Checking in again



Hilton Parkside

Could be anywhere

This morning at Design Review Committee, the new dual-branded hotel (Hilton Garden Inn and Home 2 Suites) along 2nd Avenue South between 17th and 18th Streets received approval for final materials (snapshot of rendered elevations above). This project, one block south of Railroad Park, will be the first hotel to rise in the Parkside neighborhood; the site is already cleared and construction should start soon. The materials are a combination of brick and stucco; the architect is Bradley, Schmidt & Carn from Dothan, AL. While the massing, color palette, and generic detailing are all scripted from Hilton’s playbook–with the result being a rather unmemorable composition–at least from an urban standpoint the facades come up to the sidewalk edges (with attractive landscaping by Birmingham’s Macknally Land Design) and the lobby lounges and cafes open to terraces facing the streets. The biggest disappointment is the large amount of surface parking in the rear which takes up half a city block–the City needs to do better creating shared, structured parking for the Parkside district so that each individual project isn’t forced to use valuable land for this purpose.

Homewood Suites

Trying to do the right thing

Also presented this morning was the long-awaited Homewood Suites hotel project (architect Richard Rauh above) which has already broken ground; it too was coming for final material approval. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see a diagram on the screen of every piece of the historic ground floor facade (formerly Five Points Music Hall and Piggly Wiggly) documented for a meticulous replication. The original Art Deco facade was found close to collapse during demolition and could not be saved; the developer will now reproduce it. A synthetic stucco material was rejected by the Committee; the developer will return most likely with true limestone for this portion (the remainder of the eight story Art Deco-style building will be brick and stucco).

Empire Exterior

A notch up

A few blocks away, as we’ve previously noted the historic Empire Building (above, First Avenue North looking east to 20th Street) is under massive renovation into a luxury boutique hotel under the Marriott Autograph brand; the new Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook a few miles south shares this branding. A more modest 3-star Marriott offering will abut the Empire in the former Alagasco building directly west. Campo Architects of New Orleans is the architect.

Empire Lobby

100 years old and beautiful

A peek into the Empire’s lobby (above) shows the original marble, staircase, and light fixtures that we hope are on their way to loving restoration. Whereas the Hilton hotels in Parkside are resolutely bland and generic, this one should be full of character and specific. And it’s exciting that Birmingham will have more 4-star lodging options.


And 4 stars more

Finally, as the Birmingham Business Journal reported earlier this week, the Redmont Hotel–at this point Birmingham’s grande dame having opened in 1925–will reopen next month as another 4-star hotel under Hilton’s Curio brand. We wish the Redmont, and these other hotels, much success as they increase City Center hotel options and–hopefully–provide us with some interesting new food and beverage choices.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season whether in a hotel or at home, and we’ll be back in January!

[thanks to Bradley Schmidt & Carn for the Parkside renderings]

Healthy job news


Center of corporate Birmingham about to get a little denser is reporting today that VIVA Health, an HMO, is expanding its downtown headquarters at 20th Street North and 5th Avenue, resulting in up to 400 new jobs being added to the City Center. While the bricks-and-mortar impact won’t be immediately visible from the street—the expansion involves renovating existing empty floors within the building—downtown should feel the impact in a couple significant ways. One, more foot traffic and demand for retail services; two, a reduction in the overall vacancy rate of the Downtown Submarket which currently stands at 11.9%, slightly better than the metro average (current VIVA lobby, above).

Coincidentally, the news comes on the heels of another local healthcare corporation’s announcement about its own headquarters: HealthSouth, currently located on Highway 280 and Grandview Parkway (within the City limits of Birmingham but 9 miles’ distance from downtown) will build a new headquarters building in Liberty Park (again within Birmingham City limits, and about 15 miles’ distance from downtown). Unremarkable, except for the fact that HealthSouth had seriously considered moving to Parkside, the burgeoning downtown neighborhood, and constructing a signature headquarters building there instead. In a recent article in, CEO Jay Grinney defended the decision to stay in a distant location rather than join the increasing numbers calling the City Center home. The main factor, he claimed, was a company-wide poll of employees who were posed the question: Would you rather work downtown or Liberty Park? This poll came back with a solid majority in favor of staying south of the City, and he couldn’t bear the thought of all those unhappy workers stuck in traffic headed into downtown daily.

Quicken Loans Detroit

The sign says it all

Birmingham is not known for corporate leadership that looks beyond parochial concerns to support the greater community in an impactful way. Parisian CEO Donald Hess arguably came close by stepping up to chair the failed MAPS campaign of the late 1990’s (incidentally also supported by the former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy). But we’ve had no equivalent to Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert who moved 1,700 employees into a new downtown Detroit headquarters in 2010 after 20 years in the Detroit suburbs. This move is widely credited as crucial both literally and psychologically to that city’s current comeback; Quicken now has 12,000 employees in and around downtown and has decided to house them in formerly vacant buildings rather than build a glossy new tower (renovated Qube building above). Rebounding cities need lots of ingredients—from grassroots individuals to corporate CEO’s—to create a truly vibrant and diversified environment. One can only imagine if Gilbert had taken a “Would you like to move to downtown Detroit” poll of his employees back in 2005 what the response would’ve been—surely even more negative than the HealthSouth poll–but ultimately the workers now enjoy all sorts of urban amenities and conveniences they couldn’t have envisioned 10 years ago, and the downtown Quicken campus is consistently rated by employees one of the best places to work in the Detroit metro.

Ping Pong Quicken

Millenials + downtowns = fun

In the end, however, this week’s news is positive: VIVA is expanding, and HealthSouth, a company with 23,000 employees nationwide valued at $2.3 billion, remains headquartered in the City. What Birmingham truly needs is an influx of new people moving here from outside the metro, attracting new ideas to the area and expanding the economy (above, young employees take a break at Quicken downtown). For too long we’ve been playing a shell game between City and suburbs; instead we’d rather see a growing City, healthy suburbs, and all local municipalities banding together to attract new jobs to the area. As exciting as a new HealthSouth HQ may have been on the Midtown skyline, it would be a much, much bigger story if we could attract a Fortune 500 company from outside the state to do the same.

[thanks to West Second Street Associates for VIVA lobby pic; for the Quicken building pic; and for the interior Quicken rec room pic)

Public art!


Vulcan, vulcan, vulcan

Great cities incorporate public art into the built environment; Birmingham has lagged others in this regard. Yesterday at Design Review Committee, the City took a step towards improving the situation with unanimous approval of a mural painting on the East wall of the Lichter’s Building (facing a parking lot fronting 19th Street North between 3rd and 4th Avenues, rendering above). The mural will be in the style of the late artist Andy Warhol, and will feature Vulcan, the symbol of the city.

It was especially heartening to see a unanimous approval for such a relatively large, bold artwork. Eight years ago there was push-back on the large painted mural sign we proposed for our 2nd Row development–which was at the time considered audacious for a downtown historic district (a muted dark gray in color, it was ultimately approved; progress photo from 2007 below). Thankfully, the Committee, and the public generally, now better appreciates the role that art, and its cousin good graphic design, can play in helping to revitalize and invigorate urban areas.

2nd Row Painting.jpg

A truly skilled urban artist at work

[thanks to Kyle Kruse for the Lichter’s mural image, and to the Birmingham News for the file photo of the 2nd Row mural]

If you build it…

National brands move in

National brands move in

The new Parkside neighborhood taking shape around Railroad Park is promoted as a mixed-use urban neighborhood with plenty of retail, restaurant, and entertainment. It seems basic, but new projects must provide rentable ground floor space to sign up the retail, restaurant and entertainment that attract people to live, visit and stroll the streets. How are some current projects stacking up in this regard? Currently under construction, 20 Midtown is one of the most prominent, retail-wise, in the area (multi-sites along 20th Street South between Second and Fourth Avenues; architect: Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds). The first building’s Starbucks has recently opened (above); a Chipotle is on its way, and a Publix supermarket is coming in 2016. This lineup of national retailers is fairly unprecedented for a single project downtown or midtown. The supermarket alone promises to be a major anchor that will pull other developments into the area.

Density on 20th Street

Density in Midtown

The next phase of the project (above) has even more retail space along both frontages. According to the retail leasing site, about 110,000 SF of retail and commercial space will be provided in the completed project (ground floor retail appears to be approximately 85,000 SF). From a pedestrian-friendly planning perspective, the “urban drive-thrus” servicing Starbucks and other businesses aren’t ideal, and the curb cuts required between these and the other inner parking decks feel excessive–but at least the overall mass of the buildings are dominant, and these cuts are relatively minor breaks to the retail street frontage. In sum, 20 Midtown does an excellent job providing storefront space to the neighborhood.

The park deserved a bit better

The park deserved a bit better

The Liv Parkside mixed-use development (above, main elevation on First Avenue South between 18th and 17th Streets; architect: Charlan Brock & Associates) fills an entire half-block in a very prominent location directly across from Railroad Park. Due to its size (it will contain 228 rental apartments) and its location, it’s disappointing that it will offer only 4,000 SF of retail. And it’s not just the paucity of retail that’s a concern–the treatment of the storefront is architecturally weak, an odd combination of brick and punched openings that feels out of proportion with the major civic space it faces. In comparison, 20 Midtown’s more straight-forward storefront feels sophisticated and well-scaled to the streets. Overall Liv Parkside is a missed opportunity for invigorating the sidewalks fronting the park. On the bright side, local coffee house Red Cat will anchor the retail mix and plans a Sunday brunch that will no doubt prove popular for residents and visitors alike.

Uncertain at the street

Uncertain at the street

Just southwest of Liv Parkside is the Venue, providing 236 rental apartments (above, looking at the corner of Third Avenue South and 16th Street; architect: BOKA Powell). In a blow to potential adjacent street life, this development offers no retail storefronts whatsoever, with the lobby and leasing office providing the only ground floor activity. If Liv Parkside offers too little rentable storefront, the fact that Venue offers none is truly a letdown.

Maybe there's hope

Maybe there’s a little hope

As a consolation, the developers do state that, while no retail is being offered, there is ground floor space behind roll-up glass doors suitable for food trucks; perhaps this same space can be finished out for retail in the future. In the rendering above (along 16th Street) it’s possible to see these openings in the middle-to-far distance. For a mid-rise, dense urban project, the architectural massing and materials are better than some, but the street level leaves, unfortunately, much to be desired.

Unfit for urban life

Unfit for urban life

Along 18th Street South and Second Avenue, Healthcare Realty Trust, the REIT which owns a building directly north, is constructing a parking deck on a former surface parking lot (above, looking east along Second Avenue). There is not much to say here, except that there’s no attempt at an architectural fig leaf: we get a stark, block-long wall of brick, with smallish pierced openings looking directly into the garage. That this is being built a half block from Railroad Park is pretty devastating. Zoning laws in the City should be amended to require any parking deck constructed in prominent urban places to contain ground floor retail or other components to enhance the adjacent public space of the street, rather than cheapen it.

Filling up

Filling up

Headed back over to 20th Street, the good news is the large Station 121 building (completed 2010, seen above looking east at the corner of 20th Street South and First Avenue; architect: Niles Bolton and Associates) is rapidly filling its storefronts. Having been mainly vacant due to the recession generally as well as market hesitation at this location specifically, the 21,000 SF of retail is now succeeding due to its proximity to newer developments including the Publix supermarket, and the general growth of Midtown which 5 years ago was still hypothetical. This block of retail and restaurant should nicely complement 20 Midtown’s efforts directly south.

A lost opportunity

A lost opportunity

Which brings us to our final, cautionary image: Athens Flatts, seen above along Second Avenue North between 23rd and 22nd Streets (completed 2007; architect: Rob Walker Architects). The ground floor is a cousin to the new parking garage mentioned above–arched openings with metal security barriers look into a bleak parking garage which, especially at night, is completely at odds with the pedestrian character of this part of Second Avenue which is filled with bars and restaurants. Perhaps one day a portion of this garage will be carved away allowing these arches to open into shops and cafes. Until then, it serves to show us what happens when developments neglect the life on the streets that every urban structure has an obligation to engage. Let’s ensure future Parkside developments don’t fall into the same category.

[Thanks to Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds and BOKA Powell for the renderings]

A ghostly reminder disappears

Almost gone

Almost gone

The above was the view from the morning bike commute along the Hudson River: the remains of Pier 54‘s steel entrance framework being dismantled and craned away, as new concrete piers cluster all around. Look closely and you’ll see faint lettering on the main cross beam spelling “Cunard White Star”, the world-renowned shipping line that still operates passenger service between New York and Southampton, UK. Manhattan’s waterfront was once packed with countless shipping piers, and Pier 54 in Chelsea was particularly well known: the Titanic was set to arrive just north of here at Pier 59 (but the Carpathia, loaded with survivors, came instead to 54), and the Lusitania set sail from here on her ill-fated voyage. This skeleton is all that’s left, but its silhouette is a powerful reminder of the past. Now, it appears, this small piece of history is leaving us.

The glory days

The glory days

Above is a shot of the Chelsea Piers in their heyday of 1920,  looking south along 11th Avenue with the Hudson River in the background. Designed by Warren and Whetmore, the architect of Grand Central Terminal, it opened in 1910 and the handsome granite facade stretched many blocks to accommodate the biggest passenger ships of the day. Note the large arched openings, of which the Pier 54 skeleton is a remnant.

Getting there was still half the fun

The days were already numbered

By 1930, however, the pier complex was already out of date and new, deeper piers were created further north for larger luxury ships such as the Queen Mary and the Normandie. The Chelsea complex still served smaller passenger ships and commercial craft, but its heyday had passed; the above shot shows how shabby Pier 54 had become by 1951. Within another couple decades, the complex would be abandoned and derelict as container shipping and jet travel made Manhattan piers almost obsolete.

Not the prettiest new facade

Not the prettiest new facade

In 1994 part of Chelsea Piers was renovated into a giant sports and entertainment complex; the granite facades were removed, and new colorful but cheap-feeling siding and signage went up (above). The old West Side Elevated Highway was torn down opposite, and by the early 2000’s replaced with the West Side Highway and Hudson River Park, with its miles of bike paths, promenades, and walking trails. All generally good things.

Park of the future

Park of the future

Now, construction is underway on a new Pier 55 park (rendering above–designed by Heatherwick Studio) which has been controversial due to lack of public input and lack of homage to the maritime history of the place (the entire cost of the new park is almost completely financed by the billiionaire Barry Diller). While the rendering does show the skeletal Pier 54 entrance remaining, it’s difficult to confirm this will actually happen.

The stevedores are long gone

The stevedores are long gone

On the one hand, the new park could build on the very park-like setting that would be totally unrecognizable even 20 years ago along the formerly rough-and-tumble waterfront (above). On the other hand, the Pier 54 entrance is an important piece of history that would be a real shame to lose. Every day on the bike commute it’s a reminder of earlier networks of trade, commerce and immigration that made this city–and country–what we are today. Let’s hope its current dismantling is a temporary one.

[thanks to Bowery Boys History for the historic photos,  Americasroof for the current Sports Complex exterior and Heatherwick Studio for the rendering]

Container creativity

Thinking outside the box

Thinking outside the box

An exciting new project in the Avondale neighborhood, just a short bike zyp ride from downtown, was announced in the Birmingham Business Journal yesterday (rendering above). The project is on 3rd Avenue South between 41st and 42nd Street and the architect is Design Initiative. The developer cites London’s Boxpark as an inspiration; Boxpark is created from shipping containers, and is intended to provide “pop-up” space for unique, low-cost, highly creative retail, restaurant and gallery space. Birmingham’s version–dubbed Box Row–will offer dozens of containers with simple, affordable pricing and the flexibility to join containers to create larger space. It’s high time the City embraces this type of concept, for many reasons.

If it works in Shoreditch...

If it works in Shoreditch…

We have argued in past posts that there would be a lot more retail downtown and in adjacent neighborhoods if available rental space were appropriately geared towards the young, the creative and the entrepreneurial. While a neighborhood like Avondale has land uses no longer compatible in the current marketplace (Box Row will occupy the former Anchor Motel site), central downtown has too many retail storefronts left over from an era of big department stores and the high-rent retail that clustered around them: they are too large, and rents too expensive, for contemporary urban retail. Charm  on Second Avenue North downtown would not be around if it weren’t for the oddball small space and corresponding lower rent. This could be the answer not just for Avondale, but for vacant lots downtown and in other locales.

Simple, sustainable, affordable

Simple, sustainable, affordable

The site layout (above) illustrates good urban design: rentable space lines the sidewalk, while parking is concealed to the rear. Terraces afford space for outdoor dining; the composition is a nice balance between the repetition of the individual containers and the contrasting masses of their groupings. At a reported $4.3 million investment, this is a leap forward in how we can re-imagine urban space.

Our own box concept

Our own box concept

We’re especially excited because back when the Community Foundation sponsored a 20111 competition for redeveloping a block just east of Railroad Park, our entry was a container box “pop-up” concept (above) that included retail, restaurant and gallery space (the site will now be a public plaza adjacent to the Steam Plant redevelopment). Creatively using container boxes is a proven solution all over the globe at this point; it’s very cool that developers are bringing Box Row to Birmingham. We wish them every success.

(thanks to Design Initiative and the BBJ for the rendering and site layout, and Boxpark for the London image)

The back yard is gentrifying

11th Avenue is no longer cheap rent

11th Avenue is no longer cheap rent

A routine Sunday errand in our Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York City–to purchase a few indoor plants at the local nursery–became a lesson in the fast-moving gentrification of all parts of Manhattan. The nursery, Chelsea Garden Center (at 11th Avenue and West 44th Street looking north, above) got its start in 1984 about 20 blocks south of the current location; it has moved numerous times as rising rents and development pressure became too much for this type of small business. It had been located in Chelsea, East Village/Bowery, and the Meatpacking District; all of these had been bywords for affordable or even cheap living, but are now filled with luxury condos and boutique hotels. The far west side of Hell’s Kitchen would have seemed even 10 years ago to be fairly immune to the extreme gentrification seen in other neighborhoods, but no more. The nursery is finally giving up on Manhattan and is moving to Brooklyn; the landlord will not renew the lease and is instead selling to a developer which will result in another high-rise similar to the recently built one seen in the background of the above photo.

A new west side

A new west side

A lot of the development pressure is coming from the nearby, massive Hudson Yards project, where multiple towers, thousands of housing units, a park, and millions of square feet of office and retail are displacing rail yards, warehouses and old tenement apartments. The picture above shows the first pieces of Hudson Yards under construction in the background, with the MTA‘s new transit stop–the terminus of the 7 line–to the right in the foreground (New Yorkers, ever- vigilant about occupying public space, are holding a protest unrelated to the development).

Rent a 1-BR for $4500/MO

Rent a 1-BR for $4500/MO

The new subway stop is the City’s gift to the developers; the far west side has long been underserved by transit which has, until recently, kept rents low and discouraged major developments: the neighborhood was just too difficult to get to. But all that has changed in the last decade or so, with people being more and more willing to live or dine further from the center of town. Above is a new 71-story luxury rental tower (the Sky) underway across the street from the nursery. Its steep rents and plush amenities are the opposite of what the gritty neighborhood was known for a few short years ago.

Sky Pool

The new Hell’s Kitchen

Above, a rendering of the pool terrace at the new rental building. In Birmingham, most (though not all: see Park Place downtown) of our new residential and mixed-use developments are displacing underused warehouses, surface parking or filling long-empty historic buildings. Rarely are local, family-owned businesses extant in these locations, and new people moving in generally add to, rather than displace, existing populations. Not so in many areas of Manhattan; the musicians, artists, and working class that populated Hell’s Kitchen are hard to find anymore. It’s like a hyper-luxury veil is being draped across the entire island. Real estate has always been vicious and kinetic in this town, but the current pace feels historic as the average sales price for a Manhattan apartment has reached almost $2 million.

But how do we carry the plants from Brooklyn

But how do we carry the plants home from Brooklyn

With the nursery leaving Manhattan (above, the announcement posted at the counter), there will be no other true plant store within walking distance from our apartment. OK, not a huge deal–we can still travel another 20 blocks, but it begs the question: where are all the thousands of high-rent occupants coming to the neighborhood going to get houseplants? The employee ringing us up (also pictured above), when posed that question, smiled and said “Well, you can always go to Home Depot.” Of course he was being sarcastic, but the loss of small neighborhood businesses as bank branches and chain drug stores proliferate is causing Manhattan to be just a little duller, and a little less diverse, with each passing year.


It was so exciting to receive Birmingham’s new bikeshare key fob and assorted swag in the mail tonight, we just had to post a pic. 400 bikes rolling into town imminently–and a step forward in providing more transportation options to the community. If you haven’t joined up yet, check out And kudos to the designer–terrific logo. The fob already looks great next to the CitiBike fob already on the keychain. Official rollout is October 14 so get ready BHM!

Retail Rising


Retail Therapy

This week Alchemy, a new mens’ clothier, opened on 20th Street North between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in downtown Birmingham. Opened by owner Ace Graham, the store is one of the few outside of suburban locations to carry upscale brands which are marketed towards fashion-conscious men. As more and more people live in the greater City Center, “will retail follow?” has been a question on many minds. Thus far, bars and restaurants have been the principal retail outlets filling storefronts. We may be finally on the cusp of seeing a greater diversity of retail options joining food and beverage.

Lofty minimalism

Lofty minimalism

It’s clear from the interior concept (above), whose open, airy space contains a very carefully edited selection of clothing, shoes and accessories, that Graham has been inspired by fashion-forward shops in other cities. The brands– including Scotch and Soda, Puma Select, Nudie Jeans–are available at Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s in New York, but according to Graham only Saks Fifth Avenue here carries some, but not all of the lines. Many are certainly not sold elsewhere in Alabama.

Stylin' in BHM

Stylin’ in BHM

Is it a risk to carry $59 t-shirts and $200 jeans in the middle of downtown Birmingham? Sure. But it’s risk-takers like Graham who pave the way for others to follow. We hope this place is successful, and that it inspires other retailers of various stripes to consider downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods for new projects. Whether mass-market (the new downtown Publix supermarket and Chipotle restaurant), or high-end, or in-between, the urban core should support more retail as the City Center continues to expand its appeal to visitors and residents alike.

High and Low

High and Low

If you told even the most wildly optimistic developer a year ago that Tom Ford would be sold on 20th Street North, the news would be dismissed as a joke. Well, now it is (above), and it’s pretty cool.

The lost art

The lost art

Finally, fading from memory as the years go by is the fact that downtown Birmingham was at one time the principal shopping district for the entire metro. As in many other US cities, retailers stopped investing in downtown properties in the post-war years, favoring suburban locations instead. Bromberg’s, the local jewelry chain, was one of the first downtown retailers to open a suburban branch after the Second World War–but ironically was also one of the last to actually close its downtown location (2009). However, they still put considerable effort into dressing the original show windows (current layout of one of the windows on 2nd Avenue North, above). Who knows, with the prospect of retail returning to downtown, we may even shop at Bromberg’s again, rather than just gazing longingly at those show windows.  Until then, drop by Alchemy to meet Graham and check out something truly unique for this city.

Transforming Southtown

Southtown University

The Birmingham Business Journal reports this morning that Southtown Court, a public housing community administered by the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District, may be transformed into a mixed-income development pending a Federal grant award (Google Streetview above, taken at University Blvd. and 24th Street looking east, with Southtown on the right and the new Veteran’s Administration parking deck to the left). Built in 1941 as temporary housing for working class families, like other similar developments all across the US it has in later years become considered as permanent housing for low-income people. Southtown in particular, with its proximity to wealthier and well-traveled precincts (UAB, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Highland Park), has long been discussed as needing renovation, or even  repurposing. In the past, HABD has resisted wholesale change; now they are leading the effort.

Park Place

Park Place, pictured above looking west from 26th Street and 7th Avenue North, is an example of HABD working with private developers in the mid-2000’s to totally transform the former Metropolitan Gardens housing community in the heart of the CBD. Credited with aiding perceptions of downtown (reduced crime, improved aesthetics) it was also controversial for its displacement of low-income people who could no longer afford to live in the new development, or for whom there was simply no room (fewer units emerged in the new project compared to the old one). With the disappointingly designed Veteran’s Administration Clinic about to finish construction on University–future post about that one–one can only hope that if a new Southtown emerges, it will be more thoughtfully designed (and include commercial/retail components which sadly Park Place did not).

Southtown SA

With all of the generic “urban developer style” projects going up around downtown, could this site pave the way for yet another one (above project in San Antonio, TX)? As the process unfolds, we’ll explore what needs to happen on the Southtown  site in more detail: with 25 acres in such a visible, high traffic area, the possibilities are pretty endless.

(thanks to Google MapsHABD and San Antonio Business Journal for the images)