AUSTIN BUSINESS JOURNAL: St. Elmo Public Market Construction underway; Developer reveals first tenants

By Marissa Luck | April 13th, 2018

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Construction is underway on a trendy public market in South Austin — and nearly half of its 40,000 square feet of retail space is pre-leased, according to the developers.

By this time next year, the hip and highly-curated St. Elmo Public Market will be open, said Brandon Bolin, partner with Addison, Texas-based Maker Bros. Inc. That's the company developing the $250 million mixed-use project.

Crews have started remedial work on the 12.5-acre site on the south side of Ben White Boulevard, bound by South Congress Avenue and Saint Elmo Road. But general contractor, The Burt Group, will start the construction project "in earnest" within the next 60 days, Bolin said.

Construction on the second phase of the project, a 385-unit apartment complex, will start sometime in the first quarter 2019, he added.

Eventually Maker Bros. will add 108,000 square feet of creative office space and a boutique hotel with about 156 keys, according to the St. Elmo website.

Already Maker Bros. is in discussions with a co-working company to lease office the space, but Bolin declined to name the company. The boutique hotel won’t happen for at least a couple years, and Maker Bros. is looking for an independent operator rather than a chain hotel, Bolin said.

On Friday, Maker Bros. announced the first three of its retail tenants: Mignette, a new bakery/modern diner concept by Michael Fojtasek, the chef behind the popular Austin restaurant, Olamaie; a butcher shop and local produce store from Ben Runkle and Bryan Butler of Salt & Time; and the first retail location for Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Company, which runs an artesian olive orchard in Drippings Springs.

Maker Bros. will roll out a second round of tenant announcements in the next 60 days — including a beer pub, a chocolate supplier, a seafood provider, coffee company and a few fast-casual eateries.

According to Maker, this will be Austin’s first artisan food retail marketplace modeled after similar concepts such as the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, Chelsea Market in New York and Pike Place Market in Seattle.

With an emphasis on craftsman-style, raw ingredients, St. Elmo Public Market will feature a fishmonger, a butcher, a brewery, local food merchants, produce stands and casual grab-and-go eateries.

“When we got into this, we didn’t want to create a food court or food hall. A lot of food halls are popping up all over the country, but we wanted to create a true market,” Bolin said.

Project has international backers

Bolin launched the St. Elmo project in 2015 with his firm GroundFloor Development in partnership with Prescott Group. The next year, Prescott Group left the partnership and Bolin brought in Dallas-based Maker Bros. and he also became a partner in Maker Bros.

Later Bolin brought in Carlin Company, a Napa, California-based firmed that specializes in artesian public markets. Carlin developed the Oxbow Public Market in Napa and the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Carlin Company CEO Steve Carlin is handling leasing for St. Elmo in Austin.

“We wanted to go to the sort of the guru of markets and Steve Carlin and his company, that’s what they are,” Bolin said.

Originally, Saxon Pub planned to run an entertainment venue at St. Elmo. But those plans were scrapped in 2016 when Gary Keller, co-founder and chairman of Keller Williams Realty, bought out the Saxon Pub’s South Lamar property to keep the music venue in its original spot.

Still, the St. Elmo brewpub will have live music, Bolin said.

Key financial backers for the project are Fenix Global Investments, based in Singapore and Hong Kong. Guerilla Suit is the marketing and branding firm and Giant Noise is the publicist for the project.

The public market is designed by Andersson-Wise Architects, which designed the W Hotel & Residences along with ACL Live at the Moody Theater and Topher Theatre at Zach.

Challenging renovations

For the St. Elmo project, Andersson-Wise will be tasked with turning a 1950s warehouse, originally a bus manufacturing facility for Austin schools, into a renovated, modern market. The vintage steel structure will remain to house the public market and the rest of the mixed-use development will be built around it.

Bolin said he fell in love with the South Austin area after moving to the Texas capital after law school.

“It’s 10 minutes to downtown Austin and these buildings are freaking cool. It was a little off the grid and that excited me because I felt like there was opportunity to be part of creating a neighborhood for Austin,” he said.

Although there won’t be affordable housing on site at St. Elmo, Bolin said the apartments will be priced at market rates that he hopes will attract artists and creative types.

“We’re seeing a lot of artists moving south to Ben White, and we’re going to sort of capitalize on this by creating a nice alternative option to downtown living at a fraction of the cost,” he said.