When three national magazines — U.S. News & World Report, Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure — give you glowing reviews, you must be doing something right.
Such is the case with Hotel Emma, a 146-room luxury hotel that’s one of the numerous fascinating facets of San Antonio’s mixed-use Pearl complex, which rose from the historic but neglected Pearl Brewery. “Some are calling San Antonio Texas’s next capital of cool —and Hotel Emma is at the center of it all,” Travel + Leisure enthused in 2016.
In totality, the Pearl project is drawing raves for its functional and charming blend of retail, residential, lodging and commercial components. As a matter of fact, Pearl is a ULI 2017 Global Awards for Excellence award winner. During the ULI Texas Forum, attendees toured Hotel Emma as well as the Cellars and Can Plant apartment projects; a food hall and basement jazz club; and the third U.S. campus of the Culinary Institute of America.
Lynn Knapik, a Realtor in San Antonio, occupies two of the eight units above the culinary institute. One is for living, and the other is for working. Knapik, known as the “unofficial mayor of Pearl,” moved to the old brewery property in October 2010.
While on the ULI tour, Knapik remarked that Pearl feels like “an urban village.”
“It’s the first time I’ve ever felt like I’ve lived in a neighborhood,” she said.
Among the neighborhood amenities within walking distance of Knapik’s living and working quarters are a weekend farmers market; the Twig Book Shop; an array of boutiques selling apparel and accessories, such as Dos Carolinas, a maker of custom guayabera shirts; a full menu of eateries, including Green, the only kosher vegetarian restaurant in San Antonio; and Larder, a gourmet grocery store at Hotel Emma.
Hotel Emma, which welcomed its first guests in late 2015, occupies the former Pearl brewhouse. It’s named after Emma Koehler, wife of the brewery’s founder; she became CEO of the brewery after her husband’s death in 1914. The brewhouse opened in 1894 — 11 years after the brewery was founded. The brewery shut down in 2001. A year later, the current owner bought the 22-acre site with the goal of revitalizing the property.
Even after being converted into a hotel, the former brewhouse retains its 19th century flavor. And that’s definitely by design. San Antonio billionaire Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury, founder of local investment firm Silver Ventures, which owns the Pearl project, insisted that pretty much everything salvaged from the abandoned brewery site be repurposed.
On the ceiling of Hotel Emma’s ballroom, you’ll spot three “deconstructed” pieces of salvaged bottling equipment that were transformed into chandeliers. Workers discovered the bronze and stainless-steel bottling equipment, slathered in paint, while they were cleaning up the property, according to Allen Sikes, design and construction manager at Silver Ventures. Also accentuating the ballroom are seven huge, bright orange ammonia tanks that had been used in the brewing operation.
Not every building at Pearl is generations old, but all of the buildings pay tribute in some way to the history of the brewery, the city and the South Texas region. Take, for example, the 122-unit Cellars apartment building, a ground-up development where the average unit measures 1,237 square feet and rents for a little over $3 per square foot — the most expensive apartment rental rate in San Antonio. Move-ins started in May 2017.
Shawn Hatter, director of development of Silver Ventures, says that when he and others toured apartment properties in Texas, San Francisco and Chicago to borrow ideas for Cellars, “there really was no sense of place” at those locations. That’s the opposite of what Silver Ventures wanted.
Cellars features Mission tile, mesquite furnishings, and salvaged and repurposed ammonia tanks. Busts of Emma Koehler and husband Otto adorn the lobby. When you stroll through Cellars, there’s no mistaking the nod to place and past.
Of course, the apartment project also showcases modern touches, including a spa, valet parking and 24-hour concierge service.
And then there’s the spectacular 10th-floor penthouse. The nearly 4,000-square-foot unit — which is flooded with natural light during the day — boasts three bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, a study, and balconies that afford stunning views of the San Antonio cityscape. All of it can be yours for nearly $14,000 a month.
If Cellars isn’t your style, you’ve got another residential option at Pearl: the 293-unit Can Plant apartment complex, spread among four buildings. Rent there hovers around $2 per square foot.
Louis Westerman, senior director of real estate at Silver Ventures, was asked during a stop at the Can Plant apartments why Pearl doesn’t offer condos. He and others at Silver Ventures say that having so many individual property owners wouldn’t be worth the associated hassles.
“We’re just not interested in condos. I don’t see condominiums in our future,” Westerman said.
The future of Pearl looks quite secure. Silver Ventures has been eyeing development opportunities on nearby property, as development of the brewery’s original 18-acre footprint wrapped up this summer with completion of a new six-vendor food hall called The Bottling Department.
“Our owner really hasn’t let us take our eye off that ball,” Westerman said of developing the original acreage.
And you can be sure that San Antonio residents won’t be taking their eyes off Pearl.