The Eastside Community Area is bordered by major employment and activity areas including Downtown to the west, Fort Sam Houston to the north, and the AT&T Center and Bexar County Community Arenas, which are home to the San Antonio Spurs and San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. The Eastside Area is also home to 6,300 jobs (2018). Educational Services is the largest employment sector, accounting for 16.5% of jobs, and anchored by St. Philip’s College. The next largest employment sectors are Other Services at 15% and Health Care & Social Assistance at 14.5%. Other major employers include Bimbo Bakeries, Unifirst Uniform Services, and Coca-Cola Bottling and Vending.
Most people employed in the Eastside Area do not live there – 96% of workers commute in from other places. Similarly, most people living in the Eastside Area do not work there – only 2.5% of residents are employed in the area.
The most prevalent employment use in the Eastside Area is retail and general commercial space. The Eastside Area has 1.35 million square feet of retail space. The inventory of space has not changed substantially in recent years. Despite low vacancy rates, the average rental rates for commercial space are lower than the county-wide averages. There is also a small presence of office space, with 336,000 square feet in total. The Eastside Area’s 3.1 million square feet of industrial space is concentrated near railroad rights of way, and has a low industrial vacancy rate of 0.6%, compared to the 4.8% County average. The majority of tourism-oriented uses serving downtown are outside of the Eastside Area but there are 11 hotel/motel properties. All but three are less than 20,000 square feet in size.
The Eastside Community Area is within the Eastside Promise Zone that was designated in 2014. The Promise Zone program is a 10-year Federal program designed to test, fund, and implement place-based initiatives to provide “ladders of opportunity” for residents of Promise Zones. This program helped create momentum for efforts to support Eastside Area residents. Subsequently, Federal efforts have shifted towards attracting investment in underserved areas. Portions of the Eastside Area are within the recently designated Eastside Opportunity Zone. Opportunity Zones are a Federal program to incentivize investment into development and business creation/growth within distressed areas. Investors in projects and/or businesses within Opportunity Zones become eligible for capital gains tax deferral and/or reduction.
San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside
San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE) was formed in 2008 as an economic development organization focused on creating opportunities for businesses and residents on the Eastside of San Antonio. SAGE is a 501(c)3 non-profit agency and has four guiding principles:
- Advocate for efficient, sustainable growth for San Antonio’s Eastside
- Advance small business development
- Maintain and promote the area’s history and culture
- Provide innovative, progressive solutions to Eastside challenges
SAGE developed a Promise Zone comprehensive economic development strategy in 2016 to guide the agency’s efforts and to help attract investment in the community. The strategy had five priority goals:
- Attract private investment in commercial real estate and community
- Create jobs for residents
- Increase economic activity
- Increase economic diversity
- Improve standard of living
SAGE’s Promise Zone economic development strategy was partly driven by opportunities related to investment from the downtown area revival that had been occurring just west of the Eastside Promise Zone neighborhoods. Since 2016, the growth and renewed investment in Downtown has started to reach and impact the Eastside Area. Development of new housing and reinvestment in existing homes in the area has brought about some of the strategy’s desired outcomes and has led to significant increases in property values. There has been less investment in—and impact on—commercial properties. However, there is an opportunity to leverage the renewed interest in living in the Eastside Area neighborhoods to support businesses and employment. This economic development strategy reflects the desires and overall guidance of the SAGE strategy but provides supplements and modifications where needed to address changing conditions.
Economic Challenges to Address
The Eastside Area Planning Team developed a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Challenges (SWOT) analysis during the two Planning Team meetings devoted to economic development and housing.
Three main economic challenges were identified for the Eastside Area.
- Private Investment – New development, building renovation, and investment in commercial properties and businesses is lagging behind residential investment. This need was a major component of the SAGE strategy and continues to be a priority.
- Everyday Retail Goods and Services – The historic disinvestment in the Eastside Area has resulted in a lack of everyday retail goods and services. There is one large grocery, but inadequate access to fresh and healthy foods. Everyday services such as medical services, dining, and entertainment options are also lacking.
- Connecting Residents to Jobs – Despite the proximity of major employment centers, connecting Eastside Area residents to quality jobs has been an on-going issue. Efforts are needed to identify opportunities that align with residents’ skills and to provide education and training opportunities to residents to better prepare them for existing opportunities.
The Eastside Community Area has economic assets and strengths including its proximity to major employment centers, access to major transportation routes, and existing institutions (St. Philip’s College), federal designations (Promise Zone and Opportunity Zone), and organizations (SAGE). The economic opportunities for the Eastside Area are:
- Proximity to Employment Areas – The plan area is in close proximity to several major employment centers, including Downtown, Fort Sam Houston and the AT&T Center. The area is also somewhat close to and connected with the Brooks Area Regional Center, the Greater Airport Area Regional Center, and the businesses and employers along northeast I-35. Analysis of the location of jobs of Eastside Area residents indicated many residents worked in these major employment areas. Transportation connectivity to these jobs and job centers needs to be enhanced to leverage this proximity.
- St. Philip’s College – The education opportunities at St. Philip’s are a major component of helping to provide employment opportunities and education for residents.
- Neighborhood Quality – The Eastside Area’s existing character, aesthetic, and urban form (e.g. small block pattern and pedestrian-oriented buildings) makes the area attractive for residents, and employees, and offers the potential to enhance and create attractive places where people will want to spend time.
Target Employment Areas
San Antonio will continue to implement a variety of tools, including economic incentives, workforce development, and strategic partnership to support existing and new businesses in the community. The City’s Economic Development Department recently modified its tax abatement program to improve opportunities for community economic development. The City’s Economic Development Department will adapt economic development incentives in a way that supports communities of color and areas with high levels of poverty.
To leverage this designation as a priority incentive area, there need to be desirable locations for new businesses to locate and for existing businesses to expand. In addition to areas identified for supporting neighborhood hubs of retail goods, services and food establishments, there are four areas within the Eastside Community Area that should be targeted for public investments and improvements to increase their appeal for attracting and growing businesses that can offer higher wages and better career pathways. These areas are:
- South of AT&T Center – The areas designated for Regional Mixed-Use and Business/Innovation Mixed-Use. [See Figure 4 – Future Land Use Map]
- Near Eastside – The areas designated for Regional Mixed-Use on the western edge of the plan area along East Houston Street and Commerce Street, including the area around Velocity TX’s innovation hub.
- I-35/Railway Corridor – The Light Industrial and Business/Innovation Mixed-Use areas just south of I-35 in the northern portion of the plan area.
- St. Philip’s College – The areas in and around St. Philip’s College designated for employment and mixed-uses.