Feb 24, 2023 - News

Here's why St. Mary's Strip construction is taking so long

Road construction blocks businesses.

North St. Mary's Street closed to vehicular traffic in front of El Milagrito Cafe and Tycoon Flats on Wednesday. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

Construction on the St. Mary's Strip will be completed about six months later than originally planned because city officials expanded the scope of the project midstream and workers ran into unexpected utility issues, documents obtained by Axios through open records requests and interviews show.

Catch up fast: Local business owners have rebuked city leaders for months for not letting them and the public know about the delays. Some say the slowdowns have turned away customers, cutting into their bottom lines by hundreds of thousands of dollars and leaving them on the brink of closure.

Driving the news: North St. Mary's will open to two-way traffic by late March, assistant city manager Rod Sanchez tells Axios.

  • The construction should be complete by April 13 — more than two years after work began, Razi Hosseini, public works director, tells Axios.

Why it matters: The St. Mary's Strip has long been a cultural hub for food, music and nightlife. Officials want to improve the streetscape, but in the meantime, bar-goers have had to walk single-file through makeshift pathways often clogged with dirt and debris.

  • The Strip has offered a test for how the city will respond to concerns about access and communication as construction takes hold in a growing San Antonio. Projects in older areas near downtown can face more problems.

Details: In all, officials added 190 days to the construction timeline.

  • Thirty eight of those days stem from an extra $1.2 million in work to enhance the street — to widen sidewalks, add more pedestrian lighting and landscaping and create visual appeal with decorative, stamped concrete, per a change order for the project obtained by Axios.
  • Funding for the enhancements came from one of the city's tax increment reinvestment zones. The zone's board approved the money in November 2021.
  • The original scope of the project included a reconstructed street, rebuilt standard sidewalks, bike lanes and parking, without the other amenities. The completed project will have bike lanes on both sides of the street and parking mostly on the east side of the street, north of Ashby.

Zoom out: The total construction cost is around $11.6 million, per a Public Works Department spokesperson.

State of play: Tobin Hill resident Huey Rey Fischer says he and friends avoided going out on The Strip because of construction.

  • "We have to cross the street a couple times to get to the pedestrian access points. We've had to step over pipes," he tells Axios. "It's difficult — I've got friends wearing heels or with open-toed shoes."

By the numbers: Also included in the 190 additional days of construction are:

  • 108 days for issues related to sewer work, city records show. The sewer line is older and located farther underground than usual. That, combined with poor soil quality, led to large trenches that were dangerous for workers and drivers, triggering road closures, Hosseini says. The water utility also faced a material shortage.
  • 26 days because of a "conflict with a Google utility line," per city records.
  • 11 days due to further utility issues and a local event that temporarily slowed work.
  • 7 days to create signage and temporary pathways for pedestrians.

Of note: The contractor has asked for a two-month extension on the project, Hosseini said. But officials are trying to hold the contractor to the April 13 completion date.

What they're saying: Curry Boys BBQ has seen a 15% to 20% reduction in sales throughout construction, co-owner Sean Wen tells Axios. He recalls weeks when the restaurant didn't have a driveway.

  • "We had this tiny little hilarious bridge for pedestrians and guests to get to our shack," Wen says. "I remember thinking, 'In what world does this suffice? In what world does your local government think is great for a small business?'"
  • The Squeezebox saw sales drop by more than $400,000 last year, compared with annual sales before construction, co-owner Aaron Peña tells Axios. He worries he'll have to close the bar before year's end.
During road construction, the entrance to a bar is covered in dirt and gravel.
Road construction in front of Slackers Bar on North St. Mary's Street on Wednesday. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

The other side: The city has pushed the contractor, SpawGlass, to get things done faster by moving to a six-day work week, Sanchez says. But officials need to communicate better and earlier, he added.

  • "We want to do all that we can to help folks as we're doing the project," Sanchez says. "Part of this is just the nature of the game — construction is inconvenient, and it's messy and it takes a little bit of time."

What we're watching: How the city handles construction along South Alamo Street. The area is home to local businesses at Hemisfair and La Villita, and serves as an entryway from downtown to Southtown.

  • The city has hosted at least one public meeting to provide updates.
  • After outcry over St. Mary's, the city began regular meetings last fall for that project.
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