A cluster of aging buildings between Seventh and Eighth streets on Franklin Avenue will bow to progress and become Franklin Square. The mixed-use development will include loft apartments, retail and restaurant space, and will continue developer Shane Turner’s impact on the changing face of downtown.
Site plans now reside at City Hall, and workers wearing protective masks are removing asbestos from decades-old structures that will give way to 21,000 square feet of sales and dining space, 45,000 square feet of living area and “plenty of on-site parking,” said Turner, who plans an unveiling in spring 2017.
Buildings affected by the transition include the historic Waco Labor Temple at 702 Franklin Ave., whose appearance Turner will preserve.
The development also will include the old offices of Hoppenstein Properties, the former warehouse of Morrison Plumbing Supply and the hulking building that once housed Fred & Wally’s Sports Bar.
“We bought the buildings about six months ago and will approach them as a single development,” Turner said.
The Baylor University graduate has made improvements to Waco’s inner city a priority for his team, which includes his brother, Cody Turner; Bicycle World owner Todd Behringer; and Lucra Real Estate.
Turner has secured demolition permits to level two adjoining structures, said Bobby Horner, an inspection supervisor for the city of Waco.
Marketing of Franklin Square has not begun, but Turner said prospects — including clothing stores, beauty salons and restaurants — have shown interest.
“I don’t have anything serious enough at this point to share any names, but everyone who has looked will be good credit tenants,” he said. “We’re not specifically targeting any specific type of retail, just open to anyone approaching us. We will have a good mix regardless of who goes in there.”
Turner said on-site parking should prove attractive because of its scarcity downtown. He said he will offer gated parking for the leased lofts that will have one or two bedrooms and range in size from 600 to 1,000 square feet. Rates were not available Tuesday.
“After this project, we will have about 60 lofts scattered around downtown in five or six buildings,” Turner said. “We have a 100 percent occupancy rate and a waiting list. Maybe we know what we’re doing.”
A sign placed on the 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 Avenue and Eighth Street, the former Nite Court Saloon location.
“I’m excited about it,” said Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco. “As I understand it, the two nondescript buildings are coming down, but the interesting architecture of the Labor Temple will be preserved.”
Henderson said the mixed-use venture will complement improvements underway or completed in pockets of downtown, especially along Austin Avenue.
“It is important for a community to understand and appreciate what a local developer brings to a project,” Henderson said. “We’re excited for people to come from outside the market with big plans, but we also need to respect what people have been doing in downtown for years.”
She said local developers, including Turner, “think about each development and how it fits together with others, creating not just space but an economy. They don’t say they’re just adding more retail and restaurant space. They consider what downtown needs to be successful and strive for the variety that people want there. You really get a sense when you talk to Shane that he’s not just thinking about what he can do to make money but what he can do to fill a gap or take downtown to the next level.”
The Waco Labor Temple at 702 Franklin Ave. was built in 1910, according to the National Register of Historic Places, which conducted a survey of downtown buildings in 2013.
It had fallen into disrepair and had become a financial drain on the Central Texas Labor Council when businessman Jerry Dyer Jr. bought the building three years ago for $95,400. Dyer estimated he would spend $587,017 on it, according to his application for Tax Increment Financing Zone funds.
Dyer received a pledge of $75,982 from TIF but never collected the money because he failed to proceed with renovation of the Labor Temple, said Melett Harrison, Waco’s deputy director of housing and economic development. Dyer reportedly sold the building to Waco real estate agent Kenny Stevens, who then struck a deal with Turner.
Turner said he does not know whether he will pursue TIF Zone funds, though Harrison said $12.3 million remains uncommitted and available.
Elsewhere downtown, Turner said finish-out work will make several loft condominiums at 216 S. Sixth St. available for occupancy by the end of August. He and his partners last year began placing 21 luxury lofts in the 99-year-old warehouse that most recently served as home to Gradel Printing.
“We only have three units left. Eighteen have been spoken for,” Turner said.
They sell for anywhere from $275,000 “into the millions of dollars,” he said.
Turner said buyers include well-off Baylor University alumni who want a home away from home while visiting their alma mater.
“The whole reason we decided to do this is that we’ve been approached by so many people looking for lofts,” he said in a previous interview.
Built in 1917 as headquarters and warehouse for Waco Dry Goods Co., which employed hundreds of people to make military uniforms and Gene Autry brand jeans, it is the last of the giant downtown warehouses to be renovated.
Since the 1990s, other multistory buildings from that era have been put to new uses, including RiverSquare Center — home to Ninfa’s and Spice Village — Behrens Lofts, Insurors of Texas and Balcones Distilling Co., which occupies the former Texas Fireproof Storage building.
Other projects involving the Turner brothers include renovating the Waco Hippodrome Theatre and building the Tinsley Place apartments.