Avenida Guadalupe Association - San Antonio, TX
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Avenida Guadalupe Association (AGA) Visit disclaimer page was founded in 1979 to bring better services to the historic Hispanic West San Antonio neighborhood. Its most visible efforts have focused on developing Guadalupe Street, the informal “main street” of the community. AGA had developed a market (mercado), office building, cultural center, and retail space on Guadalupe by the turn of the 21st century. It had two major goals for this work—celebrate the Hispanic culture of the neighborhood and create basic services and jobs that would support the largely low-income community.
The West San Antonio neighborhood of just over 20,000 people has a long and colorful history. It has nurtured some important San Antonio civic leaders and political figures, including former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Henry Cisneros, former Congressman Henry Gonzalez, and brothers HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Congressman Joaquin Castro.
At the same time, it has long been an impoverished neighborhood. According to one report, Eleanor Roosevelt visited while she was First Lady and commented on the muddy streets and poor living conditions. One of the oldest, densest public housing projects in the country is located in the heart of the 3.5-square mile community. Even before the national recession of 2007, neighborhood unemployment stood at 12.7% and the poverty rate at almost 30%.
AGA was founded to be “a voice from the community,” according to Executive Director Oscar Ramirez. It earned its early reputation by advocating for increased services, jobs, and infrastructure for the neighborhood. Knowing that it needed allies and data about its community, AGA worked closely with the University of Texas at San Antonio, the campus located between downtown and the neighborhood.
The AGA’s mission focuses on what it calls The Three Cs: empowering the Community, developing Commerce, and honoring Culture. Reflecting the mission, AGA developed a shopping/office plaza, assisted other small businesses, and worked on infrastructure improvement projects—all on or near Guadalupe Street.
In 2007, AGA received a planning grant from the City of San Antonio to determine what could be included in a new neighborhood commercial revitalization project along Guadalupe Street. The organization spent the next year convening about 200 residents, business people and other stakeholders to help develop a plan. That plan called for an increase in retail and commercial space along the street, with an eye toward what would be appealing to consumers.
With the encouragement of an ally and tenant in an existing AGA project, the National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), AGA applied for and received a $610,000 CED grant from OCS in 2008.
The CED grant funds were for two main purposes:
- Renovate two older commercial buildings along Guadalupe Street for retail and office use.
- Seed a new property management business as a subsidiary of AGA.
The two Guadalupe Street properties were the cornerstone of the CED-funded activity. One property was a vacant two-story building with about 15,000 square feet of space owned by AGA and ready to be modernized and used for commercial purposes. The other property, also owned by AGA, was to be leased to a coffeehouse that intended to expand its business by serving meals from a new commercial kitchen.
AGA had decided to renovate these buildings because its existing buildings were occupied with tenants, including an employment agency, dentist, barber, credit union, insurance agency, and several nonprofit organizations, such as arts groups, Girl Scouts, and National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB’s) offices. The renovation would increase the available retail and commercial space for additional businesses and organizations in the neighborhood.
The new property management company, AVEGU, was designed to manage AGA’s properties, including three senior centers and two commercial properties (completed well before the CED grant was received), as well as other properties that had been managed by AGA. AVEGU intended
to employ local residents and to increase its workforce as AGA took on more property and conducted more social enterprise development.
The Rehabilitation Wasn’t Easy
The Promesa Building, the vacant two-story 15,000 square foot property, completed its rehabilitation in late 2013 at a total cost of more than $3 million. While the work was successfully completed in time to meet CED grant deadlines, it was not accomplished without some strains.
Some of the proposed tenants of the building experienced economic downturns and were unable to move into the building. The national recession contributed to this situation, due to such factors as the tightening of credit by banks, while some targeted businesses experienced the typical “ups and downs” of small businesses resulting, for example, from inexperience with long-term planning.
Additionally, the length of time to assemble funding for the entire project and address unanticipated historic preservation issues resulted in the loss of some tenants. AGA used the $610,000 CED grant as leverage to secure more than $2.5 million in funding, from the U.S. Economic Development Administration ($1.75 million), the City of San Antonio ($500,000), AGA equity ($300,000), and a few smaller participants.
The age of the Promesa Building, built in the early 1900s, prompted the city’s preservation agency to consider listing it as historic, halting AGA’s plans to tear down a dilapidated structure located on a portion of the site. AGA estimated the cost of rebuilding the dilapidated structure at about $1 million. Thus, it fought the historic designation—and won. Nevertheless, the mayor, with whom AGA had a supportive relationship, asked the organization to do the preservation anyway; in response, the AGA moved the old structure to a new site and raised money to rebuild it. This effort to raise the funds took more than a year, longer than to complete the actual construction.
AGA Executive Director Ramirez stated, “If it weren’t for the seed money provided by CED, all of this work would not have happened.” More than 53 jobs were created for low-income people as a result of the project; its initial goal was 45 positions. Eleven AGA tenants expanded, more than the CED goal of nine. AGA tenants—existing tenants that expanded as well as new renters—now include a construction company, call center, IT business, sausage maker, a group of physicians, AARP offices, and employment agency.
In the second project building, the coffeehouse expanded and hired new people after the new kitchen was completed, at a cost of $35,000 which was paid for with CED funds. It now serves meals at breakfast and lunch times and conducts events in and around the coffee shop.
AVEGU, the new property management subsidiary, includes nine new staff members, with more hires planned in the near future. With assistance from HUD, AVEGU created a social services coordinator position to help bring relevant services to the residents of the three senior centers it manages.
Why Did This Project Succeed?
AGA, a Community Development Corporation of longstanding, had not taken on a project of this size for several years, but it achieved its goals through partnerships and leveraging.
Over the years, it had developed a broad list of partnerships that helped this project when help was needed. NALCAB, a partner and tenant of AGA, helped uncover funding sources, including OCS and the CED program. AGA’s close relationship with the City of San Antonio helped secure other funds, including the grant from the Economic Development Administration and some bond proceeds that went into the construction funding pool. In addition, it was able to resolve the knotty historic preservation issue because it had the support of the mayor.
The organization strategically used the CED grant funds as leverage to secure funding that enabled it to do more than the work that could be supported only with the CED funding, which likely would have been enough only to cover work on one of the two buildings. In so doing, the project grew and became influential for both the neighborhood and the CDC. In the annual report of the San Antonio Westside Development Corporation (another area nonprofit development organization), its Executive Director Ray Flores said, “The Promesa Project [and another project down the street] are tremendous examples of how federal and local funds can be leveraged to make big impacts along Westside corridors. These anchors will have an exponential effect on the surrounding areas.” In continuing its efforts, AGA has recently undertaken about $250,000 in projects to upgrade five sites along Guadalupe Street using funds it won from Wells Fargo bank.
Want to Know More?
In a live webinar session on March 29, 2018, Gabriel Velasquez, Executive Director of Avenida Guadalupe Association in San Antonio, Texas, shared, in his own words, highlights and important lessons learned from this project. Watch now!