A Wall Street Journal article from April, 2014 entitled “Downtown San Antonio Gets a Makeover” almost knocked me out of my chair while I read the following line “…developers are aiming to turn San Antonio into a city better known for hip restaurants, a thriving tech scene and a booming downtown property market.” I was born and raised in San Antonio, TX and never in my life would I have thought San Antonio’s downtown would be described this way. Downtown was somewhere locals only trekked to during Fiesta, our annual tradition celebrating our cities distinct culture via large festivals, two parades, and a lot of food. Or if you were an elementary school student visiting the Alamo, must we never forget that tradition either. Our historic downtown was always a novelty item meant only to be consumed by tourists. I had never once considered our downtown to be an actual urban city. This was until The Pearl Brewery site was revitalized.
The site of the Pearl Brewery has been a staple in the North East part of downtown since the late 1800’s when it was first founded as the San Antonio Beer Association which began producing the Pearl Brew. By 1916 it became the largest brewer in Texas but prohibition brought a change in business strategy. The brewery then only produced near beer, bottled sodas, ice cream, and was also a dry cleaning business. Once prohibition ended it renamed the company, Pearl Brewery and went back into full beer production. In 1985 the company was eventually bought out by Pabst Brewing Company but was ultimately shut down in 2001 and the brownfield site was bought by Silver Ventures.
The redevelopment of the site was slow at first with planning beginning in 2002. The first tenant, the Aveda Institute opened in redeveloped gas station in 2006. By 2011 the Pearl boasted the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), a weekend farmers market, a variety of boutique retailers, and restaurants to match. The following year added the Can Plant, 300+ residential units within the brewery grounds making a truly mixed use development and a re-imagined neighborhood in the downtown not just for tourists. The site is also a leader in sustainability, with the Aveda Institute using windtricity electricity, the home of the CIA is LEED Gold Certified along with the Full Goods building which is a learning lab for environmental initiatives such as solar installation. All non-potable water is recycled or captured rainwater and the rebuilding used a significant percentage of recycled existing site content to promote diversion of waste.
The extension of the Riverwalk played a major role in attracting the vibrant mix of retail, entertainment, and jobs to the brewery but the now the brewery is inspiring a lot changes in the area. For instance, car dominated San Antonio is beginning to utilize alternate modes of transportation like the river taxi, The Pearl also has a bike share station due to a new program called B-Cycle, and it is the most walk-able neighborhood of San Antonio. The city also has a 200 million dollar streetcar project in the works that would connect six miles of the downtown. There is also a resurgence of many apartment developers taking derelict industrial buildings and turning them into sought after lofts especially if they are in close proximity to the Pearl and other emerging downtown amenities.
While the developers have made a significant difference for the brewery site in terms of adaptive reuse, they also cemented themselves as leaders of sustainable development practices as the San Antonio downtown is experiencing a renaissance even the locals are noticing.