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Old Posted Mar 30, 2007, 8:09 PM
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sirkingwilliam sirkingwilliam is offline
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South San Antonio Soaring.

Soaring South Side

Web Posted: 03/29/2007 07:58 PM CDT

Rachel Stone
Express-News Business Writer

Southwest Military Drive has always had a driving-related reputation. Not so long ago, it was famous for cruising. But today, it's famous for the gridlock that's been a by-product of its development.

"Everybody's fighting to get onto Southwest Military Drive," said Wanda Robbins, who has owned Robbins Safe & Lock on the South Side thoroughfare for almost 40 years.

It's not clear at first whether she's talking about traffic or real estate developers.

She means both.

"New buildings, new construction. Traffic galore," she said. "Everything has changed around here. Wall-to-wall people."

About seven years ago, Robbins demolished the two small houses that had comprised her business and replaced them with an 8,000-square-foot retail center, which is fully leased and includes her business.

Robbins Safe & Lock was part of a transition from the small-time mom-and-pop retail climate that characterized Southwest Military and the South Side for decades. Now the area includes national retail and restaurant chains such as Target, Best Buy, Johnny Carino's and Applebee's.

And new developments are under way all the time.

James Allen is working on a 7-acre retail development called The Corner, near Somerset Road and Southwest Military.

He expects to start construction on three retail pads facing Southwest Military and a 22,000-square-foot retail center by summer. Craig Garunsuay, a broker with United Commercial Realty in San Antonio, is in negotiations with national restaurant chains, a bank and a drugstore for leases at the site.

"The South Side has really come around over the past few years," Garunsuay said. "I think what's really spurring the growth has been the tremendous success that retailers are having on Southwest Military. People are just now getting an idea of what they can do down there."

New development on the South Side is giving residents more choices for housing, shopping and office space, said Cecilia Garcia, president of the Priority Group, a commercial real estate company in San Antonio.

"People really do want to stay on the South Side, but there haven't been many options for young people," she said. "Finally, there's home development on the South Side, so people can stay there and raise their families."

Land prices on the South Side are two to three times lower than on the North and West sides, according to Landon Kane, a land broker with First American Commercial Property Group. That, and the level, non-rocky terrain that makes for easier construction could be part of the attraction for builders.

Home builder David Anderson has built about three houses per month in the Savannah Heights subdivision, near Highway 16 and Loop 1604, since 2004. The houses range from about 1,400 square feet to almost 2,000 square feet, and most of them sit on 1-acre lots. They sell for about $146,000 to $240,000.

The subdivision originally was planned for manufactured housing, but Anderson saw an opportunity to meet a demand for more upscale housing on the South Side.

"They're people who have grown up on the South Side of town and were just waiting for a builder to come along and build houses that were the level they were looking for," Anderson said of his buyers. "It's not a runaway market. It's a steady market, which I like."

Last year the area also welcomed the latest in just a few gated communities, Southern Hills by Schaefer Homes and the Arlington-based Classic Century Homes, outside Loop 410 and off U.S. 87 and Foster Meadows Drive.

One of the most ambitious developments planned for the South Side is a 535-acre mixed-use development near Highway 16 and Wilson Road, called the Preserve at Medina River.

The project is Michigan-based Crosswinds National's first in San Antonio.

"I looked at property on the North and West sides," said Joe Cotter, who is managing the project. "We feel that it's going to be a new growth area, and it's a new choice for people."

The Preserve, which is near Medina River Park and Toyota Motor Corp.'s Tundra plant, is expected to include 1,200 single-family homes ranging from $140,000 to $180,000, an apartment complex and 65 acres for offices, retail and a hotel.

Cotter said he expects the first homes to start going up in late 2008.

The development is adjacent to the Medina River, and about 160 acres will be left undeveloped for a park and hike-and-bike trails, he said.

Although the South Side is home to the city's Mission Trail and the rehabilitated Mitchell Lake, many San Antonio residents don't realize that the South Side is home to some beautiful real estate, Garcia said.

"It's like a hidden treasure," she said.
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