CPS Energy trustees to consider whether to give away or sell downtown real estate

Trustees approved conveying 3.5 acres to SA Museum of Art in 2015, but the two sides missed a deadline to finish the transfer

The utility’s board of trustees will vote on the proposal during a meeting Monday.

San Antonio – Staring down the barrel of some tough financial straits, including a near-certain rate increase, the CPS Energy Board of Trustees will need to decide if giving away millions of dollars worth of prime, downtown real estate is still the best idea.

Back in 2015, the utility’s trustees at the time agreed to split a nearly 7-acre surplus property at the corner of Camden Street and W. Jones Avenue in half, conveying the southern portion to the San Antonio Museum of Art while selling off the northern portion.

According to a San Antonio Report article about the decision, the museum planned to use the gifted property for office, educational, and exhibit space.

However, according to a CPS Energy presentation prepared for trustees, the utility was “unable to reach an agreement with SAMA on the final documents before the 2019 deadline expired.” So the land was never transferred. The northern portion has not been sold yet either.

The trustees are scheduled to discuss on Monday whether they want to move forward with gifting the 3.47 acres to the museum or bundle it back together with the 3.45-acre northern portion of the property to market and sell together.

CPS Energy did not provide an estimated market value for the location, which is along the River Walk and across I-35 from the Pearl, though the Bexar County Appraisal District lists the values of both halves of the property at about $11 million each.

CPS Energy's surplus lot at 326 W. Jones Avenue, at the corner with Camden Street, has been declared surplus since 2015. The original plan was to split the nearly 7-acre property in half, conveying the southern portion to the neighboring San Antonio Museum of Art and selling the northern portion. The land conveyance wasn't finalized ahead of a 2019 deadline, though. So CPS Energy trustees are scheduled to discuss whether to continue with gifting the land to the SAMA or bundling it back with the northern portion to sell together.

Considering the utility is poised to push for a rate increase, is facing a $1 billion bill for the freeze in February, and has more than 85,000 customers who are eligible to have their power disconnected, giving anything away is likely to be a much tougher sell.

“In 2015, we were in a very healthy financial condition,” says CPS Energy Chief Administrative Officer Lisa Lewis. “Obviously now we are facing challenges. We have customers with more than $100 million in payment arrears that need help. We have challenges with the Winter Storm Uri outcome. So obviously, there’s a lot for our board to consider.”

Former CPS Energy executive and current member of the utility’s Rate Advisory Committee Anthony Edwards said, to give anything away would be really counterproductive to a business strategy.

Edwards, who is also an honorary trustee for SAMA, said he believes the utility’s trustees should choose to sell the southern half of the property, given the financial issues that the utility and its customers face.

“What might have been - seemed to be appropriate at the time just not does not fit in today’s reality,” he said.

Lewis said that, though the property is not on the market, people have reached out to CPS Energy about buying it.

“But if we were able to sell the property, it would give us funding that could help reduce our operations costs, help customers, you know, with the bill situation that we have now with people - many people having exceptionally high bills,” Lewis said. “And so, you know, certainly something the board is going to have to contemplate.”

SAMA Board of Trustees Chair Ed Hart sent KSAT the following, written statement:

“In 2015, CPS Energy and the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) began a discussion about one of the CPS properties that sits next to the Museum on Jones Ave. That conversation is ongoing, and our presence at the CPS Board meeting on Monday is part of that process. SAMA continues to enjoy a great working relationship with CPS and we are both committed to the city of San Antonio as a great destination city.”

The CPS Energy Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet on Monday, Sep. 27 at 1 p.m. at the CPS Energy headquarters building at 500 McCullough Avenue. The meeting will also be live-streamed.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.