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Cityscrapes

City streetcar plans represent another developer-fueled heist

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"GO BY STREETCAR" reads the big neon sign on the Streetcar Lofts in Portland's Pearl District. And in Portland, you can go by streetcar. From the busy, active downtown complete with Macy's, Nordstrom's, H&M, and host of other stores and businesses leading into the booming Pearl District with its lofts and townhouses.

You can go by streetcar right to the Piazza Italia restaurant (been there) and Cool Moon Ice Cream down the block (it's great!). The streetcar can take you to the Whole Foods Market in the Pearl District. You can go right past Powell's "City of Books" Bookstore, covering an entire square block with more than a million new and used books on the shelves. You can go back to downtown, past the public library, the Portland Art Museum, and to Portland State University. It serves lots of places, places where Portlanders naturally go.

Soon, if our city and county politicos have their way, you'll be able to go by streetcar in San Antonio too. And where will we be able to go?

You'll be able to go from the Alamo up Broadway to the Pearl Brewery, right past all the now-shuttered car dealerships. You'll be able to go by thriving Rivercenter Mall, through HemisFair Park, and to the Robert Thompson Transit Center next to the Alamodome. Or you could go through downtown, all the way to the new West Side multimodal transit center in Cattleman's Square.

The promises sound great. The San Antonio Express-News offered the editorial judgment that the streetcar could be "a game-changer that sparks inner-city growth and slows the culture of sprawl."

Is that "inner-city growth" around Pearl Brewery and the Alamodome? Are we slowing a "culture of sprawl" along Broadway? I don't think so. All those with jobs downtown, who live along Broadway or in HemisFair Park, raise your hands.

Or how about this assessment of the coming West Side multimodal center offered by Henry Muñoz, chair of the VIA board: "This facility will not only enhance the visual appeal of the immediate vicinity, it will also result in increased development and redevelopment."

That's the reality of the planned streetcar "system" as well as the multimodal center. It's about development. That in turn means land and building. And it's not really about serving the transportation needs of San Antonians, even those in the inner city.

It's about moving tourists, getting them quickly to Pearl Brewery and to a host of development projects planned along Broadway and in HemisFair Park. It's about making new apartments and lofts more saleable. And it's truly about making some developers real money.

We've long worshipped development in San Antonio. Around downtown that's meant trying to lure tourists to projects like the "Pink Elephant" of Fiesta Plaza, where the downtown campus of UTSA now stands. Or putting brick sidewalks and tall palm trees along Houston Street in the belief that "major retailers" like Barnes & Noble or Bath & Body Works would soon follow. Even building a glass-enclosed elevator from the Riverwalk to a trolley stop near Alamo Plaza to lure tourists to the "$52 million entertainment and retail complex" at Sunset Station on the Near East Side.

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