New spruced-up buildings have been popping up on San Antonio’s East Side, an area once overlooked for revitalization. Some of the credit for that comes from a city-funded grant program administered by SAGE- San Antonio for Growth on the East Side.
One of the clearest signs you’ve entered San Antonio’s East Side is on New Braunfels Avenue. As you’re crossing a bridge over railroad tracks, an overhead sign with different colored hands says “Let Freedom Ring.” The reverse side of the sign has a picture of Martin Luther King Jr., and a rainbow. A few blocks farther is a bright blue building with the letters S.L.M. It Stands for Straight Line Management. It’s a construction and contracting firm.
Joaquinn Arch has owned Straight Line Management since 2008. The building has a long history dating back to the 1930s.
“It used to be an old grocery store.”
The grocery store closed around 1995.
“It was boarded up. It was abandoned. It had old furniture still here. It had the freezer, it had the coolers. It was in pretty bad shape,” he says.
When Arch bought it, it needed to be completely refurbished. He paid for most of that himself.
“New plumbing, new electrical, HVAC system, you name it, new roof, pretty much tore down the old addition, and rebuilt it new,” he says.
But he still needed to do more. That’s where San Antonio for Growth On The Eastside came in. The non-profit’s mission is to do what the name implies: grow the East Side. Akeem Brown is the operations director.
“When you talk revitalizing areas, obviously, it’s complex. So SAGE is there to help facilitate this complexity and what’s around it,” Brown says.
SAGE administers grants paid for by the City of San Antonio. In the past seven years it’s distributed over $810,000 to about 80 businesses.
“We give $10,000, they have to match $10,000 so they prove to us that they can match the funds.”
The applicant must own the building and have at least one employee – or pledge to hire an employee. The money is available to anyone living in SAGE’s service area, which extends from east of downtown to around Rittiman Road – about 22 square miles.
“Our hope is that the City of San Antonio sees their bang for the buck for the lack of better words. We are making drastic improvements in our community.”
SAGE offers a second matching grant funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It offers $25,000. It’s similar to the store front grant but only applies to a much smaller area – the Choice Neighborhood – which is about two square miles around the Wheatley Courts.
Joaquinn Arch grew-up on the East Side, a few blocks from his building.
“I did. About six blocks up on Burnet and Grimes. It was a neighborhood where we would be able to walk-up and ride our bikes through the neighborhood.”
He says in the ’90s the neighborhood started to decline because of gang violence.
“You know, at nights there were shootings, there were gangs. You didn’t walk through the Wheatley Courts at that time, you were supposed to walk around it to get to school.”
Arch says the recent improvements that have come with the grant money are making a difference.
“You didn’t really see a shift until here lately,” he says.
Mark Outing, another entrepreneur, agrees. He used a SAGE grant to improve his burger joint – Mark’s Outing – on East Commerce.
“We put the whole side window panel. We have a brand new door here. It was an old metal roof, we took it completely down, had a new structure put up, put a new awning on it,” Outing says.
He also added a staircase in the back of the building.
Councilman Alan Warrick represents the East Side and says there’s more city money earmarked for specific corridors including Commerce, Austin, Grayson and New Braunfels streets.
“We have specific grants just for those streets just so business owners have even more incentive to move the ball forward and really give the community what they deserve in new amenities and new businesses and new venues on the East Side.”
Rebuilding the East Side is something that won’t happen overnight. But Arch hopes grants like the one that helped him improve his construction business will continue to transform his neighborhood.
“It is possible to take an old building and maybe rehab it and move their office to the eastside because that’s the whole hope and goal. To change the block one property at a time.”
Many say it’s the beginning of a transformation that’s long overdue.