Development along Franklin Avenue near the heart of downtown Waco will continue at the former Big Green Automotive building at 1020 Franklin Ave.

An investment group bought the property late last year, and it may become the site of retail stores and restaurants, according to a local real estate agent.

The 9,000-square-foot building previously owned by Hoppenstein Properties has for decades served as home to a succession of auto repair shops.

But investors from inside and outside Waco saw the structure as another opportunity in the heated growth areas of Washington, Austin and Franklin avenues, real estate agent Mike Meadows said.

Meadows is marketing the space in sizes ranging from 1,000 to 9,000 square feet and said he already is getting feelers, though he declined to name prospects.

Meadows said he would expect most potential users to have an interest in 1,000- to 3,000-square-foot sections of the structure.

“Interest already has been shown, and we’re now waiting on different renderings and concepts for how Big Green will take shape,” Meadows said.

Hoppenstein Properties spokeswoman Vivian Griffith said buyers snapped up the building just a couple of months after it hit the market.

“We’ve called the place Big Green for years, obviously because of its color and because Big Green Automotive was the most recent user. They left in September or October, I believe, and it was not empty long before it was sold,” Griffith said.

She declined to reveal the sale price.

Meadows said he would rather not name all the partners involved in the deal, but Griffith said “the name on the contract is Tate Christensen.”

Christensen, president of Barsh Construction and immediate past chairman of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, could not be reached for comment.

Megan Henderson, who promotes downtown improvements as executive director of City Center Waco, called Big Green “a neat location with a lot of possibilities.”

“I’ve seen really good projects start with something bare-bones like this,” Henderson said. “The building is right by Balcones Distilling and it’s on the downtown trolley route and probably will stay there. I expect it to see a lot of traffic, because we’ve seen a sharp increase in interest in both Washington and Franklin avenues since conversation began about turning both into two-way streets downtown. There has been overwhelming support for both ideas.”

Balcones Distilling

Balcones Distilling spent more than $15 million remodeling the old Texas Fireproof Storage building at 225 S. 11th St., transforming it into the company headquarters.

Alpha Omega Mediterranean Grill & Bakery opened about eight months ago at 929 Franklin Ave., across the street from what was then a still-operating Big Green Automotive.

Alpha Omega owner Dorothy Lentis said she noticed the space availability sign go up outside Big Green, “and it appeared someone was inside cleaning up the place.”

Lentis said she welcomes any neighbor that will bring more traffic to the area.

“Business has been going well, and I feel very blessed,” she said. “I’m grateful for the support from the Waco community. Others in the restaurant industry know this is a risky business, and they have supported me. Baylor being back in class really helps.”

Lentis said she sells a lot of Greek specialties, including gyros, and house specials that include chicken-fried pork.

A few blocks up Franklin Avenue, developers Shane and Cody Turner last week received a recommendation for $761,667 in Tax Increment Finance funds for work on Franklin Square, in the 700 block. The partnership already has gutted three buildings, including the old Labor Temple, and plans lofts, retail space and restaurants.

“We’re hoping to have our 15 lofts finished by the end of summer,” Shane Turner said. “They range in size from about 600 square feet to 1,000 square feet, and we really haven’t marketed them yet, but based on the success we’ve had with other dwelling units we manage and own right now, we should have no problem leasing them up.”

The team has built about 400 lofts, apartments and town homes near Waco’s inner city, “and they are very close to 100 percent occupied,” he said.

“I just think people want to live downtown. They like the location,” Shane Turner said. “Most of the people who live in the lofts work at Baylor University or at Hillcrest Medical Center. Some even work at SpaceX. It’s easy to get around from downtown, as people know or are finding out.”

Franklin Square

A sign on the $4 million development site features a drawing of Franklin Square, with retailers occupying space on the bottom floor of the Waco Labor Temple, lofts on its upper floors and an ice cream parlor fronting Franklin Avenue in the building at Franklin and Eighth Street.

“We have about 17,000 square feet of available space that can be cut up in a lot of different ways,” Shane Turner said. “We’re pretty flexible.”

The development also has room for 70 to 80 parking spots, and interest has been good, he said.

Next door, at Sixth Street and Franklin Avenue, the hulking Franklin Place prepares to break ground for 96 new apartments. It now has 63 units, all filled, as are three of the five retail units on the ground floor, general manager Christiana Webber said Friday.

Austin-based Realtex Development owns Franklin Place, which found itself four months delinquent on a tax bill that climbed to $240,327 last year. But the McLennan County Tax Office on Friday said Realtex paid its delinquency May 31 and is current on its tax bill, owing $247,744 by Jan. 31.

The delinquent taxes had jeopardized $750,000 Realtex was scheduled to receive as a Tax Increment Finance Zone incentive for the second phase of the $23 million project.

The first phase of the project had received $1.3 million from the downtown fund.

“We’re putting a push on that project right now, though we have a few financial issues to get straightened out with our bank. I’m told we may begin construction by April 1,” said Harald Heer, vice president of construction for Realtex. “We’re definitely going to build. It’s just a matter of when, not if.”

Heer said Realtex representatives plan to meet with city of Waco officials in early February to provide an update.

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