A $63 million project to rehabilitate the historic Granada Homes senior apartment tower is set to begin this month under a new partnership that no longer includes the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA).
The partnership includes local developer Pat Biernacki and his partner Victor Atkins, along with the building’s long-time owner, the AFL-CIO affiliate San Antonio Building Trades Council, Biernacki said in a phone interview. Mission DG, a local firm that had previously planned to partner with SAHA on the project, is now involved only in a consulting role, he said.
The partners plan to increase the number of apartment units in the 12-story building—which overlooks a corner of the River Walk at 311 S. St. Mary’s St.—from 249 to 265, and to add amenities such as an arts and crafts room, a library, a chapel, a gym and bike storage.
“It’ll be a pretty rockin’ space with a lot of different amenities that you would see in basically any Class A property,” Biernacki said.
“The real story here is kudos to the San Antonio Building Trades for keeping their property, not selling it,” he said. “It’s kind of Main-and-Main downtown, and they could have sold it to somebody that would have probably turned it into market-rate housing or a hotel or something. Instead, they’re fully committed to maintaining affordable housing to seniors.”
The new partnership, operating under the name LIV Granada, purchased the building on July 13, county deed records show.
Eighty-four of the tower’s units will be rented to those making up to 30% of the local area median income (AMI); 99 units will be rented to those making up to 60% AMI; and 82 units will be rented to those making up to 80% AMI, according to SAHA. All units will be rent-restricted and will accept Section 8 vouchers.
[ Scroll down for a chart showing AMI levels. ]
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved vouchers for 187 low-income households that now occupy units in the building to keep them from being displaced.
Biernacki said he expects construction to wrap up by the end of 2022.
SAHA has previously planned to renovate the building at a cost of $51 million with Mission DG and San Antonio Building Trades, with all of the 249 units reserved for those making up to 60% AMI.
Like many undertakings in the affordable housing business, the project will rely on a patchwork of sources for its financing—or “financial gymnastics,” as Biernacki put it.
The largest source will be up to $30 million in tax-exempt bonds issued by the Las Varas Public Facility Corp., a nonprofit controlled by SAHA. The agency’s President and CEO Ed Hinojosa gave the go-ahead for the bond issue at a board meeting on June 3.
“We originally thought it would be a partnership, however the developer only needed SAHA to issue bonds,” SAHA spokeswoman Marivel Resendiz said in an email.
[ » May 25, 2021: Granada Homes restoration takes building back to original 1928 days ]
The project will also make use of low-income housing tax credits and state and federal historic tax credits, Biernacki said. Carmel, Indiana-based Merchants Bank of Indiana has made a loan of $13 million to the project, while a local nonprofit linked to the AFL-CIO, Granada Trades Council Housing Inc., has loaned $9 million, county deed records show.
Biernacki is known for purchasing and rehabilitating the Wedgwood Senior Apartments in Castle Hills, and installing a sprinkler system, after a fire swept through the 11-story tower in 2014, killing five seniors and displacing about 250 others (Granada is already outfitted with sprinklers, he said). He has also built townhomes in near-downtown neighborhoods such as Government Hill.
He also made use of historic tax credits to renovate the Wedgwood, now known as Ensemble Apartments.
“They’re tough properties to renovate,” he said. “They require a lot of complexity and a lot of patience. I think Granada is a natural extension of what we learned really well at Wedgwood. I just think it’s an underserved demographic, whether it’s at market-rate or at the affordable rates that Granada will have.”
Opening in 1928 as the Plaza Hotel, the Granada was converted into a seniors community by the AFL-CIO in 1968. It is now one of the few housing options for seniors downtown. SAHA owns two others: The Lofts at Marie McGuire Apartments at 211 N. Alamo St., and the Villa Hermosa Apartments at 327 N. Flores St.
“You know, I think seniors still remain the fastest-growing subset of the population here in Bexar County,” Biernacki said. “And they have the least amount of options when it comes to housing.”
Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter
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