The Triangle Square plan gets approved at council, raising questions from Eastside activists about the fate of similar projects in their neighborhoods.
A Site to Behold
In 1996, Cencor Realty released a first draft of its plans for the 22-acre state-owned lot known as the "Triangle," bounded by 45th Street to the south and the junction of Lamar and Guadalupe to the north. On paper, the development resembled a suburban-style shopping center -- what one nearby resident called "an ocean of concrete" -- with a 14-screen movie theatre, a Barnes & Noble bookstore, and a Randall's superstore competing with Central Market to the south. But considering the surrounding area's history of neighborhood activism, it's likely that the planned suburban shopping center never had a chance.
Five area neighborhood groups formed the Neighbors of Triangle Park; and, one 6,000-signature petition, one gubernatorial race, and a long series of negotiations later, the Triangle Square project emerged.
The site plan still includes the Randall's, but has been transformed from a project with about 300,000 feet of retail space (not including surface parking) and perhaps 50 upscale apartments to just 50,000 feet of retail and nearly 800 apartments, 5% of which will be affordable housing. In addition, nearly six of the lot's 22 acres will be dedicated as parkland by the city. "We've had to make some compromises, but I think we got everything we asked for," says Louise Shelby, a member of Neighbors of Triangle Park. With the neighbors placated and Cencor executive VP Tom Terkel feeling relatively content, the City Council fell all over itself Thursday night to approve the project. "We could make this a jewel of the city if we do it right," freshman Council Member Raul Alvarez said in the warm glow that followed the approving vote.
However, without the city's support package of $7.5 million in fee waivers, reimbursements, and general fund transfers, the cozy little "neighborhood from scratch" would have been little more than a pipe dream. Even with the city's support, Terkel says, the project provides only a "minimally acceptable" profit return -- too many mid-range apartments and not enough big stores. It remains to be seen whether similar projects in less influential -- and affluent -- neighborhoods on the Eastside will get the same kind of city backing as Triangle Park.
If not, contractors in these areas may put in whatever pricey apartments or big chain stores will return the biggest profit on their expenditures. Concern about this type of high-end development has drawn criticism before from Eastside residents and activists, especially in regard to the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan. Activists -- who requested a postponement of a vote on the Chavez plan Thursday -- have speculated in the past that the plan may open the door to gentrification, pushing out the area's predominantly working-class population.