A Waco couple already with a stake in downtown Waco with the opening earlier this year of Wildland Supply Co. have bought a long-vacant structure in the 700 block of Washington Avenue, where they will relocate their business and offer another 10,000 square feet for use by tenants with a passion for the inner city.
Cory Duncan, 28, a real estate developer from Austin who received a master’s degree in business administration from Baylor University, confirmed Monday he has acquired space between 711 and 723 Washington Ave., not far from the McLennan County Courthouse, from an out-of-state owner “who was just sitting on it.”
He will make 4,000 square feet available to Wildland Supply Co., which his wife, Kate Parker Duncan, 29, opened in January at the corner of Eighth Street and Austin Avenue. She will see her retail area double from 2,000 square feet, and will fill it with expanded clothing and beauty lines and room where customers can relax and enjoy the ambience.
“We are wanting to make Washington Avenue a major part of the downtown corridor, as strong as Austin and Franklin avenues,” said Cory Duncan, adding he already has received a “tsunami” of inquiries about the availability of space in the building, on which he closed last week with help from Waco real estate agent Josh Carter.
He said he will set aside streetfront space for at least four would-be tenants, and will “customize each space to the needs of each user.”
“We will be incredibly selective because this will continue the evolution and progression of downtown,” said Cory Duncan, adding he expects the entire building to have a new look inside and outside and to brim with businesses offering an array of products and services sometime next year.
Megan Henderson, executive director of the Waco Downtown Development Corp., said she’s excited about the project and the Duncans’ enthusiasm.
“I think Wildland Supply is a fabulous business, and what’s important is that it is staying downtown and that Cory and Kate continue to have a vision for growth,” Henderson said. “They are young, entrepreneurly minded and creative. They are business makers, which is important to downtown’s development.”
Henderson said Austin Avenue has captured so much momentum it should have no trouble recovering from the relocation of Wildland Supply. She specifically mentioned the ongoing development of the former Stratton Building at South Eighth Street and Austin Avenue, where the Ellis Isle development company, under the leadership of Peter Ellis, plans a major renovation to accommodate retail ventures, restaurants, art space, coffee shops and lofts within a short walk of the Hippodrome Theatre.
She said Washington Avenue could become the next bustling downtown street if the city were to make it a two-way street, as Waco City Council now is considering. She said studies and consultants have suggested that a two-way thoroughfare would serve as a stimulus to economic development.
Brian Ginsburg, who owns the space at 804 Austin Ave. that the Duncans now lease for Wildland Supply, said refilling the spot “would not be an issue.”
“We have a sign up with the number of a local real estate agent, and we get calls weekly, almost daily about space in the building,” Ginsburg said, adding that renovation continues at 806-808 Austin Ave. for a bar called Dreamz Lounge that likely will open in January or February.
Waco City Councilman Dillon Meek, whose District 4 includes much of downtown, said he’s encouraged by the Duncans and their vision for Washington Avenue.
“Kate and Cory are exactly the kind of young professionals we like having in Waco, and are proposing exactly the kind of businesses we want,” he said. “Wildland has been a successful example of how a new and creative business can succeed in our downtown market. I’m glad they have proven its worth and want to stay in downtown and expand.”
He, too, said he favors Washington Avenue becoming a two-way street, “which would increase the potential for retail expansion.”
Long-term, Meek said, “I would like to see Columbus Avenue equally thriving as Austin Avenue, Franklin Avenue and now Washington Avenue. I would like to see downtown in its entirety become an economic stronghold and destination point because healthy cities need healthy downtowns.”
Wildland Supply Co. has made a name for itself downtown, said Kate Duncan, who received a degree in retail merchandising from the University of Texas. She opened for business offering clothing and gifts like leather handbags, herbal-scented soy candles and cooking and design books.
“It is on a very fast growth trajectory, and I really need more space,” Kate Duncan said by phone. “I want to increase my home-goods offerings and my selection of casual everyday wear. But, more than anything, I would like more space to make my shop where people can just hang out and enjoy themselves, maybe on a couch or two.”
She said besides the McLennan County Courthouse and sheriff’s office outpost, much of Washington Avenue “is just slow.”
South of Austin Avenue
She would like to change that scene and make streets north of Austin Avenue as stimulating as areas south of Austin Avenue. That would include the newly minted Silos at Magnolia Market, the brainchild of Chip and Joanna Gaines that is attracting thousands of tourists to South Sixth Street and Webster Avenue.
Investment in downtown has grown drastically in the past few years, from restaurants like Jake’s Texas Tea House, Portofino’s, the Backyard Bar Stage and Grill and Coach’s Smoke; to bars like Dichotomy Coffee and Spirits and Muddle; to specialty locales such as The Findery and The Silos at Magnolia Market.
More changes, and at least one change of ownership, apparently will come to pass. A Facebook message and a manager at Klassy Glass Wine Bar, 723 Austin Ave., confirmed that the establishment, which opened five years ago, faces a lease renewal and the owners, who could not be reached for comment, will entertain offers to buy the place.
Cory Duncan said he will pursue “all grants and funds that might be available” to renovate the building he has acquired on Washington Avenue. The city has supported several Austin Avenue businesses with Tax Increment Fund grants, including Pura Vida Spa, the Kress and Woolworth Suites buildings and the Hippodrome.