Aug 25, 2023 - Business

St. Mary's Strip construction finally winding down

A newly paved street and bike lane in front of bars and on-street parking.

A newly paved street and bike lane on North St. Mary's Street. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

Last Friday night on the St. Mary's Strip, people walked along newly widened sidewalks, with no cones or construction work blocking the path, to make their way to bars and restaurants.

  • The scene was a stark difference from earlier this year, when pedestrians sometimes had to step over pipes.

What's happening: The bulk of construction along a longtime San Antonio nightlife destination is finished. Remaining details will be done by the end of the summer, a spokesperson tells Axios.

  • "It's a smooth street. Sidewalks are in, the new traffic signal's in, landscaping's in," assistant city manager Rod Sanchez tells Axios. "There's nothing to stop anybody from coming down and enjoying the street."

Catch up fast: The nearly $12 million North St. Mary's Street construction project has taken about two-and-a-half years to complete — nearly a year longer than planned due to expanded project work and sewer issues.

  • Throughout the project, business owners blasted city leaders over delays and complained customers couldn't access bars, restaurants and shops.
  • The reconstructed street includes wider sidewalks, bike lanes, parking, landscaping and more pedestrian lighting.

Why it matters: The city is taking on more large street reconstruction projects in busy areas as San Antonio's five-year bond programs have grown, Razi Hosseini, the city's public works director, tells Axios. Many downtown area projects are slated to take a couple years.

State of play: Sanchez says officials are taking what they've learned — like the importance of providing more frequent status updates — and will apply the lessons to future projects that have potential to cause problems.

What they did: The city began weekly update meetings with the neighborhood after concerns about St. Mary's heated up. Over the course of the project, officials:

A newly paved intersection with a brick crosswalk.
A newly completed crosswalk at the intersection of North St. Mary's Street and East Ashby Place. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

The big picture: Long a cultural hub for music and nightlife, the Strip is emerging from construction with a new look and feel — and changes in the businesses that call it home.

Details: The Squeezebox, a space where Latino legends performed, closed this summer. Owner Aaron Peña attributed the closure to city construction, which he's long criticized.

  • New spots have opened this year: Wurst Behavior, a beer garden with sausages and burgers, and Vibras, a bar that houses a coffee shop during the day.

Flashback: Near multiple colleges, the Strip has always evolved. It was once a haven for punk and metal music in the '80s and '90s, a vibe still present at some bars.

Zoom in: Sean Wen, who owns Wurst Behavior and Curry Boys BBQ, also on the Strip, is worried potential customers don't know the Strip is open. Sales at Curry Boys have bounced back a bit but remain lower than usual, Wen says.

  • He's ready to welcome people back and says access is no longer a problem. He hopes new businesses will offer a draw to bring people out.

What they're saying: "The next step is letting people know the street is open again and it's ready to go," Wen tells Axios. "That piece is just as important as completion."

  • "I think it'll probably never live up to the expectations of the time that it took," Wen says. "But for what it's worth, now that it's done, it does look nicer than it did before."
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