River Walk’s Granada Homes senior housing is getting a $63 million rehabilitation – San Antonio Express-News

A stately building along the River Walk in downtown San Antonio will remain affordable housing for low-income seniors and undergo a much-needed $63 million renovation.

The San Antonio Building Trades Council is working with local developer Pat Biernacki and his business partner Victor Atkins to rehabilitate Granada Homes at St. Mary’s and Villita streets.

The upgrades include replacing air conditioning, mechanical systems and elevators; increasing the total number of apartments to 265 from 249; outfitting apartments with new appliances, flooring, window treatments, and kitchen and bathroom fixtures; adding amenities, including a gym, chapel, library, and arts and crafts room; and restoring common areas to reflect what the building looked like when it opened in the late 1920s.

Biernacki praised the Building Trades Council for retaining and improving the building, which is owned by a partnership that includes him and the union.

“Granada could easily be a boutique hotel. It could easily be very high-end apartments,” he said. “They made the decision to double down on it being senior affordable housing.”

Biernacki pointed to what he called a “huge gap” in supply of affordable housing for seniors.

“Granada has long been part of filling that gap, and we’re not going to stop doing it,” he said. “We’re going to fix this building up, and we’re going to make it an even better place to live, and we’re going to keep doing it for a really long time.”

The renovations will be financed using state and federal historic tax credits and low-income housing tax credits. The San Antonio Housing Authority was originally a partner on the project, but its involvement now is limited to issuing up to $30 million in tax-exempt bonds.

About 90 percent of current residents earn less than 30 percent of the area median income and the rest earn less than 60 percent, according to information a SAHA spokesperson said the agency had recently received.

Half of the apartments would be rented to residents earning up to 50 percent of the area median income and the other half to residents at up to 60 percent of that level, according to the information provided to SAHA. Biernacki did not respond to an inquiry seeking to confirm the figures.

The council, which is a local affiliate of the Texas State Building and Construction Trades Council, has received multiple offers to buy Granada Homes, said Thomas Kennedy, executive director and secretary-treasurer of the statewide organization.

“They decided the need for affordable housing for seniors outweighs the benefits of a straight-out sale,” he said in a statement. “Granada Homes is one of the few union-owned housing complexes in the U.S. That enables the owners to perform this renovation with union labor, providing construction jobs with good pay and strong benefits that stay in the community.”

Biernacki renovated Wedgwood Senior Apartments, a complex for seniors at 6701 Blanco Road and the site of a deadly fire in 2014. He used historic tax credits for that project, which is now known as Ensemble Apartments.

At Granada Homes, the scope of the upgrades, senior population and use of tax credits are similar to the Wedgewood work, he said.

“It was built to be a hotel, so you have tremendous amounts of amenity space that were old ballrooms or commercial kitchens or libraries and dining rooms, and so we’ll be able to utilize a lot of that space in converting to some of the amenities that residents have been pretty vocal in thinking would be of good value,” Biernacki said.

The Granada building will remain occupied during renovations and tenants will move into a refurbished unit as work is finished, according to Cadence McShane Construction Co. The project, which has begun, is expected to conclude in late 2022.

The 12-story building was constructed in the late 1920s as the Plaza Hotel.

It was built on the former Bowen’s Island, a slice of land surrounded by the river, and touted as the “finest hotel in the South and the last word in ‘Service of Good Living’ for San Antonio’s visitors and downtown dwellers,” according to a column by Paula Allen.

Smith Bros. Properties developed the hotel and the Tower Life Building across the street, and the two were connected by an underground passageway used by customers and employees.

The Plaza changed hands several times in the 1950s and 1960s. The trades council purchased it in 1966 amid pushback from the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, which was worried about hotel rooms for HemisFair ’68 attendees, and converted it to apartments for seniors.