Group Effort To Save Historic Building Hits A Divided Pathway

Texas Public Radio’s Ryan Poppe says there’s an effort underway to revitalize San Antonio’s Eastside community that begins and ends with the iconic historic G.J. Sutton building.

By Ryan PoppeSeptember 1, 2015 9:28 am| , , ,

From Texas Public Radio.

Gus Bard stares out of his kitchen window at the giant abandoned G.J. Sutton complex that stretches alongside his restaurant, Sweet Yams Organic on North Cherry Street.

“It should come down. If they are going to build something there it should be a space. They should stop building buildings that block the neighborhood from downtown,” Bard said.

The original white brick building with a gated entrance is just on the other side of the railroad tracks, across from the Alamodome and San Antonio’s downtown, on the city’s Eastside.

“This is panoramic pollution, and that’s a great way to look at it.  The Alamodome is ugly and huge but it’s there. But [the Sutton complex], it’s not even useful,” Bard pointed out.

According to the San Antonio Conservation Society, since its construction in 1911 the building has served many functions. It was originally as a foundry, casting metal for the San Antonio Machine and Supply Company.

The State of Texas purchased the property in 1975 to use for offices and renamed it in 1982 to honor Bexar County’s first African-American to be elected to the state’s House of Representatives, Garlington Jerome Sutton.

The state abandoned the building in 2012 after a colony of bats moved in and engineers determined the building was no longer structurally safe.

This past June, Governor Greg Abbott exercised a line-item veto of the state’s budget, striking $132 million dollars slated for renovation of the structure.

Community groups, the city and state lawmakers are challenging the constitutionality of Abbott’s veto and looking for anything that can revive the renovation project originally put forth by State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon.

But before any work can be done, the Texas Facilities Commission, which oversees the maintenance and repairs at state complexes, will need to review the historical preservation analysis which is currently being conducted.

Bruce MacDougal is with the San Antonio Preservation Society and has seen how this same type of study has led to the re-purposing and renovation of several of the city’s key historic building sites.

“When they are looking at a historic building, [they look at] all of its components, finding out what’s deteriorated, what’s deficient, what can be done to remedy these things and also to get some kind of estimate on what it would cost to rehabilitate the building,” MacDougal explained.

According to McClendon’s office, the original project was intended to consolidate state office space in San Antonio by moving thirteen state agencies into the building after renovations had been completed.

But others in the community have different ideas for what should become of the Sutton complex.  Jackie Gorman is the president for the non-profit San Antonio’s Growth on the Eastside.

“It’s like why do we have in one place everyone who needs assistance?  What does that say about a community?  Now I’m not saying we don’t need those services, but I don’t think we should concentrate services for the poor and needy in one place,” Gorman said.

Gorman says in her opinion the state service center will be a deterrent for attracting people to the Eastside.  She says that there are three private developers who have expressed in interest in the property and are willing to do a public-private partnership.

It’s an idea that is also being explored by Mayor Ivy Taylor and by San Antonio City councilman Allen Warrick.

“With our SA 2020 goals, we’re looking at an additional 5,000 housing units downtown and I think this process would be ripe for development,” Warrick explained.

But according to Janis Reinken with Rep. McClendon’s office, nothing can be done until the attorney general makes a legal opinion and the historical preservation analysis is complete.

So until there is some type of resolution, the Texas Facilities Commission will continue to spend $375,000 a year for landscaping and to keep the facility in moth-balled status.

The G.J. Sutton Building is the oldest state-owned property and is currently the only state office complex in an abandoned state.