Mixed-use projects in the works for former South Austin industrial district
By Joseph Basco
August 24, 2016
In an area that has traditionally been zoned for industrial use and full of scrapyards and auto repair shops, there are three separate developments on East St. Elmo Road at South Congress Avenue that are taking advantage of newer zoning for mixed-use development. Developers are attempting to attract local businesses to transform the area into a cultural district.
Saint Elmo Market, The Yard and Public each offer different uses of space in both new and renovated buildings in the St. Elmo district.
Saint Elmo Market, a 12-acre, mixed-use project with office, hotel, residential and entertainment space as well as a relocated Saxon Pub and public market, is planned to be completed by 2018. The public market portion will take the place of a former industrial warehouse at 113 Industrial Blvd.
Developer GroundFloor Development is preparing to close on the property in late August and is negotiating with several potential tenants, according to public relations firm Juice Consulting.
The Yard, a 150,000-square-foot complex of office and retail space, is a renovation of warehouse space at 440 E. St. Elmo Road by three partners with backgrounds in real estate. Tenants will include wineries, architects, a paddleboard maker and co-working space. The renovations are scheduled for completion later this year.
Public, which includes condominiums for sale by developer Texan Properties, is planned to be completed by the end of 2017. Located at 4361 S. Congress Ave., west of Saint Elmo Market, Public has more than 175 reservations for its 160 units, said Brandon Miller, owner of The Brandon Miller Group, the marketing representative for the condos.
Reusing existing spaces
Miller said 12 acres of land zoned for industrial use west of I-35 and south of Ben White Boulevard was rezoned as mixed-use in late 2014 after GroundFloor Development presented city staff with the plan to build Saint Elmo Market in a former industrial warehouse.
Developers argued that the city of Austin’s 30-year comprehensive plan, Imagine Austin, called for the South Congress district to be mixed-use, Miller said.
When Brandon Bolin, president and CEO of GroundFloor Development, gave a tour of the future site of the public market in September 2015, he said he wanted to create a “creative cluster” of office tenants at Saint Elmo Market from industries such as tech, video aming and music. In the public market space, a former hangar built in the 1950s, Bolinsaid he hopes for local tenants to sell their goods and local restaurateurs launch new concepts rather than having an existing restaurant’s second location.
“This part of town has some more large-scale, old, beautiful buildings, some of which are the only ones left in the city of Austin,” said Matthew Roy Spillers, managing partner of Saint Elmo Market who is in charge of the public market. “For the [Saint Elmo public market location] to be smack dab in the middle of Austin is a big prize that we’re able to catch. A large amount of the creative class lives in this part of the city, so to us it was a no-brainer that this needed to be a saved building.”
Bolin said that a large part of his upbringing was spent renovating old buildings, and the preservation of architecturally significant buildings was attractive to him. Bolin’s vision for the entire St. Elmo district, including Saint Elmo Market, is renovation and preservation with new development alongside existing buildings, he said.
Just east of Saint Elmo Market, The Yard uses 135,000 square feet of pre-existing warehouses built in the 1970s next to the Missouri-Pacific railroad line for office and retail space, said Brian Schoenbaum, founder and CEO of Vuka and Impact Hub and one of three partners developing the property. Veteran developers Adam Zimmerman and Scott Ungar are the other two partners working on The Yard.
“This is an adaptive-reuse project,” Schoenbaum said. “We worked with everything that’s already here to keep the spirit of what’s already here and to give the area a new story, a new face-lift.”
The right tenants
The Yard’s ownership looked for tenants that can work together or mesh well with existing tenants, Schoenbaum said.
One of The Yard’s tenants, St. Elmo Brewing Co., is a craft beer brewer with an open-floor brew space and taproom. St. Elmo Brewing Co. co-owner Bryan Winslow, a former employee at Austin Beerworks, started his own business and began looking south of Ben White Boulevard for a location.
“South of Ben White, there are so many awesome people in the area, and it’s really underserved with creative, fun stuff to do,” Winslow said. “I thought it was the perfect spot for the brewery.”
When he first toured the site at The Yard that eventually became the home of St. Elmo Brewing Co., the building was filled with scrap metal “from floor to ceiling,” Winslow said.
“That being said, I was immediately in love with the location even if it was only the second or third location we scouted,” Winslow said.
SUPatx, a stand-up paddleboard company that was formed in 2009, had a few small showrooms, storage spaces and warehouses throughout Austin, but never a centralized location for all operations, SUPatx Vice President Dale Rogers said. SUPatx moved into a large warehouse space in late July at The Yard, across from St. Elmo Brewing Co., and has plans for a showroom, workshop, test pool and other operational uses in the larger space, Rogers said.
“Other spaces we looked at were big industrial parks or strip mall-type spaces, but they didn’t have the character or other businesses that make a community like [The Yard] does,” Rogers said.
As for Public taking the risk of being the first for-sale condominiums with ground-floor live-work units in the St. Elmo district, Miller said the developers for Saint Elmo Market, The Yard and Public are young, and they all have a vision for not leasing or selling to just any business.
“We want tosell or curate the live-work units to the right businesses that we really believe in [and were] born in Austin and doing something cool in Austin,” Miller said. “There are no [chain stores] down here or anything like that, so we’re trying to support that creative class in the St. Elmo district.”
Tenants interested in Public’s retail space include woodworkers and boutique shop owners, Miller said.
Though all three developments are independent of one another, all three have worked together in one capacity or another, Miller said. The Brandon Miller Group has worked with Bolin ever since GroundFloor Development began the mixed-use zone change request. The group has also worked with Zimmerman for creating The Yard signs facing South Congress Avenue in front of the Public construction.
“We’re getting a lot of referrals from The Yard,” Miller said. “They don’t have apartments or condos; they’re doing something totally different. And it’s good for [The Yard’s retail tenants] to have 160 people living right next door, and the same thing with the proposed Saint Elmo Market.”