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Less than two years after forming the North St. Mary’s Business Owners Association, Blayne Tucker, a proprietor of the Mix, is urging the live music venues and other businesses on the St. Mary’s Strip to work together to persuade City Council to designate San Antonio’s primary nightlife destination an “entertainment district.”

And he’d like to see the city pursue the Texas Music Office’s new “Music Friendly Community” mark of approval.

“We’re working with the city to be named a cultural district similar to Market Square,” Tucker said. “This is our first foray into trying to get official recognition from the city, but we think it would help with marketing the Strip on the local, state and national level. Currently, the Convention and Visitors Bureau tends to focus on the River Walk, the Alamo and theme parks, but we think visitors, especially the younger generation, are looking for a bigger variety of things to do, such as eating with the locals and enjoying live music. If we’re official, maybe it will be harder to overlook us.”

Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of the city’s Department of Arts & Culture, said there’s a good chance the council will go along with the proposal, but the process is probably going to take at least a year. Her department already has commissioned Jim Beal, former music columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, to write a history of the Strip — a half-mile stretch of North St. Mary’s Street between U.S. 281 to East Dewey Place or thereabouts — to be used as part of a presentation to the council.

“The city doesn’t have a formal procedure for naming an area an entertainment district, although we do have two official cultural zones – Southtown and the Zona Cultural, which extends from Main Plaza to Market Square,” Racca-Sittre said. “These both have official state designation from the Texas Commission on the Arts. But I’m optimistic that we will be able to make a presentation to City Council by next spring about the Strip.”

Originally, the state arts commission designation could be used to apply for state grant money, but with cutbacks to the state art agency’s funding, the grants are no longer available, Racca-Sittre said. However, as a marketing ploy, the cultural zone designation by the city could help to better identify for visitors places with plenty of entertainment options outside the usual well-trod tourist attractions.

“I recently toured San Francisco and that city has more than a dozen cultural zones,” Racca-Sittre said. “So along with the Strip, there are several other areas of San Antonio that I would like to see designated as cultural zones such as the Old Spanish Trail along Fredericksburg Road and on the West Side around the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. I think it would help to let people know that these cultural zones have lots of attractions close together in areas that are walkable and accessible.”

The Texas Music Office recently launched the “Music Friendly Community” program and the entire city should be able to qualify for the title, Racca-Sittre said. To become certified, San Antonio would have to establish a Music Office liaison, register with the Texas Music Industry Directory, demonstrate partnerships with the community’s music-related nonprofits and collaborate with music education programs, including area college or university music schools.

“We’re working with the Texas Music Office, but this is a new program, so right now no one has earned the Music Friendly designation,” Racca-Sittre said. “However, San Antonio should certainly qualify.”

Tucker said $7 million in bond money earmarked for North St. Mary’s Street from East Mistletoe Avenue to West Josephine Street, approved during last May’s 2017-22 bond election, may be used to address some of the issues with pedestrian safety that originally brought together the St. Mary’s Strip business owners.

“I expect that most of the money will be spent on improving crosswalks, signal lights, intersections and sidewalks,” Tucker said. “The city has already made improvements to the lighting along the Strip. We’ve also had some success in getting business owners along the Strip to open up their parking lots more for evening visitors. But it’s kind of a block-by-block situation and we really need a bigger solution. I’d like to see more use of pedicabs and trolleys to connect people with other parking and the Pearl.”

The Strip continues to add new music venues, restaurants and businesses. Folc restaurant is relocating from Olmos Park, NOLA Brunch & Beignets is serving up a taste of New Orleans and a food truck park named Buho is planned, Tucker said. Jandro’s, which opened last fall in the former Crazy Horse Saloon, has a stage and outdoor patio for live music.      

“Obviously, as the owner of Paper Tiger, we think an area where there’s a concentration of venues featuring live music is hugely important to our city,” said Chad Carey of the Empty Stomach Group which, besides the club in the former White Rabbit space, operates restaurants such as Hot Joy in Southtown, Barbaro on McCullough Avenue and Chisme on the Strip. “As far as new places on the Strip I’m excited about, I’ll be very happy to see the Phantom Room reopen its doors. And Kelly Edwards’ new tattoo shop is going to be awesome.”

The Phantom Room has been closed since a devastating fire destroyed the club on Nov. 16, 2016. The Phantom opened in 2015 and is owned by Danny Delgado, who also operates Faust, Hi-Tones, Botanica and Squeezebox on the St. Mary’s Strip.

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