By Gregory Moore
The Sisters of the Holy Spirit convent that is located on Yucca Street in San Antonio is in the process of being sold to a non-profit organization that specializes in placing paroled prisoners back into society.
In what has become probably one of the most heated of land grabs in recent memory, Crosspoint, Inc. has secured the 80,000 square foot property that sits on 23 acres of fenced property and residents, former and current East side leaders are not pleased one bit at how the property will be used.
In a contentious four and a half zoning meeting and later a prolonged City Council quorum, Crosspoint has successfully gotten a rezoning permit so that the facility can be a halfway home for up to 100 former prisoners.
One east side non-profit had a voice but that voice also brought about controversy as it has been rumored that the organization wanted the property for itself.
With a former city councilwoman and former zoning commissioner speaking for it, the George Gervin Center had found itself in the midst of a quagmire that was not only contentious but also showed, my no efforts of the organization, that its involvement was also very pretentious and self serving.
Couple that controversy with what seems to be a persistent pattern of reacting to a situation when it is in the home stretch by the community and you have a powder keg that Mayor Julian Castro found out to not only be potentially a political hot potato but it showed the whole city that the East side is still not a prime time player in controlling its future.
OPPOSITION ONLY CAME WHEN MENTIONED
The opposition for the sisters to allow Crosspoint to have the property was strong and warranted.
A local columnist for the San Antonio Express News mentioned the fact that the property had multiple benefits to the BRAC expansion project and that if ventured properly, could boost the MLK/W.W. White Road corridor.
The writer is correct in her stance but mere words weren’t going to get this project into a better situation.
The property had been on the market since December of 2008 and nobody who had strong business ties in this particular community came forth with a plan to utilize the property.
With the San Antonio Independent School District looking at a potential school closure, nobody in the community even brought that idea up to trustees as to maybe using the 80,000 sqft. convent as an alternative school, magnate school or even resource center.
So with virtually no opposition, the non-profit who has a 46 year history of assimilating convicts back into the San Antonio lifestyle made a push for the property and began the necessary procedures to turn it into a facility that it needed for its continued work.
The opposition that presented itself yesterday and a few days prior to the vote only surfaced about two weeks ago when at a meeting in which the SAISD board was holding public hearings about the closure of a high school in the area.
That notice came from former city councilwoman Sheila McNeil.
Ms. McNeil made mention of the Yucca property to an audience that was already upset about the potential closing of Sam Houston High School and so with the hearing of news that the convent could become a halfway house was the perfect powder keg to keep the East side community in a frenzy of the city looking to take something else away from the area.
CENTER COULD USE PROPERTY BUT MESSENGER TAINTED THE PROCESS
The Gervin Center could have used the Yucca Street property to be an added resource for several of its programs but the fact that McNeil even mentioning the proposed property at a different event gathering actually tainted a positive process.
McNeil is employed by the Gervin Center and so is former zoning commissioner Barbara Hawkins.
In their quest to bring attention to the convent and its future use, the two ladies basically showed their hand to the public on what their intentions were.
In the poker world, that would be showing a strong hand only to be beaten out by weaker cards.
By becoming a part of the story, what the Gervin Center did was push away any positive momentum of helping it procure the property.
Basically it was bad public relations ploy that not only backfired on them, it put a community in a defensive posture that it couldn’t maintain.
By the center not having a cashier’s check of a substantial amount ready to go along with the PR ploy, not only did it help push the property out of the hands of Eastside residents, it gave the city council the untenable task of looking only at the money aspect of the Crosspoint plan; not its long term community offerings that are out there.
But this is just the latest economic setback on the Eastside.
While the area will have its high school in tact, the reality of the BRAC expansion is that potential families will not be looking to move across the I-35 corridor of Walters and N. New Braunfels.
The economic offerings simply are not going to be enough to sustain any Eastside growth over a long period of time.
That is why it is very puzzling why community leaders, and residents in some respects, are so reactionary on such projects like the Yucca Street property.
When compared to other parts of the city, leadership is sorely lacking in finding potential economic win falls that benefit the area both from a residential and business standpoint.
This is a trend that needs to end soon.
There are other properties in this area that need to be re-developed but if the Eastside community continues to be just a reactionary force during the home stretch of a potential development, it will soon find itself in a position that no one ever dreamed of even five years ago.
That position is that of a “ghetto”; a real estate debacle that could be the ultimate demise of a promising area of San Antonio.