The aging Austin Arms apartment complex at 13th Street and Austin Avenue is starting its evolution into a downtown asset under the leadership of brothers Shane and Cody Turner.
The five-story, 44-unit property now stands vacant except for construction crews that should complete the transformation by next spring.
The Turners have announced they will give each floor and unit a fresh look and feel, with touches that includes a new elevator; central heat and air conditioning; washers and dryers in each apartment; gated and secure parking; controlled access to the building; and well-designed floor plans, Shane Turner said in an email response to questions as he traveled.
“We are targeting people who want to live downtown,” Shane Turner said. “Cody and I have found that that can be just about any age group.”
The brothers and their Lucra Real Estate have become a force in downtown’s renaissance, investing more than $50 million in multifamily, commercial and office developments with more progressing. They spent $2.6 million to renovate the historic Waco Hippodrome Theatre and recently started work to add three screens, install more comfortable seating, rework the restaurant and add other features.
They have created loft apartments and town homes at sites around the central city while announcing in 2014 their vision for the 90-year-old Austin Arms that had seen better days, but not for decades. They vowed to market a refurbished property to “urban hipsters.”
“We are still finalizing design and layout,” Turner said in an email, adding the rental rate will start at $750 a month.
When the Turners announced their plan for Austin Arms in 2014, rents ranged from $350 to $600, depending on size and position.
Since then, the handful of residents who still lived in the complex have vacated the premises as their payment agreements expired. The property has been valued at $200,000 for tax purposes by the McLennan County Appraisal District, and Turner said that is about what they paid for it. They have yet to say how much they will spend on remodeling.
The Waco City Council has granted the property a historic landmark designation, which freezes city property taxes over several years. The complex is first listed in the 1923-24 city directory as the Hardin Apartments, which included a drugstore on the first floor.
Turner said he intends to place retail space at ground level, refinish the oak floors, retexture the walls and ceilings, and replace countertops, light fixtures and window-cooling units. The L-shaped building, which affords an impressive view of downtown Waco, McLane Stadium and Baylor University, had balconies that overlooked a courtyard that the Turners have indicated they will landscape.
Holly Harris, co-owner with Martha Sanders of the shop at 1509 Austin Ave. known as Sironia, said she applauds the Turners and their contribution to “linking downtown with uptown, which we consider ourselves. We think what they are doing with Austin Arms is incredible.”
Harris said she and Sanders are celebrating their 13th year of owning and operating Sironia, and they remain busier than ever. She said it is exciting to watch development move along Austin Avenue from the heart of downtown, near Waco City Hall, to beyond North 10th Street, where boutique retail shops are clamoring for space.
“We love all the growth downtown, and Martha and I are big fans of the Turner brothers and what they have accomplished,” she said.
‘Connecting the dots’
Mary Helen George, who five years ago opened Papillon Antiques at 1025 Austin Ave., said transforming Austin Arms into something positive for the area continues the trend of “connecting the dots and filling in spaces in the blocks that need something good and interesting.”
A refurbished Austin Arms, with a gift shop or ice cream parlor on the first floor, will provide tourists on foot another break from the summer heat.
“I’ve seen some pretty hot and tired ones, tourists who come to town and try to walk up and down Austin Avenue,” George said. “From the very beginning we’ve been well received. We get a lot of traffic from Magnolia, but we’re totally different, offering authentic antiques as opposed to the home decor and novelty items you will find at the Silos.”
George said she attributes much of the downtown Waco explosion to the opening of Baylor University’s new McLane Stadium in 2013 on the banks of Lake Brazos, near the campus and inner city.
“Once alums started seeing change in the stadium situation, they began looking downtown, buying or leasing loft apartments and watching restaurants pop up,” George said. “Magnolia has been operating only 18 months, but I’ve seen new shops opening since I’ve been here.”
Work is also progressing on another of the Turners’ major developments called Franklin Square. It stretches from South Seventh to South Eighth streets on Franklin Avenue and included the gutting of the old Waco Labor Temple and adjacent buildings. Retail space and lofts are planned for the development.
“We do have retailers lined up for a lot of the space at our Franklin Square project,” Turner wrote in his email. “One of the retailers is The Running Company, which is currently located inside of Bicycle World. I have not been given permission to release any of the others at this time.”