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SAN ANTONIO BUSINESS JOURNAL
W. Scott Bailey
Most people who remember what Balcones Heights was like in the 1960s likely believe its best days are long gone, but city leaders there have big plans for Northwest Side community, all but swallowed up by San Antonio. Those plans include transforming a key stretch of Fredericksburg Road, one of the region’s more historic roadways, into a more vibrant corridor.
“The city is transforming itself from a suburb, which is what it was designed to be 50 years ago, into an urban center,” said Lorenzo Nastasi, director of community initiatives for the city of Balcones Heights.
This is not your typical suburb. Roughly 80 percent of the approximately one-square-mile area, incorporated nearly 60 years ago, is occupied by commercial space, with only 20 percent left for residents. Much of that commercial development shows signs of wear and tear from time and neglect.
“That creates an interesting circumstance,” said Nastasi about the makeup of Balcones Heights and the challenges facing city leaders.
The seeds for change were planted in 2009, when the city of Balcones Heights completed what Nastasi characterizes as a “very aggressive” master plan for the community. That project came on the heels of a previous effort by the Coalition for Fredericksburg Road Economic development, or C-FRED, a group Balcones Heights helped create, to seek out new economic opportunities for the corridor. Nastasi was part of that effort.
The city’s plan is centered around transportation-oriented development.
VIA’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line passes through the heart of Balcones Heights. The public transit authority is currently working with Balcones Heights officials and with owners of Wonderland of the Americas mall on a mixed-use project that would include new residential and retail components, as well as a new transportation center to support VIA’s BRT. Such a project would bring new curb appeal to a key section of Fredericksburg Road, and Balcones Heights officials believe it could also spur additional development activity.
“We are banking on a lot of the promises of BRT,” Nastasi said, explaining that the planned project is at a point where the participating parties are now “negotiating terms.”
NRP Group LLC has already bought into the vision for Balcones Heights. The company is developing a new residential project on city-owned land near the Fredericksburg Road corridor called Balcones Lofts. Nastasi said its the first new multi-family construction in the city in more than three decades.
“The city hasn’t spent a nickel on that project,” he said.
Nastasi said Balcones Heights is also addressing zoning challenges which will free up more real estate for redevelopment. He has big hopes for the city and what it can become, inspired in part by the history of an area in Greater Los Angeles, which has remade itself multiple times.
“My goal is to turn it into (Greater) San Antonio’s ‘Miracle Mile,’ ” said Nastasi about Balcones Heights.
W. Scott Bailey covers health care, tourism, sports business, economic development; he also plans and edits some special reports