Two companies may develop a 16.6-acre mixed-use project on the Southeast Side at Brooks, which is a designated opportunity zone that provides tax breaks to investors who plug money into the area.

The Brooks Development Authority board recently gave the green light for staff to negotiate with local firm Bitterblue and the Morgan Group of Houston for a development at the northeast corner of South New Braunfels Avenue and Sidney Brooks.

Referred to as “Town Center South,” it appears to be part of a phased plan for housing, retail, restaurants and green space at that intersection, according to Brooks’ website.

Brooks Town Center South

The Morgan Group would lease about 14.1 acres and build a 335,000-square-foot development with about 370 residential units and retail, which will be financed by Bitterblue Investments, which funds Bitterblue projects.

Bitterblue would buy about 2.5 acres for $980,100 for retail, which “will be better defined over the next twelve months as the multifamily is designed” and the mix of businesses at Town Center North is determined, according to one of the resolutions approved by Brooks’ board.

“We are still in the preliminary stages of planning and negotiations for this project, and it will complement one of our key amenities, the Embassy Suites at Brooks, and nearby developments already underway on the Brooks campus,” Connie Gonzalez, director of strategy and community relations at Brooks, said in a statement.

Those developments include 450 single-family homes.

“We’re thrilled to see the continued momentum in the Brooks region as we strive to achieve our mission of serving as a catalyst for transformative economic development and regional prosperity,” Gonzalez added.

Brooks, a 1,308-acre former Air Force base, was decommissioned in 2011. Since then, executives have been working to turn it into a mix of businesses, new housing, restaurants and hotels.

There are more than 40 businesses at Brooks and more than 3,200 people work at the campus, which includes 1,337 residential units.

The land at Brooks is exempt from property taxes and the campus is a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which reimburses developers for infrastructure improvements from property tax revenue. Brooks is also among 24 local census tracts designated as an opportunity zone.

Opportunity zones were established by then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax bill to draw investment to economically-disadvantaged areas. Investors can get tax breaks on capital gains if they put their capital in long-term investments within the zones.

But research by the Urban Institute has shown that many of the San Antonio tracts were already luring developers before the classification, including Brooks. The program has been criticized for primarily benefiting investors instead of residents within the zones, and being used for luxury developments or businesses with few employees.

Brooks has seen an increase in investor interest since receiving the designation, Brooks Development Authority CEO Leo Gomez said in 2019.

“It has significantly picked up the pace on investors looking at projects at Brooks,” he said. “We have numerous opportunity zone investors knocking on our door and doing due-diligence for projects at Brooks.”

Amazon Delivery Station at Brooks

The campus got Texas’ first opportunity zone project in 2019: a self-storage facility with flex space built by DPR Investments. Amazon is opening a delivery station at the campus and is also using the designation.

The Brooks Development Authority has been working with Bitterblue for several years on potential projects for the firm and its opportunity zone investors, according to resolutions approved by the board. They identified the site at South New Braunfels and Sidney Brooks in 2020.

Bitterblue has developed an assortment of commercial and residential properties in San Antonio.

The San Antonio firm is known for turning former quarries into mixed-use sites such as Rogers Ranch, Shavano Park and the Lincoln Heights community, which includes Alamo Quarry Market.

The Brooks project is not its first on the South Side.

Bitterblue is working with The Republic Golf Club Ltd. to turn the former golf course along Southeast Military Drive into a mix of housing, commercial space and park or open space.

The firm wants to turn over 200 vacant acres at 11625 Old Corpus Christi Highway into housing, retail, industrial facilities and open space. It also has a project in the works at Roosevelt Avenue and Loop 410.

The developer set up a $20 million fund for opportunity zone investments last year and a $30 million opportunity zone fund for redeveloping Longhorn Quarry, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.