They may seem like unlikely symbols, but H-E-B’s new parking garage and skybridge linking downtown to the Texas grocery powerhouse’s headquarters in the King William Historic District connect the past and the future.
As part of a $100 million campus expansion at The Arsenal, H-E-B added a 744-space garage at the corner of César Chávez Boulevard and Dwyer Avenue to relieve the company’s strained parking situation. All told, H-E-B expects to have another 1,600 employees working on the site in the next decade, 1,000 of them within two years.
When H-E-B officials and the architects were brainstorming ideas for the garage, “one of the ideas was to jump across the street” to build the facility, said John Gutzler, a principal at San Antonio’s Ford, Powell & Carson Architects & Planners Inc. When they began to run with the idea, the skybridge became part of the design to ensure employee safety getting across four lanes of busy César Chávez traffic.
“The design became a civic gesture, a kind of monument to San Antonio,” Gutzler said of the parking structure and the pedestrian bridge 27 feet above the street. Designers decided to play off the late-1800s main building rather than the 1980s look of some of the newer structures on the campus.
The H-E-B campus itself is a testament to San Antonio history. The headquarters is known as The Arsenal because it sits on the site of a 160-year-old Army munitions depot that provided guns and ammunition to frontier forts across the state and then for troops in the Civil War, and was a supply hub in world wars I and II. Some of the land became a city park in the 1970s and H-E-B bought the last 10 available acres along the San Antonio River to establish its new corporate offices in 1985.
Architects, working with the Houston office of parking-structure experts Walker Consultants, designed the six-level garage with rooftop trellises for shade, a see-through ground level that gives views of the park and semitransparent screens on the higher levels with impressive views of downtown including the Tower of the Americas.
“The screens are somewhat diaphanous but become more opaque as they go up to create color,” Gutzler said. The garage also features a liberal use of the red-orange D’Hanis brick that adorns many historic structures in San Antonio and clay tiles of the same color.
Handcrafted heavy steel, large bolts and an accent arch piece to mimic historic downtown bridges are hallmarks of the skybridge. Landscaping around the garage and the tower for pedestrians to descend to The Arsenal both echo the theme on the main campus.
Ford, Powell & Carson has designed many of the expansion projects at The Arsenal, including the H-E-B cooking school and the visitor center.
The number of employees at the headquarters will swell over the next few years, especially after H-E-B adds a 1,000-employee technology center in the heart of the campus. Construction of the 150,000-square-foot, five-story office building is expected to begin in summer 2020 and open by summer 2022.
About 500 new employees will work in the tech center and another 500 will transfer from other locations across San Antonio. H-E-B already has a 1,000-worker tech center in Austin and statewide employs 5,500 people who fill online orders for pickup at the store or for home delivery.
During two meetings between project architects and King William residents, the garage and its aesthetic were well received by neighbors.
Residents asked if the first floor of the garage might include a meeting space that could be turned over to the community, but that won’t happen because of the need for as many parking spaces as possible on the small lot and for security reasons.
“This is a highly secured area for employees,” Gutzler said in describing the project’s features.
Some government and business-specific garages downtown also are available to visitors after normal business hours, but the H-E-B structure isn’t one of those.
Gutzler said the architects and other representatives related to the project met with members of the King William Association twice and were able to satisfy their desire for the garage to have a “human scale” to connect to the neighboring historic district.
During the design process, Gutzler said they also met numerous times with the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission, and the board unanimously passed the proposal to build the structures in 2017.
Although the Conservation Society of San Antonio also did not object to H-E-B’s project, it noted to the HDRC that skybridges weren’t typically approved in other proposed projects over the years.
A utilitarian skybridge does link the Baptist Medical Center hospital with an office building across Camden Street a dozen blocks from H-E-B’s bridge.