CPS Energy trustees provide ambiguous plan for museum-adjacent property

Half of W. Jones Avenue location was supposed to be conveyed to SAMA in 2015, but the two sides never finished the deal

Energy experts say CPS Energy was not prepared for a fluctuation in natural gas prices in February. (Joshua Saunders, KSAT)

San Antonio – The future of a downtown, CPS Energy-owned property is still uncertain, after CPS Energy trustees voted 4-1 Monday to pursue a plan to give part of the property away, but also to look into options for selling it if that doesn’t pan out.

The utility’s 7-acre property at the corner of West Jones Avenue and Camden Street borders the Riverwalk and the San Antonio Museum of Art. The utility’s trustees in 2015 declared it a surplus property and agreed to give the southern half of it to the San Antonio Museum of Art, while selling the northern half. The utility and museum were unable to finalize a deal ahead of a Dec. 2019 deadline though, and the transfer never went through.

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 were scheduled Monday to discuss whether to continue with gifting the land to the SAMA or bundling it back with the northern portion to sell together.

Six years later, the utility is in a different financial situation, floating a likely rate hike and dealing with 76,000 past due accounts on the verge of disconnection. The Bexar County Appraisal District has appraised both halves of the property at roughly $11 million each, and CPS President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams told trustees the proceeds of a sale could be used to help customers.

Against that backdrop, CPS Energy staff asked trustees on Monday to direct them on how to handle the property - to either move forward with gifting the southern portion to the museum or to bundle the two halves of the property back together to market and sell.

Given the two options, however, the trustees seemed to chose both.

Board chairman Willis Mackey moved “to authorize the CEO to explore all marketing options for the sale of the entire property, with continued discussion with the SAMA on the highest and best use of the property,” which the rest of the board, except Trustee John Steen, supported.

Steen, who said he did not want to see the museum cut out of the discussions, questioned what the actual direction was.

“Is it just that we’re now, in essence, cutting SAMA out of this, but we’re saying ‘because you’re a neighbor, we’ll continue to discuss this with you?’” Steen asked.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who has a seat on the board because of his role as San Antonio mayor, offered an interpretation of the motion with which both Mackey and Trustee Ed Kelley seemed to agree.

“My reading and my interpretation of the motion is to authorize the CEO to enter discussions with them, to come to a resolution to this,” Nirenberg said. “We need closure with it, and ultimately, if no resolution can be found with SAMA, then we are authorizing the CEO to market the property, but it is our hope that there is a mutually agreeable solution to that.”

Steen questioned whether that meant Gold-Williams could unilaterally decide negotiations with SAMA weren’t bearing fruit and decide to market the property on her own. The CEO said she will “come back to the board like I do with all property.”

“I think you all gave me instructions several years ago that as I’m making major decisions, that I come back and share that with you. So I will do that,” Gold-Williams said.

Read Also:

CPS Energy lays out case for double-digit rate increase

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.