Leo Gomez was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley but moved to San Antonio after finishing school. He has moved up through the city ranks through multiple Chambers of Commerce, the San Antonio Spurs, Toyota Manufacturing and various charities. Now, he runs one of San Antonio’s most exciting developments.
Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenidos, San Antonio. Welcome to the Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, proud San Antonio, and keeper of chickens and bees. On the Alamo Hour, you’ll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique and the best-kept secret in Texas. We’re glad that you’re here.
All right. Welcome to this episode of the Alamo Hour. Today’s guest is Leo Gomez. Leo’s been involved in everything currently president and CEO of Brooks City Base but been involved with the Spurs, with Toyota, with the Hispanic chamber, with the San Antonio chamber. I watched a video on you and maybe they called you Mr. South side. Did I hear that correct?
Leo Gomez: I’ve been called a few things Justin.
Justin: All right. We’ve had your wife on here, and she was nice enough to help us convince you to come be on the show. I met you years ago, just out having beers with Tim Maloney. It’s good to see you again and thank you for doing this.
Leo: Beers with Tim Maloney, huh?
Justin: I feel like beers with Tim Maloney could– that go anywhere.
Leo: I sure could.
Justin: A lot of people can say they’ve had beers with Tim Maloney too.
Leo: That’s terrific. Good to be on here with you.
Justin: I usually start this and I told you just some general information about your interaction and thoughts on San Antonio. Let’s just start when and why did you end up in San Antonio?
Leo: San Antonio is always that big city to the North for me and my extended family. I’m from the Rio Grande Valley, grew up in McAllen, not far from the Rio Grande river and our neighbor to the South there. I grew up in the Valley knowing only the Valley pretty much. The closest metropolitan area, the closest thing to a city that was a real city when I was growing up was San Antonio Texas.
I actually visited it once or twice while I was very young to visit an aunt and some cousins in San Antonio and spend a day at the zoo. Going back home and I got into my late teenage years, and I’d never still really been outside the Rio Grande Valley except for San Antonio. San Antonio was always that big wonderful city that had me in awe to the North of the Rio Grande Valley.
Justin: Did you move up here after high school or after college or?
Leo: I moved here right after graduate school. It was in the late eighties.
Justin: Did you get your masters in public administration? Did I say that?
Leo: Public policy? That’s what we call it. Public affairs at the LBJ school of public affairs in Austin.
Justin: All right, so you’ve been here ever since?
Leo: I’ve been here ever since. Justin, little did I know. I thought I’d come here and learn and get a career started in a real city and then take a look at real big cities on the East Coast or the West Coast and had some opportunities, but I fell in love quickly with San Antonio, fell in love with other things in San Antonio and here I am 30 something years later.
Justin: Well, that’s a great city.
Leo: It absolutely is.
Justin: You did some time in DC, right?
Leo: I did as an intern when I was in graduate school. I spent six months there.
Justin: I interned there for the DCCC in 2002, and it’s a great city too. It’s very young, it’s vibrant, it’s great.
Leo: Oh, Justin, to go from the Rio Grande Valley, to graduate school in Austin and then intern six months in Washington DC, I was a young man that was just soaking in everything I could soak in and the experiences of DC as well as Austin during those two years of graduate school.[00:03:46]
Justin: Similar, I grew up in a town of 500 people in North Texas. Similar, San Antonio still a huge town even though it’s a big small town.
Leo: They have small towns in North Texas?
Justin: On the border of Oklahoma. People try to avoid Oklahoma so there’s only a few that say up there. All right. Favorite hidden gems in San Antonio and your wife said [unintelligible 00:04:07] house, so that’s off the board.
Leo: Oh, well, that’s not fair. I will tell you hidden gems in terms of food but in gems period.
Justin: Anything that you’ve got friends and you say, “You got to go check this.”
Leo: I got to tell you the first thing that came to mind is you were saying it and that’s the Jose Antonio Navarro house, the Navarro house. In downtown San Antonio, close to the courthouse, close to the police station, close to City hall. If folks don’t understand who will say Antonio Navarro was, I encourage you to spend a day at the Navarro’s house.
His contributions to the constitution of Texas, the development of Texas, a setting of the stage for what would become Texas, his friendship with Steven Austin, that [unintelligible 00:04:58] history, Justin of contribution to establishing what became Texas is evident in the letters between him and Steven Austin.
You can read some of those letters. You can walk around the house that he lived in. You can walk– I’d love to do a little reception, a little party in the little courtyard of what’s Navarro House. It’s an incredible gym and those who have a hunger for understanding culture, understanding a little history and such, and wondering why is that street named Navarro? Go take a look.
Justin: Where is it at?
Leo: It’s literally just South of Market Street, almost catty-corner to the new police station. There’s a big parking lot between the police station and the Navarro House. It’s a little wooden house on the corner of that block.
Justin: That’s a new one to me. I’ve never heard of it. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that.
Leo: Someday I’m going to invite a lot of people there with a charcuterie board and some bottles of wine if we’re allowed, and we’re going to learn more about Jose Antonio Navarro and his contributions to the state of Texas.
Justin: I would love that invite.
Leo: All right, you’re on.
Justin: Need a show about it. What is the thing you miss most about the Valley?
Leo: Besides family? What I remember as an incredibly tight-knit community, incredibly tight-knit community. That’s probably something that can be said about a lot of small communities but McAllen wasn’t exactly a small town yet it was very tight-knit. It’s also where my entire extended family lived and so the family feeling and how close we were is what I miss. Justin, I had 16 uncles and aunts on my mom’s side and 10 on my dad’s side.
Justin: Big family.
Leo: I like to say if this language is allowed on air here, I have Chingos of cousins. If I had 16 uncles and aunts on my mom’s side and 10 on my dad’s side, I don’t know how many cousins I have. We were all there in close proximity in the Rio Grande Valley. I missed that.
Justin: A ton still down there?
Leo: Is who’s still down there?
Justin: Are a ton of them still down there.
Leo: Yes. My extended family is still for the most part is down there. I and just one other set of cousins represent those that ventured out of the Rio Grande Valley into that great city too.
Justin: Well, it’s not that far. All right. Are you a reader?
Leo: Absolutely, read a number of books at the same time? Well, not literally at the same time, but I have them open–
Justin: What’s in your Kindle right now, or your bookshelf?
Leo: Dream Big by Bob Goff. I love his stuff. It’s a combination of leadership development with a Christian foundation. That’s a book I’m just really soaking in right now. At the same time, I’m reading a biography of [unintelligible 00:08:21]. I am reading Lincoln on Leadership. I am reading– well every day I read from a good book that gets my conversation with my heavenly father started. Then there’s a few more. If I can look here, I can spit off some more, but those are the ones that come to mind.
Justin: Big reader.
Leo: Yes sir.
Justin: All right. This is a personal question that I want to know. In Brooks City Base did I read something about a salt cave being created there or some strange spa?
Leo: Oh, it’s already here.
Justin: What is there?
Leo: It’s incredible? It shouldn’t be a secret. I’m sorry that it’s a secret, but we have a wonderful hotel [unintelligible 00:09:11] ago, the Embassy Suites and the Embassy Suites has a spa in it. I would offer that it’s the spa spas in San Antonio. Literally we built a rock salt cave or a salt rock cave within the spa. The rock was literally imported from Europe and brought here installed by some craftsmen from Europe. The quality of the air in that cave is just fantastic.
If you allow yourself to fall asleep in there just for a 30-minute nap and you breathe that wonderful quality of air is just an incredible experience. On top of that, you can get a massage, you can get foot massage, you can get a facial, and then right across the hall from it is Linda’s, which is a hair salon run by Ms. Linda, who’s been operating a hair salon on another location on the Southside for 20 plus years.
Justin: That’s great. It’s a legitimate like salt room, right?
Leo: It absolutely is.
Justin: Okay. It’s still operational?
Leo: Yes, it’s operating today. You can schedule a massage today or you don’t even need to schedule a massage you can schedule 30 minutes at a time or an hour, or an hour and a half, or three hours in the salt cave, and people literally rent time or buy time, 30 minutes at a time in that salt cave.
Justin: I saw something about that and thought I’ve got to ask you questions about that.
Leo: If you’re interested, anybody that is interested, please call the Embassy Suites at Brooks and they’ll connect you with the folks at the spa and come visit us.
Justin: All right. Do you have a Spurs championship ring?
Leo: I’ve got four of them.
Justin: Geez. [laughs]
Leo: I’m not wearing them but I’ve got four of them, yes. They’re in my safe at home.
Justin: I saw that you were there in stints but I didn’t know which stints covered championships.
Leo: I got a ring for all of them but the last one, I wasn’t there for the last one.
Justin: Okay. Favorite Fiesta event.
Leo: Oh, my team would kill me. I should say [unintelligible 00:11:22] Justin. You know what that is, Justin?
Justin: I mean, I know what it translates to, I don’t know that that’s a Fiesta event.
Leo: [unintelligible 00:11:27] yes, it is an event in the making for Fiesta. We’ve qualified to be an event. We’re in our second year, you got to operate for three years before you get qualified as a Fiesta event so that’s, Brooks’ contribution to Fiesta. It’s [unintelligible 00:11:44] on the green line park at Brooks.
We’ve got our green line park with five ponds, it’s a 43-acre linear park and we literally use those grounds as a chancla [unintelligible 00:11:57] drink beer and throw chanclas at stuff and it’s fun. Everybody who’s grown up in Texas or South Texas, in particular, knows what grandma used to do with her Chancla when you misbehaved, and that’s basically what we are building on as a thing.
Justin: What month do y’all do it now? Do you do it with Fiesta?
Leo: We do it with Fiesta.
Justin: Okay. All right, and who’s the beneficiary of the charity?
Leo: Brooks Gives Back, which is our own foundation to build a sense of philanthropic activity right here on the Southside. We raised the funds to support nonprofits that are implementing initiatives in the zip code that surrounds Brooks.
Justin: That’s great.
Leo: This nonprofit raises money to help– this year we awarded for the second time money to the boys and girls club, for example, and their programming in the Brooks area. SISD foundation in their programming for their schools in the Brooks area, Caste Med in particular, which is actually located on Brooks.
We’re also supporting Meals on Wheels, not their food serving program but they have a home repair program for the elderly folks that they serve through their meals on wheels program, and so they’ve got a number of homes in the area that they are serving with that home repair program, and the Brooks Gives Back is supporting those three initiatives. We raised the funds in part from the activity and the fundraising that comes along with [unintelligible 00:13:30].
Justin: Y’all proved out two years in one more or you’ve done one?
Leo: Well, this last year would have been our second year.
Justin: Okay. All right. Are they going to count that?
Leo: I don’t know when we’re going to get to the second one.
Justin: Yes, true. I think that’s a good point, so for a new Fiesta event, you have to prove that you’re viable and can raise money essentially, right?
Leo: Correct. Absolutely.
Justin: I think that would have to be the Southern Most Fiesta event, right?
Leo: I’m going to claim it.
Justin: I mean, I can’t think of anything. I’m kind of a big Fiesta fan, and I can’t think of anything that’s sort of South of South town really. That’d be a good selling point as well. What do you think some of the biggest challenges facing San Antonio are right now outside of COVID? This is a question I’ve asked a lot of people, COVID obviously is the biggest challenge but outside of that, once we get through this, what are some of the things that you think the city’s facing that they really need to tackle head-on?
Leo: Same challenges we’ve had before COVID. It starts with unacceptable levels of poverty in certain parts of our town. Poverty shouldn’t be acceptable anywhere, but the levels in certain parts of the town are just not– I mean, we as San Antonians should not find it that acceptable. What that leads to in terms of an impact on education for example, and many other things as you might imagine but it starts with a level of poverty. We’ve got to decide we’re not going to be okay with that anymore.
It’s a problem we had before COVID, COVID is really showing us how real a problem that is for us, and we’ve got to band together one way or another tackle that. It is the biggest challenge for San Antonio for a number of reasons, including economic development. We’re trying to attract really good companies and good jobs and we got to keep fighting this perception of a poor town. It doesn’t help us if we’re doing well, it doesn’t help us if we allow our neighbors to be poor.
Justin: Do you think COVID– I talked about this with the mayor, do you think COVID will sort of light the fire under our collective butts to approach poverty as a sort of community or do you think we’re just going to go back to the way things were before, after COVID?
Leo: I think it already has. I mean if you listened to the mayor, I mean, certainly has lit up the mayor and that’s lighting up the council, and it’s lighting up community leaders around town, showing them support for those kinds of agendas. I’m a believer in investing in San Antonio and I know there’s taxpayers out there who don’t like hearing those code words, so to speak, but if we don’t invest in ourselves, what do we expect? If you have a business and you don’t invest in your business, what do you expect?
If you have talent working for you and you don’t invest in their development, what can you expect from them? We as San Antonio have got to invest in our city and Justin, I’m going to say this, I hope I don’t get in trouble or step on any toes. I love San Antonio, and I’m very grateful for what past leaders have done for our community in leading us forward, but too many times we have taken the less challenging route, the cheaper route, if I may, to address issues we need to address. I think we’ve got to address transportation and connectivity throughout San Antonio.
We’re growing and we’re going to continue growing, and we should be connected. Our neighborhoods should be connected so we’ve got to do that. We’ve got to address this poverty level and help folks get a good job that pays well and has good benefits. We’ve got to attract the companies that bring them in, we’ve got to keep investing in our infrastructure. Kudos to the mayor and community leadership, the County judge moving forward and making those investments.
Justin: I’m going to brag on Ron a little bit here, I mean, Ron’s really taken up the mantle of it, sort of attacking some of the transportation issues in light of the fact that polling shows very few San Antonioans feel it’s one of the major issues that need to be addressed. It doesn’t affect everybody the same way but the people, it affects, it affects in a big way and Ron’s kind of taken an unpopular opinion on some of that, and you got to give the guy credit for having courage to do what he thinks is right.
Leo: Absolutely. I would challenge that notion. I’ve seen research that says that a lot of people in San Antonio actually support and understand it, and a lot of people in San Antonio know now more than ever that we need to invest in [unintelligible 00:18:18], in our transit system, like we should have 30 years ago, Justin.
Justin: I was just reading that article where they talked about how they’re going to split the one-eighth cents, and I guess, now everybody’s focusing on COVID, and economic development, they’ve kind of moved away from it. It’s a hard discussion with so many moving parts right now.
Leo: Let me add to that moving part, if I may, again, at the risk of getting in trouble, I hope I don’t get in trouble with my board members. Who votes Justin?
Justin: Yes, that’s a great point.
Leo: Our city leaders can not only do what the voters will allow them to do. If the people who vote are less than 10% and it’s only the people that are not interested in investing and it’s only the people that are angry at the world for some reason, and it’s only the people who are not willing to consider an investment, then what are we going to do? If we all just got up and voted our interests, we would be investing in San Antonio the way we need to invest.
Justin: I agree with you 100%. We had Drew Galloway, I don’t know if you’ve met him, he’s the executive director of Move Texas. They’re doing wonderful things, registering young voters and man, they’ve had some crazy success. He talked a lot about the data behind voting and these communities where they’re able to change the voting structures and the voting participation. I mean, they flipped councils, and they flipped seats that nobody thought they could. I mean, it’s a great point, we have to vote our interests, that’s the big point.
Leo: Yes. I’ve never seen things go bad because we increased voter participation.
Justin: That’s a good point. I have a confession to make. I have never been to Brooks. I’ve driven past it, I’ve never gone on it. I hate to say, but there’s just a divide in the city between South of downtown and North of downtown. I just don’t get South of downtown very much. We live in a bubble. Tell me what Brooks is. I have some general understanding, but tell me what it was, and what it is, and what is trying to be.
Leo: Brooks is truly a jewel in the making on the Southside of town. Many could argue that it already is a jewel. It wasn’t when the US government determined that it would be closing Brooks Air Force Base, employed over 2000 people, mostly in uniform. This base is one of the oldest bases that there was in the country. It existed before the Air Force even existed.
The army or originally created this space over a hundred years ago. Then the air Corps of the army began operations on this base. One of the very first flights in military history took place here. The first parachute jump in military history took place here at Brooks. Eventually, the air Corps led to the development of the Air Force and the Air Force took over the base.
The activities on this base for the Air Force circled mostly on doing the– completing the research and coming up with the strategies and the equipment that enabled human beings to fly at high speeds, which eventually led to preparing astronauts to go into space. A lot of the original astronauts, the original centrifuge, the original aeronautical medical school, et cetera, was all here at Brooks.
President Kennedy and his last day before he was assassinated in Dallas, was on the Brooks campus, dedicating the missions that would focus on enabling human beings to go to the moon. All that history took place here at Brooks. We’ll fast forward to two recent history. As you might imagine, the labs and the equipment and the facilities were 50, 60, 7o years old, were antiquated and they just weren’t the facilities of the day anymore in terms of bio-science research and such.
Ultimately the Air Force decided to close it, and we lost 2000 plus jobs of people, mostly in uniform. Today we have over 3,500 people coming to work at Brooks every day. Well, pre-COVID. We’ve almost doubled the number of people that used to be here every day when it was a military base. There’s an additional 1500 to 2000 people working in the immediate area, mostly in retail, but we’ve got three high schools, Justin.
Justin: On Brooks.
Leo: On 1,300 acres. On Brooks, three high schools, Brooks Academy, Compass Rose, and SASD cast school for medical professions. Those are three high schools. We have a student population K-12 that is nearing 5,000 students on our 1300 acre campus. On top of that, we have a medical school, The UIW medical school. UIW invested in the redevelopment of the old aeronautical medical facilities of the Air Force, the cadaver lab, the library, the computer building, the classrooms, the auditorium.
Today it is a beautiful state-of-the-art modern medical school right here on the Southside with a student body of over 400 students studying medicine right here on the Southside at Brooks. Right smack in the middle of one of our other jewels is Mission Charles Baptist Hospital. It is the hospital, not only for Southeast San Antonio but for Atascosa and Wilson counties, as you might imagine. Then on top of we’ve got Mission Solar, which manufactures solar panels, Nissei Plastics, which produces the machines that do plastic components for the automotive industry.
We have a 200 million-plus facility being constructed right now that will be completed in the fall, that’ll be the largest Sous vide operation in the world, producing food through a Sous vide process. It’s a French company. By the way, we have a French company, we have a company from the Czech Republic. We have a company from Japan, and we have a company from Korea. Literally, the mayor, I’ve heard the mayor referred to Brooks as the most international 1300 acres in San Antonio.
Justin: It sounds like it. The military decided they were going to shut down and they were going to leave. Do they then deed the property to the city? It sounds like y’all have your own corporation that runs the development there, how did it become part of San Antonio, and how was that structure set up?
Leo: Thanks to the vision and the earnest work of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison back then and congressmen, Frank [unintelligible 00:25:24] back then. They worked together with city leadership and state leadership through all the complexities that at the end of the day, in its simple form was a conveying of the property to the city, which, and then turn conveyed it to this authority that was created by the federal and state government, the Brooks Redevelopment Authority.
This authority owns these 1,308 acres, if I can make be exact, was the original size of the campus. We’re responsible for redeveloping it in a way that creates jobs and creates jobs, not just to have on the campus, but to leverage prosperity in the surrounding region and strengthen and transform the neighborhoods around us.
Justin: Does the board decide who comes on and, or who’s allowed to move on to the campus or what’s done with the land or who is allowed to set up shop in Brooks?
Leo: Whoever the board deems appropriate for Brooks. But yes, the board is the policy-making body, and the decision making body on any transactions we make in terms of real estate or bringing jobs to Brooks or employers to Brooks. That board is appointed by the San Antonio city council. We have a board member representing each member of council, including the mayor, and they are the ultimate decision-makers on any deals that bring a project to Brooks.
Justin: Is there a residential there.
Leo: There’s residential, we’ve got five apartment communities that are market rate. They’re all 90% plus occupied. We still have the old base housing that’s mostly duplexes that were mostly for officers at the time. Heritage Oaks is our only single-family residential development today, but we’ve got two contracts right now that are going through the due diligence to establish the newest single-family, residential development, to complement our apartment communities that are already here.
Justin: What would you say in terms of what percentage is developed and how much is undeveloped at this point?
Leo: The base boundaries encompass 1,308 acres. We still have about 350 acres to develop.
Justin: Who’s the biggest tenant there.
Leo: Biggest tenant in terms of employees, [unintelligible 00:27:48], but I shouldn’t call them a tenant. They actually bought their land. They bought the 50 acres. The biggest employer, if I can put it that way on the Brooks campus is Mission Charles Baptist hospital with well over 600 medical personnel that run that hospital.
Justin: Did the government help clean everything out? I mean, was there any environmental issues there whenever they left.
Leo: By law, the military needs to clean up the property before it can convey it to a city or an authority. Yes, the military did that. We have properties that had issues that needed to be cleaned up, or, but they’re now all safely kept as they were by the Air Force before they were conveyed. That doesn’t stop us, Justin, from doing what every developer in any part of town needs to do. Anytime we’re going to develop a piece of property, we do phase one environmentals, and we make sure that it’s a deed in good condition for development.
Justin: How long have you been with Brooks, ever since the start?
Leo: Oh, no. I’ve been with Brooks seven years. This last May.
Justin: What is the growth been under your leadership? I mean, were they just getting going when you started?
Leo: It all occurred during my [crosstalk]. I’m Kidding. I’m absolutely kidding. Much of what is here today had already occurred before I got here, Justin. The leadership very– from the get-go. I mentioned Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Congressman Frank [unintelligible 00:29:17], mayor, Howard Peak at the time, city manager, Alex [unintelligible 00:29:20] who was the director of economic development for the city at the time. They set the stage for what Brooks is today. They did a good job of setting the stage for that.
Then we’ve had board members and city councils and mayors ever since that have been supportive of the redevelopment of Brooks, not just for the sake of its 1300 acres but to do it in a way to leverage development in this corner of San Antonio. I came on board in the midst of the 16-year history of Brooks. I’ve had the opportunity to leverage all the work that was done before, the infrastructure that was put in place before.
Then we brought on some wonderful tenants. What I like to say that we’ve brought on since I came on board with the board’s support is a mix of development that now is not just about employers, but we’re literally building a community, so a quality of life, it’s literally a place to live, learn, work, play, and stay.
Justin: Yes. Who helps do that? Do y’all bring in an urban planner who helps you design the layout and public spaces and all that?
Leo: Certainly included an urban planner upfront, then we have our civil engineers that continue to help us with that. We’ve got a pool of architects that help us, continue to evolve the land planning. We have folks on staff that are the points for that. We have a planning and development committee of the board that oversees all of that. Then a finance committee of the board that makes sure that we’re not dreaming too big for our britches and that we can actually afford the things that we’re wanting to do out here. All of that works together and it’s a process with a lot of people involved that makes it possible.
Justin: What’s your vision for Brook’s moving forward. What are you hoping to accomplish? Who are you looking to bring on board or, to become tenants or businesses? What do you think are some of the missing parts of what you’re hoping to establish there before your time’s done?
Leo: Two things in a nutshell, more good-paying jobs for the people that live in this area. Secondly, improving that income opportunity for the households and families in this area so that they can buy deserving homes. We need better stock of residential development in the area to continue to build up, right? We want to create jobs for people.
We want them to be able to stay living in this area. They’ve got to have better options in terms of housing or growing options, stronger options in terms of housing. At the end of the day, it’s all a big puzzle to do those two things, but principally good jobs, good-paying jobs with benefits for the families in this corner of San Antonio.
Justin: Is there any discussion– are you involved with Southside outside of Brook City Base, like Southside chamber and some of that?
Leo: Oh yeah. We’re partners with everything. Our core values, Justin are first and foremost core values for all of us to understand that it’s bigger than us. What we’re really referring to is that we’re not here just for 1,300 acres. We’re an asset in this part of town and we want to work with [unintelligible 00:32:57] in the area, and we want to help the area prosper and strengthen. We are an asset that needs to be leveraged in that direction. We partner with organizations from throughout the Southside and support organizations throughout the Southside.
Justin: Is there a discussion to bring any more higher education onto the Southside. We’ve got Texas A&M’s pretty far of far out there actually, but you don’t have as much push of colleges and universities down there, it seems like as you do in other parts of the town.
Leo: Well, I think that the growth of A&M San Antonio is incredible. The growth of Palo Alto of the Alamo colleges is incredible. There are two wonderful institutions. I for one, believe that we should focus on those two. Doesn’t mean they can’t have supplemental facilities in other parts of the Southside, but my focus is on helping those two institutions continue to gain strength and continue to provide opportunities for students throughout Southeast San Antonio, Atascosa, Wilson counties and elsewhere.
Justin: Can I just go drive around Brooks?
Leo: Absolutely. You can.
Justin: Everything drivable [unintelligible 00:34:06]?
Leo: It’s incredible. Seven years ago, we took down the fences and we took down the guard checks-
Justin: Okay. I thought there were fences around it.
Leo: -because even though the base had been closed for seven years, eight years already, people still thought it was a military base.
Justin: [chuckles] I drove by and saw the fences and thought, “I’m not going to–” Yes.
Leo: Right. The fences are long gone, the guard shacks are long gone. We’ve tried to make the ingress points from the main arteries or streets around us inviting. Yes, people can drive– Please do. Our restaurants need you to drive onto our campus. Our hotel needs you to visit the lobby and come to that spa. Please do.
Justin: You mentioned a park with some ponds and I’m seeing squirrels all around the trees behind you. It looks beautiful.
Leo: Oh, we got, squirrels, we got, ducks, we got, geese, we got, turtles, we got– did you say something about chickens and bees?
Justin: I have chickens and I have beehives.
Leo: Right. Brooks has beehives. The hotel manages its own beehives. That honey is what’s used in the menu and the serving and preparing a food at the hotel.
Justin: How cool.
Leo: We’ve got bat houses. They’re-
Justin: Have you ever gone to harvest honey with the people at the embassy?
Leo: I have not.
Justin: You should do that. It’s hard work. It’s sticky and super hard.
Leo: I should do that. I’d rather watch you do. It sounds like you know how to do it, but I got a request. I don’t know how legal this is. I don’t know how legal this is, but that the green line are fabulous park. I’m looking forward to the day that I’m driving by and I see a rooster and some chickens that are just the rooster and chickens of the Green Lion Park at Brooks, you got extra chickens that we can let loose at Green lion Park.
Justin: I don’t think my wife would let me give them away, but it’s not hard to get chickens, and they’ll stick around as long as they’re not harassed.
Leo: That’s what I thought. I liked some chickens and a rooster at least.
Justin: Well, the [unintelligible 00:36:19].
Leo: I want to hear a guy [unintelligible 00:36:20] singing in the morning.
Justin: Well, I now have one rooster, and that is not up to me. That thing only doesn’t attack me. She wanted it and it attacks her every time she goes outside. That’s on her at this point, but it does mean every so often we end up with baby chicks, which is a whole other thing. Talk to me about the Spurs. Obviously everybody wants to hear about the Spurs. What was your role there? How cool of an experience was that?
Leo: Well, it was incredible. There’s nothing loved more in San Antonio-
Justin: [chuckles] Right. That’s right.
Leo: -than our San Antonio spurs. To work for an organization and represent it in many ways or be a representative on behalf of the Spurs in the community, is just something that I’ll always treasure. To participate in everything that the Spurs are, and to literally find myself not at the stadium, I’ll just the championship parades.
If you hang out along the river and you see the [unintelligible 00:37:32] with their feet in the water, and the grandchildren, and for people, no matter where you are in life and how much money you have in the bank, the Spurs give you hope disperse. The Spurs are a point of pride. You can’t put a dollar on that, Justin. God bless the Spurs. San Antonio loves the Spurs, and the Spurs always play a role in believing for, hoping for, and wanting San Antonio to be all it can be.
Justin: Yes. The things that Lonnie Walker and Patty Mills are doing right now, it’s so great-
Leo: That’s admirable. Incredibly admirable.
Justin: -yes, to see them immerse themselves in our community. It’s great. What were your roles there? You were the head of public affairs for them at some point?
Leo: Public affairs, government relations, corporate development. It changed a few times throughout a total of 17 years with the Spurs but my ultimate responsibility upfront was to work with the Spurs in the community to figure out the financing challenge for building a new venue, which ended up what is today the AT&T Center. That was my principal role.
Then from there on working with the Spurs to continue to make sure we reinvest it in there, in that arena and that we partnered appropriately with the rodeo and the county and other entities, and that we worked with the surrounding neighborhoods to do that. I’m very proud of the fact, we should all be proud of the fact that the AT&T Center is on the East side of town where some people, at least at one point in time were concerned with doing it on the East side of San Antonio, and there is no fence surrounding the AT&T Center.
Has anybody done anything in terms of vandalism to the AT&T Center? Those neighborhoods in the Eastside are proud of that building. We showed them that we trusted them by not putting up a fence. I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of the Spurs and the leadership of the Spurs for having made that decision way back when it set the tone for our relationship with the community in the place at the at AT&T Center was built.
Justin: I take it for granted. It’s been there– I moved here in ’07 so I think it’s been there the whole time I’ve been coming to see the Spurs. You made a good point. I fell in love with San Antonio in a big way through fiesta because you make this point about the Spurs, no matter what your socioeconomic background is, rich and poor, no matter what your race, all of that, everybody in this town enjoys fiesta.
They all fiesta together. Everybody meets new friends and they have drinks together. I just remember thinking, it didn’t have that stratified feeling that Dallas did, and Houston did in a lot of ways. It was a big party and everybody was partying together. It made me just think, “This is the place for me.” I’m glad that Brooks is going to have an event.
Leo: That’s why I’m glad I’m still here 30 years after I got here when I thought I was only going to be around for two. That is among the reasons why I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.
Justin: Do you all have medals?
Leo: Yes, we do.
Justin: I made medals too. I put the year on them. I think I’m going to have to make new medals next year. I always like to, as we get towards the end, talk about what isn’t your main job, but some of your passions? You’re involved with the Hot Wells Conservancy, SAISD Foundation. Talk to me about some of the charities and nonprofits you’re involved in, who they are, and what their focus is?
Leo: I’ve been involved with the SAISD Foundation for, literally, almost two decades, from my time at the Spurs to now. I am a firm believer that if we don’t invest in the urban core, and the school district that is responsible for developing the talent from our young kids in the urban core, then we’re making a mistake. I’ve been involved with the SAISD Foundation in one way or another for literally two decades plus.
Justin: For those of us who don’t really know, what is the function and purpose of the SAISD Foundation?
Leo: The SAISD Foundation supplements funding of the school district in terms of teacher support, teacher training, availability of funds for teachers to get creative with their curriculum, as well as direct support to some students. It’s mostly focused on providing resources in developing the talent and the opportunities for teachers to get creative in the classroom.
Justin: It’s private donors who help donate the money to create these programs?
Leo: That’s right. Though the SAISD Foundation has a number of fundraising events throughout the year, and then it has its dedicated private donors that give to it every year.
Justin: You hear about some of these rich school districts in Texas that have these really robust foundations. Where I came from there was no– we had a booster club for the football team. That was the extent of that. It’s different for me to see– My parents were school teachers, so I was around that and heard a lot about it.
Is it corporate money for the most part that helps support these? What are the focuses from the donors? I know Charles Butt is a huge public education guy. Is it those kinds of people that are involved that just have a real passion for public education?
Leo: Those kinds of supporters are clearly among the supporters, but I’ll tell you this, SAISD Foundation has people that just write $10 checks. It’s everywhere from parents to teachers themselves, to corporate interest in the community, particularly businesses that are located within the school district in the urban core. It’s a wide span, Justin. I’ll tell you, the SAISD Foundation, just 10 years ago, found it challenging to raise $100,000 a year. Today they can raise over a million a year.
That goes long ways in supporting teachers who can’t afford to get the supplies that they need just from their basic allotment from the school district and the state of Texas to really create wonderful learning experiences for the kiddos that aren’t the same cookie-cutter stuff.
Justin: Hot Wells Conservancy?
Leo: Hot Wells was the original hotel on the south side of town. I guess I’ll call it the original. Some people could argue there was a facility or a venue here 500 years ago that served as that. I’m thinking of [unintelligible 00:44:35] and other things like that. Hot Wells was the modern-day hotel of the time in the early 1900s here on the south side. It’s one of the original movie production settings where artists from throughout the world or the country, mostly, and in Latin America, to shoot films on that property.
It’s right on the San Antonio River off of [unintelligible 00:44:59], but it burned down, not once, but twice. For years, it stayed as a abandoned burned down property. The Hot Wells Conservancy is a board and a group of terrific people that are interested in making sure that there’s continued development throughout the south side and embrace this as a jewel in partnership with the county, and with James Lifschutz to help make it possible as a private contributor towards the project.
Today, it’s been refurbished, not as a full-serving hotel, but so that it’s a safe place to go. There’s these hot springs that used to be there. There’s the original pool, the ruins, because it’s what it is, have been stabilized. The grounds have been prettied up. It’s a point of interest on the south side with a rich history, where people used to come to feel better from the hot spring water that used to be generated there, and literally, feed the pool at the hotel. It’s got a rich history here on the south side.
The train used to run right by it. People from Latin America, Mexico, and throughout North America, that was right on the rail line. This was a hotel right on the rail line in San Antonio, Texas.
Justin: That was that era of time when people would go out of their way to go dip in hot springs or mineral pools that were supposed to have healing and all these cosmic characteristics to them. They’re all over America. Most of them are all shut down now.
Leo: That’s right. We’re recapturing that spirit. The hot springs aren’t necessarily there, but they could be there in the future as part of the charge of the Hot Wells Conservancy. What we want to do more than anything is to make sure that the ruins don’t get forgotten and just become a dilapidated spot on the south side. Instead, it’s now an investment both by the county and the private sector that turned it into an asset for visitors, an asset for families right on the banks of the San Antonio River.
Justin: Are the hot springs still under it? Does anybody know?
Leo: They’re under it, but they’re not tapped today. They’ve been [unintelligible 00:47:17].
Justin: When I moved here, it was a pile of rubble, and then they started the Hot Wells Feasts. I think it was once or twice a year.
Leo: Love the Hot Wells Feasts.
Justin: Are they still doing that?
Leo: Yes, we are. We’re not because of COVID like everything else. It’s usually in the fall. My understanding is that we’re seriously considering moving it to the spring sometime. The Hot Well Feast is wonderful. We have aspiring chefs and proven chefs from throughout San Antonio that come onto the grounds of the Hot Wells, set up their food booths, and we literally have a competition.
People who purchase a ticket into the Harvest Feast get coupons. They use those coupons to vote for their favorite booth and their favorite food. We identify the chefs or the aspiring chefs of the year there and raise money towards the refurbishing and maintenance of the Hot Wells property.
Justin: It’s a pretty big party, really.
Leo: There’s a big party and some of the best food you’ll have. I discovered the best gorditas in town, and I’d like to think there’s good gorditas all over town. I discovered the best gordita in town at the last Harvest Feast. That’s [unintelligible 00:48:32] on the south side.
Justin: That’s how I want to end this. I want you to walk me through my day when I’m coming to check out Brooks. Where should I go? What should I eat? What are some of my options?
Leo: You’ve got to stop at the Embassy Suites depending on the time of the day and have a Bloody Mary at their bar.
Justin: Okay, I can do that.
Leo: You have got to, if you don’t schedule 30 minutes to literally sit and relax or lie and relax in the salt cave, you’ve got to ask them to at least let you peek into the salt cave. I highly recommend, at least, a 30-minute time slot to sit in there and relax.
Justin: Are you in there by yourself?
Leo: No. You could be, but there could be other folks as well. I think there’s room for half a dozen to eight people in there at the same time. You can also be set for yourself. You can actually arrange to get your massage in the salt cave. You’ll have to pay for the time in the salt cave too and have it exclusively. Yes, it’s available to you.
Those are things you need to do. You must take a walk on the green line and see our ponds, and waterfalls, and our wildlife, and what I enjoy the most, Justin, is seeing people enjoying this beautiful park on the south side of San Antonio. Hiking, jogging, pushing baby strollers, walking their dogs. It’s wonderful to see.
Justin: Paved gravel. Can I ride a bike
Leo: Paved 10 foot wide trails that real soon we’ll connect literally to the mission reach trail on the San Antonio River.
Justin: That’s awesome. Perfect.
Leo: That’s one of the activities that you just do. For lunch, boy there’s a number of places I’m going to get in trouble for not mentioning some of them, but my favorite place I went to today, Luna Rosa, Puerto Rican food. I like to say Puerto Rico in South Texas is at Luna, Rosa. Some of the best paneer, [unintelligible 00:50:33],and drinks that you would get. You couldn’t get any better unless you were in Puerto Rico itself.
What that family does to run that restaurant and the quality of food is just terrific going. Should I keep going?
Justin: Yes, I want to hear. What would be A, B, and C lunch options? We’ve got Puerto Rican–
Leo: You got Puerto Rican, you got Chaba Tai, Tai food in the area. We’ve got the 54th street bar and grill. We’ve got the Texas Roadhouse. We’ve got all of Olive Garden, et cetera, but, if it’s Justin and I’m making recommendations, go to Luna Rosa, try Chaba Tai. If you want to see a busy 54th street bar and grill when times are big and normal and you want to be challenged to even being able to get in for dinner, go to the 54th street bar and grill on Friday.
Justin: It’s that busy?
Leo: Busy. It is busy and pre COVID was generating as much revenue as the 54th street bar and grill at the rim. For anybody that might not think that’s possible on the Southside, let me paint this picture. We aren’t just talking about 1300 acres of Brooks. We’re talking South East quadrant of San Antonio, plus the markets of Atascosa and Wilson counties. Where do you think all the people who live in Atascosa and Wilson counties go to, if they want to go shopping, or if they want to go to a restaurant? They come to the Brooks area.
Justin: I would have never thought about that.
Leo: Between Southeast San Antonio, Atascosa, and Wilson counties, good luck getting into the 54th Street Bar and Grill on Friday night.
Justin: I would just never have thought that it would be that packed. Where’s your goto margarita?
Leo: My goto margarita.
Justin: I mean the important questions have to be [crosstalk].
Leo: I got to go back to the Embassy Suites Hotel. We got wonderful bartenders, great margaritas, they carry good tequilas. I love my tequilas. My favorite there is the Bloody Mary.
Justin: All right. These are high prices.
Leo: Of course I do them all after five o’clock [unintelligible 00:53:01] to five somewhere.
Justin: I don’t know if I really have a bloody Mary after 5:00 PM. I don’t know if I really ever have a bloody Mary outside of New Orleans, to be honest. It’s not really a goto, but sometimes you’ve got to have it.
Leo: A Bloody Mary for me is more than just a drink. It’s a meal. I like them with shingles of olives, couple of celery stocks in there. It’s literally a salad that’s spicy and has vodka.
Justin: I had one that had a whole piece of pizza in it one time, so it really was much.
Leo: Oh, the pizza and the brick oven at the Embassy Suites hotel is fabulous.
Justin: I got to go see the Embassy Suites.
Leo: We have LA Crawfish in the area that just opened. I love my [unintelligible 00:53:49] from Jimmy John’s here at Brooks. We have one of the busiest Chick-fil-As in all of San Antonio. Whether it’s that brand or a family-owned restaurant, we got them in the area. There’s more coming, Justin.
Justin: Your passion is contagious. It’s great. I need to get down to the Southside more. I just don’t. I’ll ride my bike through the mission trail. Sometimes I’ll get off the mission trail and go through some of the neighborhoods or grab something a snow cone or something but I don’t get [crosstalk].
Leo: Listen, you know how to reach me. I invite you to reach out to me, even if it’s impromptu, the worst that can happen is I say I can’t, but if you send me a note and ask me what I’m doing and let me know you’re already on the campus, I might just say, where are you? I’ll go meet you.
Justin: I’m going to do that. Rest assured I’m going to. Leo, thank you so much for doing this, your name the whole time I’ve lived here has always just kind of constantly been in things, whether I’m reading articles or things with the Spurs or Brooks, you’ve always been involved. You’ve always been one of these enigmatic characters who I never really got to know, but I know that you’re got your hands in everything.
Thank you for sitting here and talking with me about Brooks, it’s your passion, it’s your job. I think for a lot of our listeners, nobody really knows what’s going on down there because they don’t drive past downtown.
Leo: It’s our job to help them understand that there’s an asset down here, a chill down here, and that it’s as much theirs as it is ours. They are welcome to Brooks.
Justin: That’s great. I can’t wait to see it. Thank you so much, Leo. I appreciate it. I’m definitely going to call you one day and say I’m on campus and need a Bloody Mary.
Leo: Thank you, Justin. Visit the Navarro house too, please.
Justin: Oh, I’m going to do that for sure. We’ll talk soon. Thanks, Leo.
Leo: Have a good one.
Justin: All right. That’s going to do it for this episode of the Alamo Hour. Thanks again to Leo Gomez and his wife Ina Minjarez who’s a previous guest on the Alamo Hour. Go check out Brooks. I didn’t know it was there. I didn’t know what had been accomplished down there. The Southside has a whole new vibe it sounds like. Guest wishlist continues Shea Serrano, Popovich, Charles, but there’s a lot of great people we’d love to talk to talk about the city that we all love so much, and a city that’s important to us. We’ll see you all next time.
Thanks for joining us on this episode of the Alamo Hour, you are all what make the city so great. We hope you join us next week. In the meantime, subscribe to our podcast, check us out on Facebook at facebook.com/alamohour, or our website alamohour.com. Until next time viva San Antonio.
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