at this point."

He said if local grocery giant HEB has not recognized a market for a downtown grocery store by now, there is no market for it.

The proposals from grocers are due June 4.

At that time, the city will begin the process of looking through them to see if any will work and possibly start negotiations.

Any valid proposal could go before the city council in September.

Here is a short list of the newest residential properties being developed in downtown San Antonio:

  • Casa Blanca Lofts - 1542 N. Alamo 78215 - 17 for-sale properties
  • E. Quincy - 1120 E. Quincy - 25 for-sale properties
  • SOJO - 302 E. Josephine 78215 - 7 units

Click here for a look at the city’s presentation on downtown residential developments (PDF) and here for the incentives they’ve been given (PDF).

For a list of recent stories Brian Mylar has done, click here.


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