The $12 million plan to revamp La Villita’s Maverick Plaza, one of downtown’s most popular event spaces, drew a mixed reaction from Fiesta regulars who attended Night in Old San Antonio on Wednesday night.
Under the plan, prominent chef Johnny Hernandez, whose Grupo La Gloria signed a 49-year lease on the plaza last May, will add three restaurants to the plaza using new construction and the reuse of two current buildings. The ’70s-era limestone walls that divide the plaza from Alamo and East Nueva streets will be razed, as will the 1980s restroom and concession buildings. Outdoor kitchens and food kiosks will dot the plaza.
Each restaurant, according to a 2017 master plan by Fisher Heck Architects, will have patios that swallow significant portions of Maverick Plaza, which spans roughly 130 by 225 feet.
» When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, May 7
» Where: Central Library, 600 Soledad St.
» A second meeting will happen late summer or early fall. We’ll update you when more details are available.
“I know that change happens all the time, but when you’ve lived in San Antonio your whole life and you’ve been coming to NIOSA for half of that life already, that would be a huge change,” Vanessa Rivas, 41, said while standing next to the “Fast Draw Suds” beer booth situated around the fountain in the center of the plaza, which becomes Frontier Town during NIOSA. “I don’t think I would like that change.”
“As it is, it’s already compact,” said Ruben Rivas, Vanessa’s husband, 41, who said they’ve been coming to NIOSA since they were “drinking age,” “and if you start adding restaurants here and (the patios are) going to expand out here, you’re making that space even smaller.”
Robert Enriquez, 39, who was in Frontier Town with friends, waiting for the rest of his crew to show up, welcomed the plan.
“I think it’s going to bring more business to this area,” Enriquez said. “Right now, it’s busy. It’s not always like this, bro. If you have restaurants here, more people are going to come through here and see the historical value of this area. It’s prime real estate.”
His friend, Joseph Corona, 43, chimed in, “I think it would be good to bring people here—”
“—without having to have Fiesta,” Enriquez said. “I’ve never been here except for NIOSA.”
The San Antonio Conservation Society, which puts on NIOSA every year at La Villita as its main fundraiser, has expressed concern about NIOSA’s future. The Maverick Plaza renovation coupled with the imminent sale of two CPS Energy buildings, including the 1959 Villita Assembly Building, home to Sauerkraut Bend, means NIOSA’s footprint will change.
“With two years of construction, the changes in North Alamo and Nueva streets, coupled with the footprint of three restaurants in Maverick Plaza, NIOSA will change,” conservation society President Susan Beavin told the Heron recently.
The City of San Antonio on Thursday responded to concerns from Beavin and Heron readers who chided the plan on social media in response to our update on Tuesday.
“NIOSA will change beginning in 2020, but exactly how is still being determined,” city spokeswoman Laura Elizabeth Mayes said in an email.
The three restaurants will be operated by Hernandez, Elizabeth Johnson of Pharm Table and Steve McHugh of Cured. Hernandez will run a Mexican restaurant in a new hacienda-style building on the southeast corner of the plaza. Johnson will operate a Spanish restaurant in the 1855 Faville House. And Steve McHugh will run a German restaurant and microbrewery next to Hernandez’s Mexican restaurant, while also using the Gissi house.
Alamo Street will be reconstructed via $9 million from the last bond program and, with the walls removed, will blend into the plaza. Throughout the plaza, according to the master plan, outdoor kitchens and food kiosks will be situated. The city envisions programming taking the form of cooking demonstrations, harvest markets and cultural events.
“Maverick Plaza and La Villita will continue to be a place for events and celebrations,” Mayes said in an email. “We see La Villita as the preferred gathering place for community and cultural events.”
Hernandez’ Grupo La Gloria and the city have yet to determine how the programming will work. That agreement, which is referenced in the lease, has yet to be signed, said Kelly Saunders, a spokeswoman with the city’s Center City Development and Operations department.
In her statement, Mayes insisted the city will continue to manage programming at the plaza, which was built in the 1970s, and include Grupo La Gloria, the conservation society, and other “partners” in the process. However, according to the lease, Hernandez is allowed to shut down Maverick Plaza and Arneson River Theater eight calendar days of the year for private events.
The city declined an interview request for this report.
The city will host the first of two public meetings on the Maverick Plaza plan, scheduled for 6-8 p.m. May 7 at the Central Library, 600 Soledad St.
Afterwards, preliminary construction may begin as early as June, city officials said. The public will get one more opportunity to sound off on the plan with a second meeting in late summer or early fall, officials said, before the design is completed later this year. The plan is for construction to begin in 2020 and be completed by July 2021.
The City Council approved the 49-lease to Grupo La Gloria in December 2017, and a master plan was created using “stakeholder” input, city officials said. It’s unclear what aspects of the plan the public will get to provide input on, or influence, going forward.
Mayes said the city has been meeting with the conservation society on the project since 2017, and that the restaurants’ outdoor spaces will be available for NIOSA.
The encroachment of the restaurants on the current space still bothered one NIOSA attendee Wednesday night.
“I think that’s a horrible idea,” said Erika Juarez, 35. “This plaza is known for the space and it’s known for all the events. Not just Fiesta, we also do Light the Night here, we do a bunch of events here, and we volunteer for all those events.”
Christian Smith, 31, Juarez’s friend, offered a rebuttal.
“It depends on how open they are to events, you know?” Smith said. “Outside of the events, it will bring more attention the plaza.”
“If that’s the case, taco trucks will bring more business to the plaza,” Juarez said. “You don’t even have to knock down a damn building. You can park a taco truck here.”
“People want to be able to go a restaurant,” Smith said.
“Then you go to a restaurant on the River Walk,” Juarez said. “So you’re going to build shit here to take away from the River Walk? Now it’s all contradictory.”
Local real estate broker Allen Lu, 26, said he was looking forward to the new restaurants. He said he didn’t see less plaza space being an issue.
“Yes, you will maybe take a couple of more feet in, but you still bring in so much more people and more awareness to it,” said Lu, whose parents were married at the Little Church of La Villita, a stone’s throw away from the plaza. “Let (the restaurants) use their facilities and use their patio seating to host these (NIOSA) vendors, and still have that open space for them. Because they want to obviously support this culture and support their own businesses.”
Lu suggested NIOSA has outgrown La Villita, and that it could be expanded to Hemisfair, when it’s completed in a few years.
“The amount of people (moving to San Antonio), we’re going to have to grow it,” Lu said. The amount of people who love Fiesta, there’s out of town people who come just for this. So we’re going to have to expand it at some point anyway.”
» Download the La Villita lease agreement between the city and Grupo La Gloria signed in May.
» Download the 64-page “Master Plan for a Culinary Concept in Mayor Maury Maverick Plaza,” Oct. 7, 2017 (10MB)
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