On tree-canopied streets and blocks in San Antonio’s center, the sounds of old-fashioned ice cream trucks and children playing mingle with the sounds of urban traffic from nearby downtown. This is where residents have begun restoring old homes – and communities.
"We just really wanted to be in Dignowity Hill and fell in love," said Michele Jacob, who is one of those new homeowners. "When we walked in here and I saw these floors, I just thought, 'You can't even find the long-leaf pine.' You know, we have views of the Tower and the Tower Life Building."
"Nobody comes to San Antonio to visit our suburbs," said Sue Ann Pemberton of UTSA’s College of Architecture. Pemberton is working with a graduate class on creating a master-planned community in the historic district surrounding St. John’s Church on East Nueva Street.
Pemberton said a variety of things sent people to the suburbs during the late 20th Century, like pollution and a desire for wide open spaces. However, here in San Antonio and across the nation, Pemberton said that many of those people are finding advantages of moving back to the center of town and restoring existing properties.
"We don't disturb that virgin Earth or field or farm or natural habitat. We don't destroy a historic building or an existing building and throw all that material into a landfill. We don't add extra infrastructure in streets and sewers and drainage and all the utilities that go along with that, so that's not added to the environment . And every time we get further and further out, we just add more auto pollution because we have to drive there," said Pemberton.
Shanon Peterson of the City’s Office of Historic Preservation said bringing life back to places that matter means the people who care about those places take the neighborhood.
"Different types of places are important to different people and it may be because they went on their first date there, or they remember filling up at that historic gas station with their grandfather on the weekends," said Peterson.
Peterson also pointed out that the greenest building is the one that’s already built. Construction debris accounts for 25% of municipal waste. Peterson cited a study that said it takes 65 years for an energy-efficient “new” building to recoup the amount of energy lost in demolishing an existing building.
So while homeowners often have the environment in mind when restoring, commercial developers are hoping to make a profit. But Peterson wants them to know that restoring large buildings can be better for the bottom line – and the community – than constructing something new.
The Mission Road Power Plant
With a vision that reads something like The Pearl District, a 100-year-old historic gem awaits a developer’s expertise just south of downtown.
"This is where the actual dinner event will take place. This was the main part of the plant," said Peterson. "This was where the energy was produced. The turbines and all that - I don't know how all that works - but I know that there used to be a turbine floor up above that was part of the remediation. So a lot of the equipment and things like that were in here. You can see in the floor holes where things used to be bolted to the ground, and of course, all that stuff has been taken out."
A fundraiser tonight will showcase the power plant’s potential as a multi-use building that can provide homes, restaurants, parking, and even a grocery store. A group of volunteers have formed a non-profit organization called the Power of Preservation to provide funding for this and other restoration projects.
It’s something that Peterson is passionate about because it brings economic benefit to the neighborhood and to the city.
"We have the number one- and two-visited sites in the nation in the Alamo and the Riverwalk, which is a very obvious economic benefit of preservation," said Peterson. "It cycles back in the local economy at a higher level than new construction. There are a lot of benefits - job creation - all those types of things for preservation."
Those who attend the Power of Preservation Prom this evening will get more than dinner and dancing – they’ll learn about the benefits of preservation and take an exclusive tour of the Mission Road Power Plant. There’s also a late-evening Pachanga, with food trucks and a live band.
As more people become involved in preservation, the trickle-down effect brings life back to neighborhoods, like the sounds of children playing and chasing an ice cream truck.
More information online at: powerofpreservation.org
Two different tickets are available; one for the dinner, and another for the late-evening Pachanga.