San Antonio’s first Citizens’ Downtown Advisory Commission is taking shape.
The fledgling group is seeking participation from individuals interested in advocating for downtown: urbanists, planners, academics, architects, residents, merchants, property owners, frequent visitors and environmentalists.
“The intent is for downtown to be everyone’s downtown, and to provide a larger opportunity for input and engagement,” said Ramiro Gonzales, one of the organizers.
While it’s not a city-sponsored group, this new commission looks to work with San Antonio, Bexar County and other civic leadership organizations to promote downtown as a place of continued growth, from physical redevelopment to arts and culture, and as a hub for future improvements, innovation and historic preservation.
The commission also is looking for residents from each City Council district to serve. The group keeps engaged with the public through www.facebook.com/myurbansa/.
The commission held its first public information gathering June 6 at The Roost Pub & Cafe near Pearl. District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, who addressed the crowd, afterwards said a grassroots group such as the commission could work wonders for downtown and the city.
“The Citizens’ Downtown Advisory Commission is making a robust effort to be more connected to policy work related to downtown,” the councilman said. “I feel they can help the community get more engaged by accurately communicating what policymakers are doing in addition to providing policymakers with feedback about what the community is feeling.”
Gonzales said when it comes to gathering input on downtown issues and projects, wider, more diverse representation from around the central business district is needed.
He used to work with the city, helping to oversee and implement policies concerning development, especially in downtown.
The Citizens’ Downtown Advisory Commission is for anyone and everyone with a stake and interest in downtown’s evolution, Gonzales added. The ideal vision, Gonzales said, is for a center city that is vibrant, walkable and filled with economic competitiveness.
When he was mayor, Julian Castro announced his administration would oversee the “decade of downtown,” envisioning a time when the center business district would brim with commercial, residential, recreational and cultural energy.
Castro, first elected mayor in 2009, stepped down in July 2014 after his appointment by President Barrack Obama as secretary of housing and urban development.
In many ways, Gonzales said the decade of downtown has already happened, with a renewed political and community focus on residential and commercial redevelopment, parks and green spaces, cultural landmarks, public art and preservation.
City agencies such as Center City Development and Operations and nonprofits such as Centro San Antonio have played a role in what many locals say has been a resurgence in and around downtown.
That renewed focus is reflected in the new Frost Tower, plans to remake Alamo Plaza, redevelopment of Hemisfair, new apartment buildings, San Pedro Creek Culture Park, and growth of a high-tech sector anchored along Houston Street.
Organizers of the nascent commission have spent the last few weeks holding meetings, where attendees could discuss the organization’s vision and strategy.
Gonzales describes the group as a hybrid of a traditional city commission, where appointed members discuss initiatives and issues and gather opinions, and Tech Bloc, the local organization that has hundreds of adherents interested in advocating for San Antonio’s high-tech community.
He added that keeping records of commission meetings would help new members maintain continuity on issues and projects, either stemming from the organization or private or public sectors.
The commission also plans on quarterly socials with other downtown-oriented groups.
“We want to work as partners with the city and others toward a place where citizens can plug in and have a voice about things happening around downtown,” Gonzales added. “The commission is meant to be a resource on anything that impacts downtown.”