AUSTIN BUSINESS JOURNAL: Think you know Austin's South Congress Avenue? Here's what investors, developers see

Jan Buchholz | April 6th, 2017 

Far South Congress Avenue doesn’t seem like a very trendy locale. Auto-body shops, pawn stores, gas stations and convenience stores don't really contribute to the city's glowing reputation.

But there is a renaissance going on just south of Ben White Boulevard. Get ready for creative office space, mixed-use, condos, apartments and more. The way many see it, far South Congress is on its way to being about as hip and cool as the part of the street closer to downtown known as SoCo.

 William White, left, and John Collins of St. Croix Capital Realty Advisors.  They are leading the charge to develop new portions of South Congress Avenue in Austin. 

William White, left, and John Collins of St. Croix Capital Realty Advisors.  They are leading the charge to develop new portions of South Congress Avenue in Austin. 

“This is South Lamar (circa) 2010,” said John Collins, partner at Austin-based St. Croix Capital Realty Advisors — a real estate development, investment and advisory firm.

He should know. Collins was arguably the first broker to lead the charge into South Lamar Boulevard before it became action central for multifamily and retail development. Today, South Lamar is one of the hippest corridors in town with upscale dining such as internationally known Uchi to another local casual favorite, Chi’lantro BBQ. The huge Lamar Union with apartments and stores is complete and more apartments are on the way.

But Collins recognized a couple of years ago that South Lamar had become too expensive for many fledgling businesses and renters. He began searching for the next great commercial strip — and didn't have to look far.

Collins, along with Billy White of St. Croix, recently handled the sale of SoCo Park, about 41,500 square feet of offices and flex space just south of the historic Hill Cafe at 4930 S. Congress Ave., part of a wave of new development in the area.

Collins and White are marketing the property, which includes three buildings that currently are 50 percent leased, but with big potential.

“Renovations are now in the works,” Collins said.

The facade is being modernized and hedges that blocked the property are being removed. Collins said leasing rates between $18 and $24 per square foot should appeal to a variety of enterprising tenants.

Collins said increasing interest by investors from Ben White Boulevard on the north to Stassney Lane on the south affirms his hunches.

Dallas-based JPI Cos. built Sur512, a luxury apartment complex, at 5010 S. Congress Ave. that is 95 percent leased. The second phase has just been completed.

To the north, Texas Properties is building Public, a loft project being marketed by Brandon Miller Group.

“There are 160 condominium lofts including 10 live-work storefront,” Miller said. “We’ve pre-sold 150 units under hard contract with the building completion on schedule for this fall.”

The Yard, a mixed-use development of rehabbed industrial and warehouse space, has been delivering at 440 E. St. Elmo Road, and Transwestern is marketing office space at 220 Industrial Blvd.

Another person who foresaw the potential for the area was Brandon Bolin of GroundFloor Development, who envisioned a large public market, music venue, hotel and residential space incorporated into the so-called “Saint Elmo Public Market District” at St. Elmo Road and South Congress. The project was announced in 2014, but no dirt has turned.

Justin Bailey of Maker Bros. of Dallas, a partner with GroundFloor Development, said the project is proceeding in the city development processes — but did not elaborate on the reason for the delays.

Expect more redevelopment projects to be announced in the area soon. Commercial properties at 4714 S. Congress Ave. and 4719 S. Congress Ave. have recently been sold to companies that have given hints that rehab and redevelopment is on the horizon.