County Judge Nelson Wolff is confident the South Side’s business climate will strongly rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic is contained.
Wolff made his remarks during a South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce luncheon address Jan. 28 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton San Antonio Brooks Hotel & Spa.
The longtime political leader told attendees South Side commerce was already robust at the novel coronavirus’ outset, and predicted more growth ahead.
Wolff said Brooks heralds an era of new expansion for the South Side, noting a diverse group pulled together to transform the former Air Force base into a thriving mixed-use development with new businesses, residences and educational and recreational opportunities.
He also pointed to the success of Port San Antonio, the former Kelly Air Force Base.
“Out of those (base) closures, we now have two economic generators — Southeast and Southwest (sides) — and they are a big part of the growth on the South Side,” he added.
More than 3,200 people work at 40-plus businesses operating at Brooks. Employers such as Amazon, Nissei Plastic Machinery America, OKIN BPS and Cuisine Solutions all have opened or announced plans to go there.
The campus is also getting more dining and entertainment spots, including La Gloria restaurant and a brewpub from Southerleigh Hospitality Group.
Terramark Urban Homes intends to build 60 single-family houses near The Greenline linear park, adding to the burgeoning number of single- and multifamily living options at Brooks.
The county is now planning a job-training facility at Brooks, in a building housing the Texas Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, a local partnership of businesses, organizations and government agencies working to develop a pipeline of skilled talent.
TX FAME is one of a handful of initiatives Wolff said would help boost local manufacturers such as Toyota Texas and Navistar.
Based on the South Side, Toyota Texas is one of the city’s biggest private employers; Navistar is constructing a commercial truck, diesel engine and school bus assembly factory near Mitchell Lake, also on the South Side.
Port San Antonio’s Plus One Robotics expects to expand its existing facility by 15,000 square feet.
Sundt Construction is creating a $60 million innovation center there, too, including a 2,500-seat, multifunctional technology arena capable of accommodating various events.
Slated to open early 2022, it will also be the permanent home of the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology.
“We’re growing fast at Port San Antonio. It’s huge in cybersecurity, and it’ll make a difference in bringing good-paying jobs here,” Wolff added.
Elsewhere, Bexar County Commissioners Court this spring will consider creating 26.2 miles of trails for connection to San Antonio’s greenway network.
The undertaking is part of the county’s total $240 million package of river and creek restorations.
“Assuming our finances are OK post-COVID, which I think they will be, we’ll find out in April what can be done there,” Wolff added.
Meanwhile, he acknowledged community members’ frustration about inaction at the former Lone Star Brewery, which many people see as ripe for a Pearl-like renaissance.
However, transformation efforts have repeatedly stalled in recent years. GrayStreet Acquisitions, a subsidiary of developer GrayStreet Partners, bought the property last spring.
Wolff cited Commissioners Court’s recent decision to back the creation of a public-facility corporation, which as an economic development tool could be used to help rejuvenate the complex.
“We’re trying new stuff here. We’ll see how it all works out,” he added.
New Precinct 1 County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores also attended the luncheon.
Wolff complimented her: “(Clay-Flores) has hit the ground running, and she actually comes to the office every day.”
The commissioner said she desires more accountability and transparency in county governance.
“Those who followed my campaign at all know the reasons why I ran — there were no women on Commissioners Court and because I was tired of this part of town getting left behind,” she added.
Clay-Flores and newly elected Precinct 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry are the first women to serve on the court since the 1990s.
Meanwhile, the South San Antonio Chamber itself is entering a new era, as it pursues a merger with the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. For now, both are sharing staffs and discussing details.
“The South Side is open for business,” South San Antonio Chamber President/CEO Al Arreola Jr. said about the luncheon’s theme. “We’re really organized to support each other.”