The historic Geyser Ice Co. building near downtown has changed hands yet again in less than two years, with the new owner hoping to convert the eyesore at South Ninth Street and Webster Avenue into space for a boutique hotel, restaurant and live entertainment venue.
Buyer Jon Humphries said he grew up in East Texas, but he heard plenty about Waco from his parents, both Baylor University graduates. He and his family moved here in 2012, and shortly thereafter he became “intrigued” by the ice building property and its potential for redevelopment.
“It was in disrepair, but it could be purchased at such a reasonable price that I decided to go ahead and make a move on it,” said Humphries, owner of Mammoth Construction Co. and Hulk Roofing Systems.
He and his Diamante Development LLC paid just under $400,000 for the 2.4-acre complex on Webster Avenue that another group of investors, Rydell Capital, had acquired from Reddy Ice in December 2015.
“I guess one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Humphries said. “I saw great opportunity in that property, considering everything that is going on in Waco right now. You have Balcones Distilling, Magnolia Market, The Findery and The Backyard Bar Stage and Grill all making waves downtown. I saw value and wanted to pursue it.”
Crews already have leveled an office building and a storage shed adjacent to the main building, and now are cleaning the property, removing asbestos where necessary and securing the site.
“Phase 1 should be complete by September, when a second development group will get involved in the process,” Humphries said. “I’m still in the process of putting together that entity, which will provide capital.”
Humphries said he thinks investors eventually will pump $7.5 million into transforming the building now plagued by crumbling bricks and broken windows into “a focal point for downtown Waco,” one that will contribute to the central city’s momentum while stirring memories of days when locals trying to beat the heat flocked to Geyser for ice and beer.
Water for the ice plant came from an artesian well on the property and was distilled, according to an 1896 advertisement. By the 1920s, the plant could produce 200 tons of ice a day. It had a multistory cold storage facility that was insulated with cork, according to a Waco News-Tribune article on May 11, 1924. The company had a fleet of 14 horse-drawn wagons to deliver ice and was designated as a “reicing station” for the Missouri-Kansas Texas Railway, according to the newspaper article.
At one time, the plant was owned by beer baron Adolphus Busch, whose Anheuser-Busch Brewing Co. also had a beer distribution center nearby.
By 1954, it had come under the control of the Southland Corporation of Dallas, which was better known as the parent company of 7-Eleven, and it also owned Reddy Ice until the late 1990s. By the early 2000s, Reddy Ice was using the multistory vault to store up to 1 million pounds of ice a day, but it no longer produced ice there. In 2001, the company tore down an older point of the plant, saying it was no longer usable.
Humphries will preserve as much of the existing plant’s appearance as possible, saying he will selectively apply the wrecking ball. He added he is repurposing the original bricks for use in the renovated portion.
Humphries said the ice tower will become a lodging venue featuring 55 to 60 rooms and private suites, most probably priced at $175 to $200 a night.
“I will use the old cooler room for restaurant space,” he said. “We plan to offer really quality food, though we’ve not decided on a specific type. We’re working with a couple of operators to get ideas.”
Entertainment that may include live music also will take center stage.
“We want to make this a downtown destination, another anchor that will bring Waco downtown, make Waco what we really believe it can be,” Humphries said. “I’m already impressed with the amount of traffic downtown, the activity, and I think it’s ripe for even more growth.”
He said he will apply for $650,000 in Tax Increment Financing Zone funds from the city of Waco, and is working with TFNB McGregor Your Bank For Life to secure capital for his project, which he should complete by early 2019.
Dillon Meek, general counsel for Rydell Holdings and a member of the Waco City Council, said Rydell treasured the iconic Geyser Ice building, but had too many other projects in the works to give it the attention it deserves.
“This group sounded like it had a good heart for the community, and given our torn priorities, it felt like the right time to sell,” said Meek.
Rydell Holdings or affiliated investment companies own the Fuego restaurant on Interstate 35, a hydroponic lettuce farm, the Executive Plaza at 6801 Sanger Ave., and the Palm Court and Austin Place apartments on Austin Avenue near downtown, said Meek, a Baylor University graduate. He added Rydell also owns half interest in Campus Realtors.
“We’re focusing on ‘uptown’ development between 18th and 25th streets on Washington, Austin and Columbus avenues,” Meek said. “We’ve made the building at 23rd and Austin our office, taking half the space, and the coffee company Pinewood Roasters soon will take the other half.”
Rydell also is going up with a 54-unit complex near 20th Street and Austin Avenue that features one- and two-bedroom apartments spread over multiple buildings “that we hope to give the look of single-family homes, and as historic as possible, consistent with the neighborhood.”
“We wanted to make it walkable to the main library and to Pinewood Roasters, and we think it will appeal to all ages,” Meek said.
Meanwhile, Humphries said he launched Diamante Development as a part-time pursuit of investment property for himself and a couple of partners.
“But I really see it becoming a full-time venture because I always keep an eye on opportunities in Waco, and once I get Geyser up and running, I have a couple of other projects I plan to pursue,” he said.
He said his construction company is renovating floors in Triangle Tower, Valley Mills and Waco drives, that will become a branch location for TFNB McGregor. He said he also provided consulting services for TFNB related to construction of a branch near Eighth Street and I-35 near downtown.