Trish DeBerry remembers downtown’s vibe when her public relations company, Guerra DeBerry Coody, moved into its workplaces on the nook of Houston and Soledad streets within the early 2000s.
“There was an energy here,” she recalled. “That time period was the heyday of downtown, as far as I’m concerned.”
DeBerry spoke from her nook workplace at Centro San Antonio on the second ground of 110 Broadway. With 5 months underneath her belt as president and CEO of the downtown placemaking group, DeBerry sat down with the San Antonio Report final week to speak about her priorities for the group and downtown, the problem of preventing unfavorable perceptions and what is wanted to create a new heyday for downtown.
She referred to as the “Decade of Downtown” — the hassle launched by then-Mayor Julián Castro in 2010 to convey extra funding and residential capability to downtown — “a blessing and a curse.”
“It brought a lot of good things down here, kicking off a housing-first strategy and what’s happening at Hemisfair,” DeBerry mentioned. “But some people think it’s over, and there’s still so much left to be done.”
Like many U.S. downtowns, San Antonio’s is struggling to rebound from the pandemic, which reduce deeply into the crucial mass of workplace employees and vacationers who saved it afloat.
Today, vivid spots, just like the opening of Civic Park, UTSA breaking floor on its second downtown constructing and the event of extra downtown housing, are marred by disruptive building initiatives and the notion that crime and homelessness within the space have change into intractable.
A latest report on downtown revival developments throughout the U.S. described a combined bag for San Antonio’s downtown. At 85% of pre-COVID ranges, it had probably the most nonresident guests returning to downtown. Residential occupancy has rebounded to pre-pandemic ranges, however workplace emptiness charges stay stubbornly excessive.
When she took the helm at Centro, DeBerry homed in on a foundational requirement for the middle metropolis’s rebound. Downtown San Antonio should be clear and secure, she mentioned, and Centro has “doubled down” on that dedication, hiring further ambassadors to patrol and hold streets tidy, strengthening ties to the San Antonio Police Department’s downtown bike patrol unit and responding to the considerations of downtown companies and residents.
A big a part of “clean and safe” means coping with the unsheltered inhabitants. DeBerry, who reckons she might have “gotten a Ph.D.” within the complexities that encompass homelessness over the previous few months, described balancing a compassionate strategy to these on the road with the wants of companies, residents and vacationers.
“It’s easy for people to look at a homeless person on the street and say, ‘Why aren’t they gone? You haven’t done enough.’ But it’s a lot more complicated than that.”
Centro is funded by way of the downtown public enchancment district, or PID, which town lately reauthorized by means of 2033, together with a $7 million annual funds and a barely expanded service contract that now contains the maintenance of Main Plaza and the road entrances to the River Walk.
Centro lately added 10 new “quality of life” ambassadors to its roster. Unlike the well-known yellow-shirted ambassadors who supply instructions, water vegetation and decide up trash, blue-shirted “quality of life” ambassadors put on physique cameras and focus extra on public security, attending to know folks on the road, speaking with enterprise homeowners and, with new kiosks that appear to be paleta carts, appearing as visible deterrents to crime.
DeBerry meets often with the ambassadors and SAPD’s bike patrol unit to remain abreast of what they’re seeing and listening to on the streets. Centro additionally has common conferences with town, its tourism bureau and the retailers and residents who stay downtown.
One factor many different downtowns have that San Antonio’s at the moment lacks, she mentioned, is a sturdy community of safety cameras; the dialogue for implementing such a system is nonetheless within the early levels, she mentioned, “but whatever we can do to help make people feel safe, we want to look at.”
SAPD Officer Gus Segura, who has been patrolling downtown for the previous 15 years, mentioned a lot of the crime the downtown unit offers with is petty theft, vandalism and public intoxication. Because Centro’s ambassadors have a direct line to the downtown unit, he mentioned, officers can reply rapidly to nuisance behaviors.
He referred to as the notion that downtown is harmful inaccurate.
“I bring my bring my family down here all the time,” he mentioned. “We’re actually spending a staycation down here next week during Thanksgiving. If I felt it was unsafe, I definitely would not bring my family down here.”
But DeBerry, a longtime communications professional, is keenly conscious that “perception is reality,” and she acknowledged that so long as folks imagine downtown isn’t secure, they may keep away.
That’s why Centro continues to develop occasions — or “activations” within the present parlance — to convey locals again downtown. This 12 months that features the brand new “Holidays on Houston,” which is able to supply 5 blocks of twinkling lights, “large, festive decorations, entertainers and special offerings from restaurants, shops and partners.”
DeBerry described what she sees as a new esprit de corps amongst downtown stakeholders, together with round a new effort to replace the 2011 Center City Strategic Framework Plan.
San Antonio nonetheless wants extra multifamily housing downtown, she mentioned, and whereas the Decade of Downtown-era incentive program that propelled a lot of the housing constructed downtown over the previous decade now not exists, DeBerry mentioned given present market circumstances, a new incentive program could be useful.
A sports activities and leisure district additionally might invigorate personal improvement, she mentioned. Nashville has positioned a minor league baseball park in a once-blighted space of downtown, “and you see midrise development all around it. You see families pouring into the facility, entertainment options nearby, all of it. And the most important emphasis is, it’s affordable.”
Bob Cohen, a member of the San Antonio Missions’ possession group, mentioned on the San Antonio Report’s 2023 CityFest sports activities panel that the group is creating a plan that would find a minor league baseball stadium “in the central business district or some place that’s centrally located.”
DeBerry, who mentioned she’s “not privy” to these discussions, mentioned she’s unabashedly rooting for a downtown location, simply as she has lengthy been a downtown booster.
“I want people to come downtown,” she mentioned. “So we’re going to program it and activate it. It’s about creating community in downtown and bringing people together.”