• 04 - Auditorium Area
    Currently under construction, Port San Antonio’s 130,000-sf Innovation Center will appeal to a new kind of tourist. - rendering courtesy RVK

For many people, San Antonio is a tourist city: It has long been a draw for tourists attracted to its nodes of cultural, historic, and athletic pageantry. Many come for the traditional tourist and historic attractions, but some visitors also come because of its cutting-edge medical and military outposts. Still others come to attend events held at its ever-growing convention center or its burgeoning technology and innovation campus. 

While the Alamo and River Walk will always remain a draw, the definition of a tourist is expanding, and city leaders are actively working to ensure that San Antonio remains an attractive destination for visitors and permanent residents alike.   

Seeking to improve the experience for those arriving in San Antonio by air, the city council approved a $2 billion 2040 Strategic Development Plan in November of last year. With calls for increased air capacity, additional gates for international flights to Europe and Asia, and improved passenger terminals and parking, the multidecade phased plan works with the goals established in the SA Climate Ready Plan and considers the rapid transit corridors called for in the VIA Vision 2040 Long Range Plan. 

In addition to these improvements at the airport on the city’s north side, plans are also underway at a decommissioned air force base on the southwest side of town. Located in what was once Kelly Air Force Base, Port San Antonio is a 1,900-acre tech campus that is home to leading aerospace, cybersecurity, defense, and robotics companies. In 2020, work began on a $70 million dollar Innovation Center that will host major e-sport events, product launches, drone races, robotics competitions, concerts, and innovative lectures with broadcasting capabilities. Designed by RVK Architecture and slated to open later this year, the 130,000-sf center includes a flexible 3,100-seat arena with retractable seating, integrated classrooms and meeting/conference spaces, and a research and development lab for start-up firms. The Innovation Center will also be home to the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology, which will offer STEM/STEAM programs to inspire students to pursue careers in robotics, cybersecurity, coding, and space science. 

Even before it has opened, the Innovation Center is already serving as a draw. In February of this year, a reconstituted DeLorean Motor Company announced plans to locate its global headquarters in Port San Antonio, citing the amenities offered by the Innovation Center as a contributing reason for its decision. As tempting as it might be to conclude by saying that San Antonio is heading “back to the future,” it is clear this tourist city is only heading forward into its future.

Florence Tang, Assoc. AIA, is a journalist, designer, and project manager based in Houston.

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