In 1969, the Texas Legislature created The University of Texas at San Antonio as a component of the University of Texas System. The master plan, approved in 1970, was developed for a campus of 30,000 students and did not include a student union. By 1979, enrollment at the University topped 9,000 and activities and events were scattered around the campus. A student referendum in November 1979 approved the establishment of a student union organization which would offer co-curricular activity space for the University's students. The student union was pictured as a gathering place for the university community and the focal point for programs, meetings, dining, and relaxation for students, faculty, staff and university guests.
The economic climate of the early '80s made formulating a project-planning budget difficult. The project consultants recognized that the scope of desired facilities would exceed initial funding and decided a multi-phased building plan would best serve the needs of the university by allowing the most vital facilities to be constructed first. In fall 1982, a total project budget of $5 million was established.
The feasibility study completed in early 1983 recommended construction of a 38,000 square foot building to be known as the University Center. Construction of Phase I began in July 1984. Opening in July 1986, the UC featured a main lounge, several meeting rooms, a multi-purpose room and banquet hall, a student activity complex, a recreation room (the Roost), and food services. The main lounge, known as the Ski Lodge, was designed as and remains the living room of the UC. The meeting rooms are used primarily by student organizations for various meetings and events.
In 1993, the building program for Phase II, an addition to Phase I of the UC, was established and approved. Representing the needs of the student body, the Student Government Association (SGA) played an important role in the design process. The design called for an addition of 100,000 square feet. Completed in 1996, the addition included a 16,000 square foot bookstore, 7,485 square foot student activities complex, the Retama auditorium (350 seat, tiered-style theater), several more meeting rooms, and the offices of Student Life, Career Services, Alumni Programs, Orientation Programs, and a copy center. Included in the building program for Phase II was also renovation of Phase I that included expanding the Roost, adding the Counseling Center, the Tomas Rivera Center and a Special Events Office.
Amid the pressures of UTSA's extremely rapid growth and huge space deficit, in 2003 the student body approved by referendum the construction of a UC expansion scheduled to open in 2008. Students agreed to fund the construction once completed an increase in their student fees. The building program for Phase III, a primarily student-driven project, was completed in 2008 and includes a ballroom capable of holding up to 900 for lecture-style programs, additional meeting rooms, entertainment areas, a new gameroom, lounge space, and more space for the 230+ student organizations at UTSA. Renovations of other UC buildings included safety upgrades to bring the building up to code and new technology such as wireless Internet and lcd projectors in every meeting room.
2009 saw additional construction and renovation to enhance security surveillance and improve public areas with new carpeting and furniture. UC administrative offices were renovated and as of August 2009 all UC offices—administration, operations, programs, marketing—along with Events Management and Conference Services were relocated to one suite of offices directly across from the UTSA Bookstore. This consolidation allowed the University Center to renovate other spaces to pave the way for new services, with Rios Golden Cut Salons and a document and mail services store planning to open in the fall 2009 semester. The 2008 expansion, along with renovations in 2009 has enabled the University Center to better serve the diverse needs of the campus community and has secured its position at the heart of student life at UTSA.