City examines major building swap downtown

City would give up Municipal Plaza; move in to Frost Bank

SAN ANTONIO – A major property swap has been proposed for San Antonio that would result in the city trading various properties for the Frost Bank building and Frost getting a brand new high-rise.

It is a complicated public-private venture designed to spur growth downtown that Mayor Julian Castro called transformative.

"Today I'm happy to announce another proposed major development that literally has the opportunity to change the landscape of downtown," Castro said.

Castro unveiled the complicated property swap involving one other entity besides Frost Bank-- Weston Urban developers.

The deal was described as win, win, win.

Randy Smith, president of Weston Urban, said the deal gives his company more urban properties to redevelop.

"The project will facilitate Weston Urban's development or redevelopment of a significant portion of the urban core, directly impacting our mission and purpose of creating authentic urban spaces that entrepreneurs and millennials want to call home," Smith said. "This is at the very core of our company's vision to help bring about places our children want to return home to."

Getting down to the details, the city would get the Frost Bank Tower and its parking garage.

Weston Urban would get the Municipal Plaza Building, the Metro Health building on Commerce Street, property on Main Street between Travis and Houston streets, a city parking lot on Pecan Street and property at 319 West Travis St.

Frost would get a brand-new office tower that would be built on property catty-corner from the current Frost Bank Building.

If the proposal passes, a parking lot there would be turned into 400,000 square feet of Class A office space.

Frost Chief Financial Officer Phil Green said the move is simply good business for the bank.

"What we have now with this potential project is an opportunity to provide another historical link to the past while spurring future development and benefit for San Antonio's urban core," Green said. "We believe that this project is a win, win, win for the city, for Frost and for Weston Urban. This proposal enables us to focus more on serving customers through banking, investments and insurance."

It has been more than 25 years since a new office tower has been built downtown.

Castro said the move would consolidate city employees and allow the city to own a building, not pay money to lease buildings.

"It would consolidate city operations into the city core in a city-owned building," Castro said. "Right now the city of San Antonio leases office space in five different buildings with lease payments totaling $3.4 million every year."

District 1 City Councilman Diego Bernal spoke out about the practical reasons the city should acquire the Frost Bank Building and its parking garage.

"If this were to go through it would add an additional 732 parking spaces to downtown," Bernal said.

Overall, the mayor said the building swap must be a smart move.

"The detailed proposal must show a financial benefit to the city of San Antonio and its taxpayers," Castro said.

He also suggested the preliminary plan was solid.

"If anyone doubts whether the decade of downtown is happening, it is," Castro said.

The deal is not final, and the city is asking for a more detailed proposal within 45 days.

Castro said the process will be transparent and that competing proposals would also be examined.