Port San Antonio officially opens its innovation center and event venue on Tuesday, a major step in the industrial hub’s mission to be a catalyst for San Antonio’s future workforce.
the Tech Port Center and Arenaas the $70 million facility is called, is intended to be a new model of economic and workforce development.
“The vision is to be a point of connection,” said Port President and CEO Jim Perschbach. “Connecting people and opportunities, buyers and sellers.”
Perschbach said the center will provide a way for visitors, who come for the entertainment and meeting spaces, to rub shoulders with those at the port who are developing space robotics, orbital research, electric cars, autonomous vehicle sensors, and more. “We want to offer inspired people a path to connect.”
Similar to how Geekdom sought to develop downtown amenities for the tech sector, Port San Antonio is trying to make the southwest side attractive to businesses involved in defense, cybersecurity, robotics, aviation and more.
The General Hudnell Drive and 36th Avenue facility will include an esports arena, high-end cafeteria, LAN gaming center and a new location for the San Antonio Science and Technology Museum.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg will inaugurate the new 180,000-square-foot facility on Tuesday in a manner befitting the center’s technology orientation: push a button.
Until then, the center is still buzzing with workers in helmets and yellow vests, putting the finishing touches on the building.
The centerpiece of the facility is its esports arena, one of the largest of its kind in Texas, and the first to be built from the ground up for competitive video games.
But the place, which can accommodate up to 3,500 people in retractable stands, is not reserved for video game tournaments. Concerts and actors are also imagined for the space. The Smashing Pumpkins are scheduled to play an opening set on May 2, followed by a series of other musical acts through the rest of the spring. An esports game and event are scheduled for May 6.
Above the stands, a VIP balcony level is filled with sofas and a bar.
To the side of the arena are a series of Tesla coils, which port management say are among the only ones on public display in the country. The coils, which ignite with electric arcs, are integrated into the arena’s lighting and sound system.
Down the hall is a publicly accessible LAN gaming forum, where visitors can pay a few dollars to play competitive multiplayer video games on state-of-the-art computers. Gaming PCs are fast enough to run Valorant, a popular but compute-intensive game, at 400fps in multiplayer matches.
Overcrowded internet tubes allow network speeds several times that of convention halls. “If you lose here, it’s not because of the internet,” jokes Perschbach.
Sam Elizondo, who oversees the LAN center and esports at the arena, said the focus has been on making the LAN center affordable. “It’s some of the best hardware you can find, accessible for a nominal fee,” he said.
Customers can also bring their own laptops to take advantage of the fast internet speed. Elizondo said the room could also be used for cybersecurity drills or to help with complicated 3D renders.
The port has long viewed video games as a viable recruiting channel in technology and defense.
The facility will include a new offshoot of the nearby San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology, though it won’t open until the summer. In addition to the interactive exhibits, the museum will also offer a broadcast studio available for hire, as well as a cybersecurity lab.
A cafeteria, called “Tech Port Provisions”, has several booths operating from staple San Antonio restaurants, including Big Bib BBQ, Capo’s Pizzeria, and Brevity Coffee. Cherrity Bar operates two stalls specializing in Mexican and Japanese cuisine respectively, and Earl Abel’s will have an outpost for its home cooking like pies and fried chicken.
A bar in the middle serves up quick and fancy drinks, ranging from a casual rum and coke to a more carefully crafted whiskey sour with egg white. Thirty-two craft beers are available on tap.
All proceeds from the facility’s food court and VIP lounges, game tickets and fine beverages, go to the Kelly Heritage Foundation, a port-affiliated non-profit organization that supports education and the workforce development.
Behind the cafeteria, an industrial kitchen has the capacity to serve up to 1,000 people. Next week, he will serve hundreds of plates in a three-course meal for the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Perschbach imagines the cafeteria could be a meeting place for students, entrepreneurs, robotics clubs and more.
The center will also house other businesses, such as an incubator-like branch of Capitol Factory’s Center for Defense Innovation, as well as the official video game departments of the Air Force and Space Force.
General Manager Eric Blockie, responsible for executing Port San Antonio’s vision at the center, illustrates the use of the center with a hypothesis: a family of two parents and their child come to the center. The child goes left, to the LAN game center, while the parents enjoy dinner and a show at the arena.
Perschbach said more news would be coming to San Antonio Harbor. “This building has already proven too small for what we need to accomplish.”