On Location: San Antonio’s Pearl Brewery District

On a recent trip to San Antonio, we explored the new Pearl Brewery District. Although no actual beer is produced in this location anymore, as a planner, I found so many reasons to love this place. I was inspired by the integrated adaptive reuse, historic preservation, and mixed use infill development that is taking place on the site and how landscaping, a focus on the pedestrian, water conservation and reclamation, and renewable energy are all incorporated into the site. The Pearl Brewery District redevelopment was fortunately able to do all of these “good-planning-techniques” but if every development or redevelopment project was able to do just one or two of these things, maybe we would all be better off.

The Adaptive Reuse and Historic Preservation of Pearl

Pearl Brewery, established in 1881, is the oldest Brewery in Texas. Pearl Brewing Company was bought by Pabst Brewing Company in 1985 (Pearl Beer is still produced by Miller in Fort Worth, Texas). Pabst Brewing Company continued brewing operations on the site until 2001. Luckily, the local investment firm Silver Ventures saw the 22-acre site’s potential and quickly snatched it up. The site today is a mix of new and old buildings that present the perfect mixture of scales and building materials.


In addition to the historic preservation of the buildings themselves, the project’s buildings incorporate names related to the site’s original use.


The historic administration building is now a restaurant facing a central green space.


The Stable (1894) was used to house horses and now is a unique event venue in the heart of the site.

Attractive Public Spaces and Outdoor Dining Create a Sense of Place

Walking around the Pearl District today, even as a visitor, you feel very welcome. Part of the reason may be that the indoor and outdoor spaces of each building blend into one another with activity such as outdoor dining spilling out into the public realm. (Outdoor dining also usually means that you can bring your dog which seems very popular in Texas, too!)


Several mixed-use buildings enclose this central green space.


Providing seating and shade outside of this popular coffee house has attracted many people.


This restaurant has a covered outdoor seating area (a.k.a. the dog patio). Photo used with permission.






Using Landscaping and Changes in Paving Materials to Define Spaces

Providing changes in materials between the car-realm and the pedestrian-realm can help cue to both drivers and walkers the presence of crosswalks and other high-traffic areas. At Pearl the sidewalks and crosswalks were consistently paved with red bricks that were easily distinguished from the travel lanes and driveways.


A clearly-defined crosswalk connects pedestrians to this office building.


Brick pavers highlight the pedestrian sidewalk while additional landscaping helps to define the outdoor dining area and entrance to this restaurant.


I was fascinated by the vertical vegetation on this parking garage but the ground-level vegetation and planters also help to calm traffic.













Extensive Landscaping with Stormwater Management  and Water Conservation In-mind

Landscaping also clearly plays an important role in the stormwater management on the site. Too often in infill projects the developers choose to place the stormwater management underground rather than looking for creative ways to manage the stormwater on the surface. By choosing plants native to San Antonio’s climate, the developers estimate the green space uses about 1/5th of the amount of water than the average landscape.


By eliminating curbing around landscaped areas, the runoff is allowed to drain into the landscaping, decreasing the need for additional irrigation.


Vegetation within the site’s perimeter parking areas also provide shade and visual interest.



Keeping water conservation and stormwater runoff reduction in mind when designing your landscape can create attractive and educational spaces.















Integrated Water Reclamation and Reuse

There are countless signs around the development warning the public that recycled water (often captured rainwater) is used for both irrigation and fountain water. Decreasing the demand for potable water is a win-win for the developer and the environment.


Don’t drink the fountain water!


A public-private partnership between Pearl and the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) makes the extensive water reclamation and reuse system possible.


Pearl proudly explains the benefits of recycled water.















The Largest Privately-Owned Solar Installation in Texas

The Full Goods building (distribution center-turned-environmentally-friendly office building) is powered partially by a 200-kW solar installation, the largest privately-owned system in all of Texas.


Learn more about solar energy, watch a time-lapse video of the system being installed and watch the meters spin backwards at the “Solar Power Station.”


The solar panel array extends across a pedestrian atrium.















Connection to and Extension of the Riverwalk (You Could Walk Here from Downtown!)

In the early 2000’s (around the time that the site became vacant and ideas for redevelopment were starting to form) the City of San Antonio was planning a northward expansion of the Riverwalk (see my article “Re-Activating Our Cities’ Waterfronts” for more info) where it now passes right next to the Pearl Brewery site. The Pearl took advantage of the new connection and has created an amphitheatre and a River Barge stop.


Creative landscaping and use of natural materials creates a mini-rapids near the top of the Riverwalk.


Amphitheatre seating welcomes visitors.


A bridge connects pedestrians to the western side of the Riverwalk and the River Barge stop.













And, There’s More to Come!

Currently, construction is underway to convert the historic brewery building into a 146-room boutique hotel.


Cranes were at work at the Hotel Pearl, which is set to open later this year.