Former Texas ‘Ghost Buildings’ Reborn As Mixed-Use Gem

Most politically minded people would have torn them down and erased all trace of their presence. Practical people would have turned the sturdy concrete walls into rubble and rebar, and sold the raw materials as scrap. Fortunately for the people of San Antonio, Texas, some forward-thinking adaptive reuse experts got together to save the bones of the failed “ghost buildings” of 1221 Broadway. As seen in a recent Treehugger story, the result was something better than anyone thought possible.

After construction began nearly a decade ago, the 1221 Broadway real estate development project failed in 2004 and sat half-finished and abandoned for years. Almost inevitably, the stark concrete walls attracted vagrants, vandals and crime while creditors and politicians squabbled over the remains.

This mixed-used housing project in San Antonio was saved from the wrecking ball after sitting idle for years. Image by Chris Cooper via Lake|Flato Architects.

This mixed-used housing project in San Antonio was saved from the wrecking ball after sitting idle for years. Image by Chris Cooper via Lake|Flato Architects.

Then, a few years ago, the two-block site was auctioned off to a developer called AREA Real Estate that saw potential in the half-completed apartment complex. AREA hired San Antonio design firms Lake|Flato Architects and OCO Architects to breathe new life into the site and transform them into modern mixed-use housing and retail property.

The abandoned 1221 Broadway complex, as it looked before the adaptive reuse project began. Image via Lake|Flato Architects.

The abandoned 1221 Broadway complex, as it looked before the adaptive reuse project began. Image via Lake|Flato Architects.

The resulting vibrant campus is 180 degrees from the eyesore it once was. Today, more than 330,000 square feet of housing and retail space has been built out from the original concrete shell, connecting the city’s famous Riverwalk esplanade to the River North cultural arts district that is.

Today the finished apartments are connected to the San Antonio Riverwalk esplanade. Image by Chris Cooper via Lake|Flato Architects.

Today the finished apartments are connected to the San Antonio Riverwalk esplanade. Image by Chris Cooper via Lake|Flato Architects.

In the first phase, the designers focused on the 300 apartments that had already been built, encompassing more than 250,000 square feet across five courtyards. To create a more cohesive whole, they added pedestrian walkways in between the buildings. In the next phase, they updated the more than 78,000 square feet of space in the eastern side of the property, which includes most of the office and retail locations within the complex.

Lake|Flato and OCO didn’t shy away from the history of the site, either. They left much of the intact concrete walls exposed in the final apartment designs as an homage to the original structure. Work crews also added larger window openings to allow for more natural daylight and reduce energy costs.

In a clever application of adaptive reuse, a decaying structure that once seemed destined for a wrecking ball or, worse, a magnet for crime, is now a thriving mixed-use gem, with many open, walkable green spaces that connect with San Antonio’s famous canal system.

Since the renovations were completed last year, Lake|Flato and OCO have earned the AIA San Antonio Citation Award, a Builder’s Choice Award, a San Antonio Green Building Award and several other local accolades in 2012 for their efforts on the project.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.