The operator of the landmark Majestic and Charline McCombs Empire theaters is adding another live performance venue to its San Antonio lineup.
Ambassador Theater Group is renovating the amphitheater and former train station depots at The Espee, an entertainment venue at 1173 E. Commerce St. in St. Paul Square. An opening date hasn’t been announced.
“It’s the perfect complement to our downtown Majestic and Empire venues and it just opens up a whole other opportunity for live entertainment as an outdoor venue,” said Emily Smith, general manager at Ambassador Theater Group.
“It’s just a great opportunity and to be part of the growth in St. Paul Square,” she added. “We’re really excited about what’s happening in the area and to participate in that.”
Smith said the group also plans to work with community and business organizations that already had events booked at The Espee, including AlamoFest on Sept. 10. In March, a trade association convention moved from its daytime programming at the convention center to The Espee for a spirited evening celebration.
EVO Concerts last brought music shows to the pavilion in 2019 and the private ownership groups of the property, Sunset Station LLC and East Commerce Realty, have booked a few events there since.
St. Paul Square has been undergoing a revitalization in the past year. The 1902 Nightclub opened late last year in the century-old former train station, and two hotels in the district are being renovated. New restaurants, a coffee shop and a day spa have opened, with a jazz bar slated to open this fall. East of the train tracks, Fort Worth-based Vaquero Ventures is planning a five-story, multifamily structure at 1220 E. Commerce St.
Don Thomas, the managing partner of St. Paul Square, said The Espee ownership group entered into the agreement with Ambassador earlier this year to manage and activate the property.
“We’re happy to have a professional company like ATG that has obviously experience and expertise in this in this realm,” Thomas said. “That’s not our expertise.”
Founded in the United Kingdom in 1992, the Ambassador Theater Group owns or operates 58 venues throughout Britain, Germany and the United States. In 2015, Ambassador acquired ACE Theatrical Group, adding five theaters to its U.S. portfolio, including the city-owned Majestic and Empire.
In early 2019, Ambassador added to its portfolio the Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land, southwest of Houston, a venue that can seat up to 6,400 for concerts. The group also operates Kings Theater, a music venue in Brooklyn.
The group has embarked on renovation work at The Espee to install artificial turf in the courtyard area, upgrade the bars inside the depot building and improve the backstage area used by the artists. There are plans to add fencing that will block public viewing from the street and enhance security.
On Wednesday, the Historic and Design Review Commission rejected a request to increase the height of an existing plaster wall along Hoefen Avenue by 2 feet and top a portion with a clay tile screen. Commissioners and City staff plan to meet with the architect to discuss other options.
Though San Antonio might have a “third wheel” reputation when it comes to the frequency and variety of live music offerings in the city, especially compared to other places in Texas, Smith feels the new venue will be successful.
“The city is growing so much, and there’s so much growth and so much room for more live entertainment, and this is just a different type of venue that offers a different experience,” she said.
Disclosure: The San Antonio Report is a tenant at St. Paul Square.