by: Bonny Osterhage
Real Estate Developer Shines Bright on Broadway
You may not immediately recognize the name Glenn Huddleston, but chances are that if you live in the Alamo Heights area, he’s a big part of your life. That’s because Huddleston, owner of the real estate development company Harper/Huddleston, Inc., owns several local strip centers, including the popular Uptown Alamo Heights, as well as the iconic former Mobile station that currently houses retailer Sloan/Hall.
A Boutique Industry
Huddleston is committed to preserving the feeling of an area that he says was once the retail boutique center of San Antonio, and growing it with the high-end, specialty businesses that match the feel and demographic of the neighborhood.
Since moving to San Antonio in 1969, he has watched as Alamo Heights boutiques began to get competition in the form of the Quarry and Quarry Village Shopping Centers, the Sunset Ridge Shopping Center and the strip centers that have begun to line Austin Highway. He says he was stunned to observe that the response of Alamo Heights was, in his words, a “non-response.”
In an effort to improve and compete, Huddleston says he and his team went out of the city to find successful retail boutiques that could prosper in a provincial residential area and that knew how to serve a discerning customer base.
“We decided we could either be a part of the decline or make it better,” he says of his decision to bring shops like The Impeccable Pig from Dallas, the celebrity-owned and operated Bird Bakery and the Alamo Olive Oil Company (a concept he discovered in Austin) into the Uptown Alamo Heights center. “We would like to see all the retail in Alamo Heights be like this,” he adds.
City of Beauty and Charm
As a boy growing up in Dallas, Huddleston had a paper route that included the home of Trammel Crowe. The real estate mogul often met him at the gate to collect his paper, and it made a big impression on young Huddleston. “All I ever wanted to do was go into real estate,” he says. “I told my wife if I didn’t succeed in this business, I was going to move to West Texas and become a cowboy.”
After graduating with a degree in business from UT Austin, Huddleston and his bride moved to San Antonio, where he worked with a local firm for less than a year before striking out on his own in 1970. He purchased and developed the Boardwalk on Broadway, opening his own office in one of the spaces and leasing the rest. More properties along Broadway followed, four of them in Alamo Heights, and Huddleston began to realize the untapped potential of this central thoroughfare.
“We have all the ingredients to have a true pedestrian urban development from Alamo Heights to downtown San Antonio along Broadway,” he says.
In between developing properties and raising his four children, Huddleston and other business owners, property owners and professionals in the Alamo Heights area came together to form an Economic Development Commission in 2003. Their mission? To look at ways to improve the “City of Beauty and Charm.” They concluded that in order to help the business community, they would need to develop a desirable business environment. The group looked at areas such as Highland Park in Dallas and River Oaks in Houston for inspiration and proposed tree-lined sidewalks and a more pedestrian- friendly urban development, free of things like drive-thru lanes.
Huddleston says that the Alamo Heights City Council was in 100-percent agreement with the suggestions, and they began by eliminating the drive-thru lanes in Alamo Heights’ restaurants. However, they did not eliminate them for banks or dry cleaners until 2010. Furthermore, Huddleston says that the plan to create more sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly areas was never implemented.
Today, like many Alamo Heights’ residents and business owners, Huddleston has been very vocal about the controversial high-rise proposal from Dallas-based development company Alamo Manhattan, LLA. The proposed project, Alamo Heights Gateway, would consist of a six-story, 85-foot apartment/retail space in Ausway Park, a portion of which is publicly owned. The 1.6 acres of Ausway Park are situated directly across from the Huddlestons’ Mobile station building.
Why does that matter? Because, according to Huddleston, the area is a floodway. Unlike a flood plane, where steps can be taken to prevent rising water, a floodway is more like a creek. Erecting a building in the middle of it will simply cause the water to change locations. In this case, Huddleston says it will flow south, which could potentially create big problems for his property.
“You are not supposed to be able to build in a floodway,” says Huddleston. “This area would be better served by using the park for arts fairs, farmers markets and other places that promote community engagement. We need to use the property to support the community.”
And The Future?
Now with the proposed high-rise, he says he fears that those improvement plans from 2003 will never be realized, and that concessions are being made that are not within city ordinances. “To my knowledge, this building would exceed any density in any city in the state of Texas,” he says. “We should not allow things that are inconsistent with the city’s ordinance and vision.”
Huddleston, whose son Harper now works by his side, proposes that the City Council allow funding to be raised privately to develop Ausway Park into something that is better suited to the community. In the meantime, he plans to continue to do his part to make sure his Alamo Heights retail centers support the boutique industry.
“It would be wonderful if the community could share a vision of what it can and will be,” he says, adding that the Alamo Heights motto, City of Beauty and Charm, should be more than simply words. “When you enter this area, you should feel like you are entering some place special.”