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Commissioners Take Up 3 Ideas From Commissioner Calvert

Written by on July 12, 2022

The University Health System will seek approval from the Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 for $500 million dollars for 2 new hospitals in northeast Bexar County and South Central Bexar County. The ball got rolling on both projects from two separate experiences about three years apart from Precinct 4 County Commissioner Tommy Calvert. The history books will record that the Commissioner Tommy Calvert married two sets of data—the fact that the northeast didn’t have a University Health System hospital or clinic within 11-14 miles for the territory north of IH-10 in his precinct and he showed the system CEO that the income levels would financially support the investment.

After giving the information to the University Health System Board members and its senior staff, they hired a consultant to study the issue and found Commissioner Calvert to be correct. A UHS consultant also reported that the insured population would make building a hospital in the corridor between IH-10 and IH-35 on the northeast side a financial win for the County hospital district.

Three years later, Commissioner Calvert would visit a friend at the old Southwest General Hospital and find the service and conditions subpar. While Commissioner Calvert did not represent the Southwest part of town, he told UHS CEO George Hernandez in Commissioners Court that the density of the population and the lack of quality healthcare was a niche that the County should fill and that the people in the Southside deserved better from the County in that region. Today, Commissioner Calvert’s precinct has expanded to the south-central area of Bexar County and is proud that his constituents will reap the benefit of a new hospital at Texas A&M that his advocacy created.

Commissioners Court will also take up a new riverwalk project called “The Link” that was created by the famed architect who created the 1968 Convention Center expansion of the Riverwalk, Al Groves. (See video highlights here:

The Link, an innovative linear park that modernizes San Antonio’s River Walk by creating a cultural connection to entertainment, restaurants, art, culture and history, is advancing the vision of positive transformation for the historically under-developed north downtown sector.

Project leaders estimate that The Link and potential surrounding redevelopment will bring approximately $5 billion in new economic impact over 10 years.

Al Groves, who recently passed away, brought “The Link” to Vickrey Engineers. Groves chose Vickrey because of its shared commitment to the San Antonio community and its over 50 years of experience working on historic downtown projects. To date, Vickrey, a woman led engineering firm, has completed more than 100 projects downtown.

Through Commissioner Calvert’s leadership, Bexar County, in September 2021, allocated $41.1 million to start work on The Link Phase 1 from Main to the Riverwalk. The vision is to seamlessly weave innovation into the unique fabric of the community through responsible redevelopment.

Already, Universal Services Group plans to anchor one end of The Link with the new Dream Hotel, part of a larger $400 million redevelopment investment. Universal Services Group has agreed to 25% of the residential part of the development’s property taxes to be dedicated to affordable housing programs by the City of San Antonio.

The Link will connect the San Antonio Riverwalk at Convent Park following Savings Street to San Pedro Creek below Soledad, Main and Flores streets, connecting at street level on Camaron. Trees and green landscapes will surround the linear park. Planned amenities include water recirculation with waterfalls, a reflecting pool, a freestanding waterfall structure, historical statues and public art. Additionally, the park will provide additional flood control for the downtown district.

A potential minor league baseball stadium has met opposition from property owners who won’t sell their property along The Link route for a stadium and has been pitted in the press as a potential showdown of ideas. However, The Link design team at Vickery has alternate routes The Link can go and make both projects possible.

Commissioner Calvert has previously played an important role in driving previous revitalization projects with his support of the development of The Arts Residences | Thompson Hotel. He helped secure foreign investment for the project that has yielded over 1,275 new jobs for San Antonians. The Arts Residences | Thompson Hotel is located in the same sector as the proposed project site for The Link.

Commissioner Calvert made a conscious decision in September’s budget not to put the $41.1 million dollars on Salado Creek’s South extensions on the Eastside because he was concerned about gentrification in the area around the AT&T Center. He felt the County needed more affordable housing policies in order to prevent displacement of people. The area around The Link has few residents and the Commissioner believes that a vision for dancing fountains and five new glass skyscrappers around the Link will not only pay for the project but make The Link the most hip area in the City.

The Commissioner’s office is releasing a list of 40 names and organizations that will serve as an advisory board to the Link project. While the project may cost around $80 million dollars, the County and River Authority have identified gap funding from the Houston Street TIRZ, 2027 City Bond , federal funding, additional County funds, and the new tax revenue created by the new development of $400 million in real estate, which will have the largest project in the history of downtown.

While the project was not included in this year’s City bond, the momentum of support has exploded with downtown residents and businesses. Supporters say they want to see this park space cool off the heat island of concrete downtown and offer opportunities for an amphitheater, trees, historical sculptures like the potential Buffalo Soldier Statue, rooftop bars, and other amenities flourish around the under-utilized north-end of downtown San Antonio.

Commissioner Tommy Calvert is hoping to convince fellow Commissioners to make $20 million dollars for homeownership and affordable housing more fair to applicants who have been waiting one-year for the County to hear their proposals to help a housing crisis that started as supply chains were interrupted and commodities and labor prices skyrocketed.

The delay in funding housing has happened while housing construction costs have inflated 32 percent. Commissioner Calvert was hoping to fund specific projects on July 12, 2022 but because County officials changed the previously printed agenda Friday at 5:00 p.m., the housing organizations will be able to deliver less housing as interest rates, labor, land, and materials cost rise.

The County has dragged its feet in pushing housing it has already funded. Two organizations—one to take homeless seniors off of the streets at Towne Twine Village and one led by State Representative Barbara Geryvin-Hawkins for working people making 60 percent of median income, have not finalized contracts or disbursed funds; even though Commissioners Court agreed to use ARPA funding in May of 2021.

Commissioner Calvert proposed streamlining the funding of new housing developments at 10-20 percent of their total construction costs. He wants a restriction that the funds must be used within 18 months and have neighborhood approval.

1) One of the restrictions proposed prioritizes a project shovel-ready.  Affordable housing developers and community leaders have objected to the restriction because getting projects shovel-ready is a major investment that can cost a developer anywhere from $250,000 to $650,000 dollars for architectural, engineering, and design work. To require a project be shovel-ready would place a project proposed by Prospera Housing in Precinct 4 to potentially lose funding and a project in Precinct 2 to gain funding, while Precinct 4 has seen 50 percent of the evictions in Bexar County.
2) Another restriction was having a project near county investments.  
Leaders opposed that prioritization saying projects where there are major county investments involves areas where the land is already landlocked & owned, therefore developers, CHDOs, and nonprofits who want to develop in those areas would pay a premium on land.  This premium would increase project costs and make affordability out of reach.
Such a restriction may also make the project LESS likely to get a state 9% TDHCA tax credit because the state wants these projects outside of the core into better school districts, which tend to be in the outlying areas where the County has less major investments. This also holds true for the 4% tax credit at the state.

The state of Texas is only giving away 2-3 incentives a year because they over budgeted/subscribed the awarding of these tax credits in past years. As a result MANY worthy projects will get passed up without a tax credit and potentially without county support.
3) The prioritization restrictions proposed a priority to projects with state funds, federal funds, private equity bond reservations.  
On average due to over-budgeted/over-subscription at the state, funding request from Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs of 9 % funding only total 2-3 project per REGION.  This results in well qualified projects not being funded due to a lack of funding from TDHCA & not because they aren’t good quality projects.
4) The prioritization restrictions included projects that have applicable municipal approvals (zoning/land use, resolutions of support/no objection).

The objection from the community was that rezoning & planning isn’t a difficult or long arduous process and should not be a standard in qualifying or disqualifying a project.  In fact, it should be used to inform our community of the project.
5) Projects that prioritize deeper affordability.  This is a laudable goal that Commissioner Calvert supports. However, prioritizing projects that have a deep affordability under 30 percent AMI from 10% to 15% of units, would require the County to give more funding than it does currently.

The deeper the affordability, the less cash flow a development can collect on; therefore, banks won’t fund a project unless it has different AMIs to cover the lesser AMIs.  If the County has a deeper affordability restriction, then the County should fund greater than 20 percent of the project and amend the restriction to say that.
Calvert also has concerns for projects that benefit those making under 30 percent AMI, like the land bank proposed by the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center for Westside residents. Under some court members prioritization list, their project would potentially not be prioritized because they fit very little of the Commissioners Court proposed priority criteria, even though those residents are most in need.

Commissioner Calvert also believes the criteria don’t account for housing of women and children in institutions like the Visitation House.

Finally, Commissioner Calvert notes that additional restrictions on American Recovery Act funds have not been requested for $239,325,721 dollars of already approved projects and believes that tilting the housing dollars towards the most well-funded affordable housing developers is counterproductive if Commissioners want to see additional affordable housing and homeownership.

The longer the County stretches these dollars out the more it mismanages the buying power of ARPA funding and the less housing the County gets done—allowing waste of taxpayer dollars.

The priority restrictions are not Treasury recommended restrictions. Affordable housing developers work with federal funds, including those the County gives them through CDBG, HOME, etc. every day and are best suited to ensure the County doesn’t have problems with any claw-backs.

Please see below a list of The Link Community Advisory Board

Link Advisory Board Members
Martin Kushner, Former President, Tobin Hill Neighborhood Association
Bret Piatt, President & CEO, Jungle Disk
Ashley Harris, Director of Government Relations, USAA
USAA Downtown Office Director
Matt Brown, President & CEO, CENTRO
Cathey Meyer, San Pedro Creek Oversight Committee
Tony Cantu, Past Chair, San Antonio River Authority Museum Reach Subcommittee
Teresa Nino, Former President, Alta Vista Neighborhood Association
Col. Ed Beck, Downtown Property Owner Along Link Route
Col. Larry Carter, President, Buffalo Soldiers Association
Col. Bede Ramcharan, Buffalos Soldiers Statue Committee Member
Cynthia Spielman, President, Tier 1 Neighborhood Coalition
Tier 1 Neighborhood Coalition Designee
Howie Nestel, President, Sharkmatic Advertising
Charlie Blank, Executive Director, River Aid San Antonio
Chuck Brehm, Principal, Universal Services Group
Yousef Kassim, CEO, Easy Expunctions
Steve Newman, Lavaca Resident & Owner Friendly Spot/Hills & Dales
Jody Newman, Lavaca Resident & Owner Friendly Spot/Hills & Dales
Don Thomas, CBRE
Visit San Antonio Designee
Andrew Goodman, Owner, Battalion, Haunt, Rebelle, Feast
Albert Carrisalez, Public Affairs, UTSA
Riley Robinson, Director, Art Pace
Dr. Roland Cavazos, Downtown resident/business owner of Alamo Dental/Downtown Hotels
Tristan Cavazos, Inn on the Riverwalk
Old Spanish Trail Cultural Corridor Designee
Tommey Investments/Alamo Toyota Designee
American GI Forum Designee
Paseo Del Rio Association Designee
Soap Works Apartments Designee
SAISD Board Designee
SAISD Superintendent/Staff Designee
Weston Urban Designee
Roy Akers Funeral Funeraria Del Angel Designee
Grifols Biomat USA Designee
Wyndham Hotel Designee
Five Points Neighborhood Association Designee
Downtown Residence Association Designee
Ramon Chapa, Director of Community Engagement, Bexar County Precinct 4

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