Downtown San Antonio is hardly a ghost town. Between large, bustling hotels, the headquarters of a number of businesses, big hospitals, UTSA Downtown, Market Square, and plenty of restaurants and bars, it’s a reasonably active district. But with a vacancy rate hovering around 25 percent, it’s not exactly Manhattan. A walking tour of the city center can be jarring: walk around the corner from a hip, busy night spot to find a darkened block lined with empty storefronts.
While the City plans pricey streetcar routes and an ambitious overhaul of HemisFair Park, an astounding number of beautiful buildings in the heart of the city sit empty and decaying. Some of them, like the Alameda Theater, are genuine historic treasures.
Marcus Westbury confronted a similar — though more extreme — situation in his home town of Newcastle, Australia, which by 2008 was at the bottom of steep post-industrial economic decline.