Recommendation #1:Make the Regional Center a live/work/play destination centered on the Longhorn Quarry Development.
The Longhorn Quarry in the NE I-35 and Loop 410 Area Regional Center is an emerging destination due to its major sports, entertainment, and accessibility-focused attractions. However, the surrounding area lacks the amenities and services that support sustained and large-scale visitation. Additional retail, entertainment, food and beverage, hospitality, and housing can help to create a multi-faceted Regional Center for a variety of visitors and users. To continue the growth of visitation to the Longhorn Quarry and surrounding areas within the Regional Center, additional destinations and attractions are needed to generate more frequent and varied trips to the area. The appeal, services, and amenities in the area for people with disabilities is significant and presents the opportunity to grow the Regional Center as a destination for health care, research, and entertainment for people with disabilities.
Recommendation #2:Invest in and support revitalization of the existing commercial and industrial areas within the Regional Center.
The strength of the plan area as an industrial and logistics center should be supported and promoted. Efforts are needed to facilitate reinvestment and increase employment activity in existing industrial areas focusing on small-scale manufacturing, local distribution, and show-rooming/design services. The retail areas in the Regional Center do not have the same market strength as the industrial uses and have been impacted greatly by the newer retail developments along I-35. Reinvestment in and redevelopment of aging retail areas into mixed-use centers is needed to reposition them and attract investment and new businesses. A particular focus is needed on increasing access and availability of grocery stores, healthy foods, and everyday retail goods and services for area residents.
Recommendation #3:Proactively work to mitigate impacts of planned and future transportation improvements and improve access to and visibility of Regional Center businesses.
The planned expansion and double-decking of I-35 through the NE I-35 and Loop 410 area will affect access to and visibility of the Regional Center's employment areas. Proactive efforts are needed to mitigate impacts and guide plans to maintain, enhance, where possible, access and visibility.
The NE I-35 and Loop 410 Area Regional Center had 18,600 jobs in 2018 and is forecast to grow by 8,200 jobs by 2040. Employment is generally evenly distributed between medium- and high-wage jobs, with about 40% of the workforce earning between $15,000 and $40,000 per year and about 40% of the workforce earning more than $40,000 per year. The percentage of the workforce earning mid-to-high wage salaries is slightly higher in the Regional Center than in San Antonio as a whole. Unlike other employment hubs in San Antonio, jobs in the NE I-35 and Loop 410 area are not tied to a dominant major employer; rather, multiple employers create the large job base.
Economic activity in the Regional Center has been heavily influenced by its connectivity to several locally and regionally significant transportation corridors. Easy access to I-35, Loop 410, and the Wurzbach Parkway has made the NE I-35 and Loop 410 area one of the most active in the San Antonio region for the trade, transportation, and staging of goods and freight. Almost 20% of the Regional Center’s jobs are within the Transportation and Warehousing employment sector.
While distribution and industrial activities will continue to be an important part of the Regional Center’s economy, the area is also an emerging sports, recreation, and entertainment destination. Within the past ten years, the Regional Center has become home to Toyota Field, Morgan’s Wonderland (the world’s first amusement park specifically designed for those with disabilities), the Northeast Independent School District’s Heroes Stadium, and the South Texas Area Regional Soccer Center. These sports and entertainment destinations are located within the Longhorn Quarry and are part of a larger Master Development Plan (MDP) for redevelopment and adaptive reuse of the former quarry site. The MDP calls for a mix of retail, commercial, and residential development and presents an opportunity for additional economic growth in the Regional Center. Outside of the Longhorn Quarry, a new School of Science and Technology campus opened near Weidner Road and I-35 in 2020. A new multi-family development is also planned in this vicinity.
Although the Regional Center’s location makes it an attractive commercial hub, much of its current retail and office space is older and less desirable as housing growth to the north of the plan area has driven the development of newer, more competitive commercial areas further northeast along I-35. The office vacancy rate in the Regional Center hovers at around 21%, which is more than double the 9% vacancy rate for the County. The retail vacancy rate in the plan area is about 9%, which is also higher than the County average of about 4%.
In recent years, there has been a focus on economic development and reinvestment in the NE I-35 and Loop 410 area. A Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ), federally designated Opportunity Zones, and a commercial property enhancement grant program are financial tools available within the Regional Center to assist with reinvestment efforts.
Economic Challenges to Address
The NE I-35 and Loop 410 Area Regional Center Planning Team assessed the plan area’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges over two Planning Team meetings devoted to economic development. Highlighted among the Regional Center’s assets are its location within the region, access to major transportation routes, diversity of the employment base, and unique mix of anchor businesses and institutions such as the entertainment venues at Longhorn Quarry, Children’s Rehabilitation Institute TeletonUSA, the Animal Defense League, and the Capitol Aggregates cement facility.
Despite a number strengths and promising new developments, the plan area does face some challenges to its economic growth:
- Uncertainty of Future Connectivity – The Regional Center’s access to major transportation routes is one of its biggest assets. There is, however, some uncertainty as to the area’s future connectivity with I-35 and the Wurzbach Parkway. The planned expansion of I-35 consists of installing upper deck travel lanes with limited access to the Regional Center. Construction of the upper deck will also impact the visibility of businesses to travelers. Additionally, stakeholders in the Regional Center area have identified a direct connection between the Wurzbach Parkway and I-35 as a needed infrastructure improvement. However, there are currently no plans or funding for a direct connection between I-35 and the Wurzbach Parkway. Changing travel patterns can have both positive and negative impacts on the NE I-35 and Loop 410 area business community.
- Lack of Awareness and Regional Identity – Despite its diverse employment base and unique anchor businesses and institutions, the NE I-35 and Loop 410 area is less recognized than other areas in the region as a major destination. The plan area could benefit from organized promotion of its existing assets to attract new visitors and businesses.
- Regional Competition – The San Antonio area has a wealth of tourism and entertainment destinations. As the NE I-35 and Loop 410 Area Regional Center continues to grow as a tourism and recreation destination, there may be limits to its potential due to competition from elsewhere in the region. To overcome this challenge, the plan area should build on its unique assets and visitor base created by Morgan’s Wonderland, Children’s Rehabilitation Institute, Toyota Field, and the youth sports facilities rather than replicate entertainment options present elsewhere.
Based on the analysis of existing conditions and assessment of strengths and weaknesses, target industries and economic opportunities were identified for the NE I-35 and Loop 410 Area Regional Center. The target industries and economic opportunities are meant to help organize the City’s economic geography and provide guidance on the role that the Regional Center can play in the City’s overall economic development efforts. They also give direction to the City and its economic partners as to what areas are best suited for certain opportunities when they arise. The target industries and economic opportunities for the NE I-35 and Loop 410 Area Regional Center are:
- Logistics Center for San Antonio – Connectivity to major regional transportation routes makes the NE I-35 and Loop 410 area attractive to businesses seeking industrial and warehouse space in a central, easy-to-access location. These areas need support and protection from encroachment of incompatible uses in order to preserve existing businesses and help capture future opportunities for small manufacturing, regional distribution, and other industrially-oriented users.
- Destination for People with Disabilities – The NE I-35 and Loop 410 Area Regional Center features a unique concentration of assets in the Longhorn Quarry area that make it an international destination for children with special needs and their families. Children’s Rehabilitation Institute provides rehabilitation care for children across the United States and Mexico with neurological, muscular, and skeletal disorders, while Morgan’s Wonderland amusement park and its companion waterpark, Inspiration Island, are the first “ultra-accessible” parks of their kind in the world. Morgan’s Wonderland also operates an accessible sports complex that is run in concert with South Texas Regional Adaptive and Para Sports (STRAPS), an organization that coordinates and conducts adaptive and Paralympic-style sports for wounded service members and veterans as well as other youth and adults. There is opportunity to promote this area as an accessibly-oriented family destination in order to grow visitation and attract supporting businesses, services, and amenities.
- Live, Work, and Play Center – The master-planned Longhorn Quarry redevelopment aims to be a destination mixed-use community offering housing, commercial, retail, recreational, and entertainment options. The redevelopment has already added major “play” attractions with Toyota Field, Morgan’s Wonderland, and the youth sports facilities. It has also brought the first new multi-family housing development to the Regional Center in decades, with more units planned. To the east of the Longhorn Quarry, a reclamation in support of a new linear park is underway along Beitel Creek. Continued support for the Longhorn Quarry redevelopment is needed to ensure the area reaches its full potential as a mixed-use hub.
Attributes of Vibrant Economic Place
In addition to a robust employment base, there are other key attributes that contribute to the comprehensive economic vibrancy of a place. Each of these attributes has been described in the chart below. An assessment of the NE I-35 and Loop 410 Area Regional Center for the presence or absence of these attributes then follows the chart.
The NE I-35 and Loop 410 Area Regional Center has many of the attributes of a vibrant economic place as well as opportunities to build upon existing assets:
- Brand/Identity – Fluctuating market cycles and new development patterns have led to the broadening of economic drivers in the Regional Center. Once a hub for commercial activity, the plan area is now a major industrial center and is growing as an entertainment and recreation destination. The City and NE I-35 and Loop 410 area stakeholders should consider embracing the Longhorn Quarry and Morgan’s Wonderland brands to collectively market commercial, mixed-use, residential, recreational, and entertainment assets in the Regional Center. There is also potential value in creating and promoting an identity for the industrial areas along the northeast I-35 corridor as a major logistics corridor to attract additional development, businesses, and reinvestment.
- Organizations and Partnerships–Organizations of area stakeholders can help to advocate for resources, promote area assets, and provide structure and continuity in community development efforts. Within the NE I-35 and Loop 410 area there are several groups that perform these functions. At the neighborhood level, the Northeast Neighborhood Alliance is an active forum for communication between residents, government officials, City and County departments, and non-governmental organizations. As revitalization and reinvestment became major goals of the Regional Center community, the Northeast Corridor Improvement Partnership, consisting of community and business leaders, elected representatives, and City staff, formed to develop and implement a revitalization plan for the Perrin Beitel and Nacogdoches commercial corridor. A Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) Board also consisting of community and business stakeholders approves projects requesting TIRZ funding in the area. Several of the new attractions in the Longhorn Quarry redevelopment were created and maintained through the efforts of public and private partners including the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, the Toyota Motor Company, Spurs Sports and Entertainment, the City of San Antonio, and Bexar County.
- Anchor Institutions – Anchor institutions can benefit their surrounding communities by being an engaging and unifying presence. Spurs Sports and Entertainment, the Morgan’s Wonderland amusement parks, Children’s Rehabilitation Institute, and the Animal Defense League are major Regional Center entities that offer community-serving programming, resources, and services.
- Urban/Design Planning – The Longhorn Quarry redevelopment presents an opportunity for the creation of a gathering place with elevated design and planning, while existing patterns of land use and development in other parts of the Regional Center present a challenge to the creation of a consistent “look and feel” for the area. A potential strategy to overcome urban design challenges is to create a cohesive approach to signage and wayfinding within the Regional Center. This would help travelers identify the Regional Center as a destination and promote the area as its own unique brand.
- Transportation –The Regional Center’s access to major transportation routes is one of its biggest assets. There is, however, some uncertainty as to area’s future connectivity with I-35 and the Wurzbach Parkway. Planned expansion of I-35 consists of upper-deck travel lanes with limited access to the Regional Center and there are currently no plans or funding for a direct connection between I-35 and the Wurzbach Parkway. In addition, the plan area has limited transit service outside of VIA’s Perrin Beitel route and Randolph Park and Ride. There is potential for increased service and connectivity as VIA Metropolitan Transit Authority is reinvesting in the Randolph Park and Ride facility and expanding services and amenities provided at the station.
- Investments –The Regional Center’s private and non-profit partners have made significant investments to turn the area into an entertainment and recreation destination. The City and County have also recently invested bond funding into parks and flood control projects in the NE I-35 and Loop 410 area. Additional investments in transportation, mobility, and community amenities are needed to continue success in the area. In addition to TIRZ funding and private investment, bond funds should be targeted to finance community improvements.
- Finance/Incentives – Much of the Regional Center is within federally-designated Opportunity Zones and a City-initiated TIRZ. Additionally, a façade, landscape, and signage improvement grant is available to businesses within the Perrin Beitel and Nacogdoches revitalization area. All of these funding tools can be used to incentivize private investment. TIRZ funds can also be used to fund public improvements.