San Antonio city officials are collecting input from residents, business owners and other stakeholders who are interested in the possibility of the Wurzbach Road corridor being designated as a cultural heritage district.

The background

In 2022, Manny Pelaez, San Antonio District 8 City Council member, initiated the creation of the Silk Road Cultural Heritage District, which, if approved by the full council later this year, would be San Antonio’s fourth such recognized area, joining Jefferson Heights, Old Highway 90/Enrique Barrera Parkway and the Hockley Cemetery.

According to an April 9 news release, cultural heritage districts honor the history, culture and diversity of a community. City representatives said the idea in this case is the Silk Road Cultural Heritage District would shine a spotlight on traditions of the area’s Middle Eastern, North African and Asian immigrants who are active in civic programming and businesses along Wurzbach from roughly I-10 through the South Texas Medical Center and to Fredericksburg Road.

According to the city’s office of equity, somewhere between 72% and 83% of residents living along the Wurzbach Road corridor between I-10 and Babcock Road are people of color.

Representatives from the city’s office of historic preservation held an initial public meeting April 11 at the Bob Ross Senior Center to give visitors basic information about the proposed designation and to start gathering feedback.

A closer look

The city's Cultural Historian Gloria Colombraña said the cultural heritage district is not like a historic district and does not include regulations or specific rules for inclusion or compliance. She also said it would not cost the city or community members any money to have such an area designation.

“This is an honorary district. It is designed to celebrate sites, culture, traditions, people and values of the neighborhoods of Wurzbach Road,” Colombraña said.

Colombraña also said living or operating an organization in a cultural heritage district could prove useful for any stakeholder who wants to apply for funding or other form of assistance for a grant or program to benefit the community.

Colombraña said early on, she and her colleagues will survey and have listening sessions with community members, and review oral histories and conduct research.

“Part of this is interviewing people and collecting oral histories—the stories of the people who want to share them,” Colombraña said.

City staff will prepare a report for review by the city’s historic and design review commission, which will then make a recommendation to City Council later this summer.

Jenny Hay, director of the city’s ScoutSA program for survey, designation and historic assessments, said there would be no hard boundary for a cultural heritage district. She added that area residents and business owners can help determine the size of the Silk Road Cultural Heritage District, what and who should be promoted in the district, and how those sites and people should be highlighted to the public.

Hay also said she and her colleagues are approaching businesses, such as Ali Baba International Food Market and Pasha Mediterranean Grill, to inform them about the city’s initiative and to see what they would like to see highlighted as part of a cultural heritage district.

“That is part of the outreach,” Hay said.

What they’re saying

Nadia Mavrakis, CEO of local nonprofit Culturingua, attended the April 11 meeting. She voiced interest in the city’s efforts to designate the Silk Road Cultural Heritage District in the Wurzbach Road area.

Culturingua promotes people and heritage of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, and Mavrakis said the area has a variety of residents, businesses, organizations and houses of worship that reflect a unique type of cultural diversity.

“I think the Silk Road Cultural Heritage District designation is a great initiative to recognize the cultural significance in the community, and highlight the rich cultural heritage and assets of the refugees that come from across the Middle East, Asia and Africa,” Mavrakis said.

Mavrakis also said such a formal designation should be leveraged to further demonstrate a need for infrastructure improvements and other amenities to ensure the safety and prosperity of all the immigrants and other residents who live in this community.

Sakib Shaikh, a local realtor who plans to run for the District 8 council seat in the city’s May 2025 elections, also attended the April 11 meeting. He said the idea of a cultural heritage district being created in his district excites him.

“Being from the South Asian community, I have my own ideas here, but I wanted to hear what everybody else had to say,” Shaikh said. “It’s still an open discussion as to what it's going to look like in the end, but I'm looking forward to the Silk Road Cultural Heritage District.”

Another public meeting about the district proposal will be held at 10 a.m. May 11 at the Bob Ross Senior Center, 2219 Babcock Road. For more information, community members may reach Colombraña at 210-207-0241 or [email protected].