A former U.S. Air Force base is currently transforming into a massive mixed-use development destined to change San Antonio’s South Side forever. Known as Brooks, the 1,300-acre community is home to more than 3,200 employees, more than 2,300 residents, and more than 2,300 students.
Over the next few years, this long-emerging neighborhood is designed to become the humming, happening destination its developers envisioned from the start. “We’re redeveloping a base in a way that’s never been done before," says Connie Gonzalez, director of public relations at Brooks. "No one wants their base to be closed by the government, but we’d like to be a model for what to do if that happens.”
So, maybe you already know someone living at The Aviator, former barracks turned into chic living spaces. Or maybe you’ve heard that favorite San Antonio restaurants La Gloria and Southerleigh have plans to open locations there. And Brooks’ park, The Greenline, which celebrates its first anniversary on April 6, has become a fun place to walk dogs, jog, and play, no matter where you live in San Antonio.
With so much happening, we decided to check in and see just what else is destined for this unique development.
Founded as Brooks Field in 1917, it became Brooks Air Force Base in 1947. Ten years later, the School of Aerospace Medicine was established there, and President John F. Kennedy visited the base to dedicate a building the day before he went on his fateful trip to Dallas.
Over the past century, research was done on the base that got man to the moon, led to MRI technology and LASIK eye surgery, and pioneered parachute use for troops. “We had young men jumping out of planes here, hoping their parachutes would open,” Gonzalez says. “Innovation is in our DNA.
In 2002, with the base teetering on the closure list among U.S. Air Force bases, the Brooks Development Authority led ideas about how work with the city and state to reimagine the property and its assets.
And thus, Brooks City Base was established. Air Force operations relocated and stopped entirely in 2011, and economic development became the goal. Now it’s known simply as Brooks.
Many restaurants currently support Brooks residents and workers, but exciting additions include chef Johnny Hernandez’s La Gloria and El Machito and the Pearl’s Southerleigh, both set to open later this year.
“We’re finally able to incorporate some favorite, high-end, local brands into the community, which locals have been asking for,” says Gonzalez, who also notes that a new Southerleigh Brewery also is opening at Brooks soon.
“We’re thrilled to bring the Johnny Hernandez brand to Brooks,” Brooks president and CEO Leo Gomez said in a release about the news. “The addition of these two local, high-profile restaurants puts a spotlight on Brooks as an emerging area of San Antonio. La Gloria and El Machito will offer the Southside fresh, new dining options.”
Aside from residential and work space on grounds where U.S. aviators trained, Brooks offers Hanger 9 as a public event venue. The oldest wooden aircraft hangar of its kind still in its original location, it was built in 1918 during World War I and nabbed a coveted spot on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also a National Historic Landmark. “It’s our Pearl Stable,” Gonzalez says, pointing to the popular event space at Pearl.
The Greenline offers 43 acres of green space in the form of a linear, urban park with five terraced ponds. Highlights of the scenic green space include a 1.5-mile jogging trail, a 1-mile illuminated hike-and-bike trail, a playground, a main pavilion, three smaller pavilions, a plaza, and a great lawn.
A new food truck court, along with a new retail space, City Base Commons, open this summer. Gonzalez says the park will one day connect to the San Antonio River, which is just about a quarter of a mile away.
In the meantime, on April 6, the Greenline Experience, a festival celebrating park’s first year, kicks off with live music and family fun over the entire park, plus a free outdoor showing of Coco that night.
The Brooks also will host its first official Fiesta event on April 20 at The Greenline Park: Chanclas y Cervesas. And the Barbacoa and Big Red Festival will move to The Greenline this year, expecting more than 15,000 people on May 19.
Live and Work
The Kennedy is the newest apartment complex, boasting a resort-style pool and a location right along The Greenline. The aforementioned Aviator apartment complex reinvented an Air Force barracks and won a “Best in Commercial Real Estate” award from the San Antonio Business Journal in 2017. Buyers also can consider single-family town homes that were once officer quarters.
Gonzalez says the mixed-use development’s goal is to attract employers and residents, noting that in its heyday, the Air Force base had 2,700 jobs, while Brooks development already has 3,300 jobs on-site.
More residential options are expected, especially as new businesses continue to be attracted here. Okin Business Process Solutions of the Czech Republic will open its U.S. headquarters at Brooks in April 2019, and Cuisine Solutions will open in March 2020. “This mixed-use concept is really attracting new employers, as they focus on the employees’ quality of life,” Gonzalez says.
And Brooks offers a more well-rounded list of amenities as time goes by. Workout spots at Brooks include MixFit SA, and Gold’s Gym just across from the campus. There’s even a spa at the Embassy Suites at Brooks so residents can book a treatment room for a massage or salt rock inhalation therapy in San Antonio’s only salt rock cave, made from 6,000 salt rocks that came all the way from Poland.
The University of Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine already resides in the former U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine. And in August, the San Antonio Independent School District and CAST Schools will open CAST Med High School at Brooks, aimed at local high schoolers interested in pursuing medical careers as doctors and researchers.
H-E-B and its chairman and CEO, Charles Butt, are donating $2 million to support startup costs and renovations to an existing facility organized around a courtyard into the future campus located at Brooks.
“We saw a critical need in San Antonio to help graduates build skills and connections that will allow them to move seamlessly into high-demand jobs,"says Kate Rogers, president of The Holdsworth Center and a network founder. "The model benefits both the individual student and the economy.”