Jun 27, 2023 - Development

Victor Wembanyama brings renewed focus on Spurs' home AT&T Center

The Spurs celebrated the team's 50th anniversary this year outside the AT&T Center. Photo: John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

San Antonians who want to cheer on Victor Wembanyama will flock to the AT&T Center on the East Side — and probably leave the area once the game is over.

  • The streets around the AT&T Center are dotted with industrial operations. There are few bars and restaurants within walking distance for pre-game and post-game plans for fans.

What's happening: The energy around Wemby's arrival in San Antonio, however, has renewed focus on the Spurs and their future in San Antonio — including where they play.

Be smart: Talk of a new arena — either downtown or on the Northwest Side near the Spurs' new practice facility at La Canteraisn't new. Neither is the lack of entertainment options around the AT&T Center. But discussions could crystallize in the coming years with an expected new chapter for the Spurs as the catalyst.

What they're saying: "We are at an interesting juncture. We have an arena that the county invested significant money in, and has continued to invest in, but it has not had the development impact that one might hope for," Heywood Sanders, UTSA professor of public administration, tells Axios.

Why it matters: A defined arena district where fans can spend time before and after games can help bring a city together and benefit local businesses.

Yes, but: Such plans are expensive and don't necessarily bring new visitors or economic impact to San Antonio, Sanders says.

  • Energy around one particular player doesn't guarantee development, Tommy Calvert, the Bexar County commissioner who represents the area around the AT&T Center, tells Axios. The 2014 championship win and past star players didn't change the landscape surrounding the arena.

The big picture: San Antonio ranks toward the bottom — No. 25 of 30 teams — for overall average attendance in the NBA, per the Sports Business Journal.

Zoom in: Calvert and Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, the city councilmember who represents the East Side, both want to see more development around the AT&T Center.

Plus: Calvert shares fans' anxiety over whether the Spurs might leave San Antonio for Austin. A new arena could help encourage them to stay, Calvert tells Axios.

  • That doesn't necessarily mean relocation, though. He could also envision a new arena at the current site of the AT&T Center.
  • "When they decide where they wanna be, we'll be supportive," Calvert tells Axios. "I don't think they know yet."

Of note: The Spurs' ownership group has not commented publicly on whether they'd like to move the team to a new arena.

Flashback: The $175 million AT&T Center opened in 2002 with funding from Bexar County, which owns the site, also home to the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

  • It underwent a $110 million renovation in 2015.

Context: Officials have proposed a downtown arena before, when the city and county suggested competing ideas for the Spurs' next home, Sanders says.

  • One plan in 1999 showed a Spurs arena on the south parking lot of the Alamodome.
  • But that would have cost more to build, Sanders tells Axios. The county's plan involved land it already owned farther east.

Between the lines: When the AT&T Center came to fruition, it didn't come with a private development plan for the surrounding area, Sanders says, differing from other major cities.

  • "The nature of the politics of the time is that there was effectively no long-term plan for that area," Sanders tells Axios.

Zoom out: Other cities have created bustling entertainment districts around major sporting arenas — from Ballpark Village in St. Louis to the Arena District in Columbus, Ohio, outside the Nationwide Arena. Dallas has Victory Park around the American Airlines Center.

Reality check: Such major development can bring higher rents. Parts of the East Side, like Dignowity Hill closer to downtown, are already facing higher housing costs.

The bottom line: There probably won't be a surge in private investment just yet, McKee-Rodriguez tells Axios. But he's ready to talk about what's next.

  • "This is going to spur a deeper conversation about how we maintain the Spurs in San Antonio — and what kind of district or area or corridor we need to create to do that," McKee-Rodriguez says.
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