- Renderings courtesy of Aqualand Development and Cbl & Associates
CBL & Associates Properties, the Tennessee-based developer and one half of the partnership (the other half being San Marcos-based Aqualand) that hopes to reopen the defunct Southtown site by late 2018, confirmed this week that it has signed deals with two national chains: Cinemark and Punch Bowl Social. CBL spokeswoman Stacey Keating told us via email the new Cinemark theater, complete with 10 auditoriums, will occupy 34,500 square feet within the sprawling Lone Star footprint. Punch Bowl Social, which Keating called a "best in class 'eatertainment' brand," will plop a 25,000-square-foot restaurant/bowling alley/arcade in the middle of Lone Star.
The announcement shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who's been following the plans for Lone Star, a hulking 60-acre property that's sat lifeless on the edge of Southtown ever since the brewery moved its operations to East Texas in the mid-1990s. Earlier this year, after developers started to drop some of the first concept sketches for the complete overhaul of the property, Aqualand President Adam Schneider told us he'd envisioned a Pearl-like destination, only more entertainment-oriented than the south Broadway foodie hub.
But this week's announcement has some Southtowners worried Lone Star's on track to look less like the Pearl and more like the Alamo Quarry Market, a medium box, national chain-filled complex in Lincoln Heights. Or, for that matter, like north Austin's Domain, site of Punch Bowl Social's only other Texas location.
Naturally, some fear the march of development (or, as city movers and shakers like to call it, one of San Antonio's many "transformational" projects) will radically change the character of one of San Antonio's quirkiest, most beloved 'hoods – an area that's already undergone dramatic changes in recent years, with the rehab of Blue Star and the building of multi-unit housing complexes like Southtown Flats and Big Tex. Here's how Jody Newman, fierce downtown advocate who with her husband owns The Friendly Spot and Alamo Street Eat Bar, reacted to the news on Facebook:
Terry Peak says he bought a house on Drexel, not far from Freetail Brewery's Southtown tap room, eight years ago after teaching at the nearby St. Philip of Jesus Catholic Church for several years and falling in love with the neighborhood. He says he was cautiously optimistic about plans to rehab Lone Star. News of the site's first new tenants had changed that.
"I just feel like by bringing in a bunch of medium box and national chain type things, they're missing the point of the neighborhood," he told the Current. "It’s an old neighborhood, not a subdivision that needs a new mall."
S.T. Shimi (who some might know from her Stars and Garters Burlesque alter ego Black Orchid), who's lived in the neighborhood for more than two decades, told us, "I'm far from enthused to hear about the first two tenants. ... Cinemark and Punch Bowl Social are the kind of exurb-targeted bland chain businesses that continue to homogenize what used to be an interesting residential neighborhood where I work, live and play." She added: "I suppose that it was inevitable that after Blue Star re-modeled itself after the Pearl, that Lone Star now desires to emulate the Quarry."
CBL and Aqualand say their further plans for the site include mixed use, retail, office and residential — possibly even a hotel. They've also said they might even go after some of the city’s downtown housing-incentive money. Considering other owners have in the past tried and failed to revive the place, it could very well be that developers think that big, corporate tenants are the only ones capable of getting the project off the ground. And as David Neuhoff, vice president of development for CBL, told us earlier this year, he wants that project to "create a destination for Southtown itself and all of San Antonio…a wide-reaching project for the whole city.”
How exactly that will alter the ever-changing face of one of San Antonio's most recognizable neighborhoods – and whether it will please or piss off its neighbors – will probably only be revealed as more Lone Star tenants are named and the dirt starts to turn.