It's been only a few days since VIA Metropolitan Transit trustees voted on a downtown streetcar route, and it will be four years before the urban rail system is running.
Already, much has been made of how VIA's streetcar system will be one of several projects -- among them, the redevelopment of HemisFair Park, an osteopathic medical school, the revitalization of San Pedro Creek and a downtown grocery store -- that could significantly change downtown, maybe for the better.
But many questions remain for the people who live and work along the 5.9-mile streetcar route that VIA has selected. Some know few details about the $280 million project, remain skeptical about the streetcar's purpose or worry that such a massive infrastructure change could harm their businesses in the short term.
Others are eager to see the rail line in operation, hoping it could invigorate and connect points of interest downtown.
"Any development for downtown is a good thing," said Michael Sohocki, chef and owner of two restaurants on Pecan Street near St. Mary's Street. Restaurant Gwendolyn and Kimura will be on the future streetcar line.
"I would love to see this area become a thriving, living, breathing part of San Antonio," Sohocki said, "which, right now, it's not."
Many downtown businesses, like Sohocki's, depend on pedestrians. Because parking downtown can be difficult, his customers "have clearly dumped their cars somewhere." A streetcar would help get them where they want to go, he said.
That's the hope of Adriana Flores, manager of Alamo Music on Main Avenue, nestled between the future streetcar lines.
Alamo Music is a destination store that sells musical instruments and offers music lessons. People stop by for something specific, and many customers come from smaller cities south of downtown.
"If a streetcar will get them there faster," those customers will use it, Flores said.
In the short term, the streetcar will connect downtown employees to places such as Southtown and River North and will spur revitalization in a way that the current transportation system can't, said Randy Smith, president of Graham Weston's downtown real estate investment firm, Weston Urban.
More than 1,000 people work in the Weston Centre, the tower on Pecan Street that is owned by the Rackspace Hosting chairman and is right off the future streetcar line.
In the long term, Smith said, Weston Urban wants more office tenants to live in or near downtown, so the streetcar could become a way to commute to work.
"The bus system is a bus system," Smith said. "It is not going to give rise to anything else."
But he also said it's not the private sector's job to provide capital or operating expenses to the streetcar, a role "that falls squarely in the court of VIA and the municipality."
"To me, the private sector's role in this is to commit to investment adjacent to the streetcar," he said.
But no one knows for sure if the streetcar will change downtown or enhance businesses.
Balous Miller co-owns the Bill Miller Bar-B-Q restaurant chain, which has an office at Santa Rosa and Cesar E. Chavez and a restaurant at St. Mary's and Pecan. Both are on the future streetcar line.
He doesn't know how he feels about the project, in light of the considerable expense and the city's other pressing needs. But he looks at the issue as a businessman: Will the streetcar cause him to lose money or to make money?
"If it would be financially successful and enhance the city," Miller said, "streetcars would be the right thing."
Some business owners and managers worry in the short term about how the construction of the streetcar line, which involves embedding track into the streets and stringing lines overhead, will affect their businesses and for how long.
VIA is planning at least a year's worth of engineering studies of the route. Construction won't begin until 2015, and the system could be running by late 2017.
"The construction probably is the worst thing," said Jon Rowe, who owns the Filling Station Tap Room and the Station Cafe on South St. Mary's in Southtown.