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City's future looks incredibly good

Web Posted: 02/16/2007 09:33 PM CST

San Antonio Express-News

As rock music throbbed to an end in a video introducing NuStar Energy LP, a logo appeared for the pipeline company formerly known as Valero LP.

"Swish," said NuStar Energy Holdings Chairman Bill Greehey. A Nike-like semicircle zoomed out of the logo's star.

The moment crystallized the 2007 Economic Outlook Conference. San Antonio's economy is wearing track shoes.

More than 500 people attended the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce event. They learned that data centers, military medicine, real estate, oil and gas, and technology seed dollars are leading the pack to San Antonio's economic future.

After landing two huge data center investments last year from Microsoft Corp. and Lowe's Cos. Inc., the city could reel in as many as six more of the Internet equipment facilities in 2007, said Mario Hernandez, Economic Development Foundation president.

Three local companies may build data centers, and three other prospects are considering San Antonio, Hernandez said.

A clue came later in the conference when Westover Hills developer Charles Martin "Marty" Wender departed early from the real estate session he was chairing. He had to walk a possible data center client through a site.

"I can't keep Intel waiting," Wender said as he exited the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel meeting room.

San Antonio is also in line to become home to the largest medical school in the world, with more than 9,000 military students. They will come to Fort Sam Houston — if Congress ever allocates all of the $2.23 billion needed for construction.

The House is holding back some of the funding for now, said Air Force Gen. David G. Young III, 59th Medical Wing commander.

"The money will come," Young said. "How much? We'll see. But it will be unprecedented."

"Unprecedented" would be an apt description for San Antonio's real estate market in 2006. More than 19,000 new homes were constructed even as home values appreciated 9 percent, said Barbara Tarin, former chairwoman of the San Antonio Board of Realtors.

"But we might see the second best year" in 2007, she predicted.

The subdivisions selling homes most quickly and with the largest increases in values are concentrated on the Northwest and North Central sides, Tarin said.

Downtown, however, is seeing the biggest change of all. About 900 condominium units are under construction to add to the 180 units already there. About 1,400 new apartments also are planned to expand on the 1,800 already downtown.

"This is the best real estate market we've ever had," Tarin said.

A "swish" that might be discussed at next year's Economic Outlook Conference is the possibility of landing a planned $500 million federal laboratory, called the Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. A U.S. Homeland Security site selection team of 10 to 15 officials is scheduled to visit San Antonio's three proposed sites May 7-9, said York Duncan, president of the Texas Research and Technology Foundation.

A decision is expected next year.

And a new biotech incubator, the Texas Technology Development Center, is coming. It will have 15,000 square feet of space in the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio's new research tower.

All of this seems to boost San Antonio into a new post-Toyota plant phase. Now that the auto maker is turning out hundreds of Tundra pickups every day, the business community looks to numerous new directions. Of course, Toyota someday may double its plant here, putting the automotive industry back in the forefront.

"People are optimistic," chamber President Joe Krier said. "I think things are setting up to where the next 10 to 20 years will be among the best in the city's 300-year history."



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