Commercial development continues despite COVID-19


By Rachel Madison

While many industries have slowed or come to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, the construction industry is still trucking along—especially in the commercial real estate sector locally, where several projects can be seen across Liberty Hill.
Texas Pawn & Jewelry

One of the most visible projects in Liberty Hill right now is the new Texas Pawn & Jewelry location, which is going up next door to Dairy Queen on Highway 29. Texas Pawn & Jewelry has locations in Hutto and Leander, as well as in the strip center next to Subway and Happy Wok in Liberty Hill.

Troy Farr, owner of Texas Pawn & Jewelry, said he has never liked the store’s Liberty Hill location because it’s not easily accessible or visible, so it was always the plan to build a new building.

“It’s always been our intention to move the location in Liberty Hill,” he said. “We’ve looked at several pieces of property. We thought about moving next to QuikTrip, but we just kept going back to that property by Dairy Queen.”

The acre directly next to Dairy Queen was purchased by a franchisee, which Farr expects will eventually be a fast food restaurant. His acre is just on the other side and will house a 5,900-square-foot building with a parking lot big enough for at least 40 cars.

“The land and location were good on Highway 29, and we are excited to be in Liberty Hill for the long haul,” Farr said. “We’re excited to not be in a strip center anymore and have our own standalone building. It’ll be good growth potential for us in this area.”

The building, which should be completed by September, will look very similar to Texas Pawn & Jewelry’s Leander location, which Farr said takes people by surprise when they realize it’s a pawn shop.

“We’ll have a nice rock facade on the front and exterior, and on the inside, we’ll have beautiful cases and counters,” he added.

Main Street Social

Since its groundbreaking in January 2019, the Main Street Social food hall project has been moving along slowly but surely. Currently, the project is in full construction mode, with steel and framing going up on the building, and the parking lot recently being completed with 220 spaces.

The flagship within the food hall, Moonie’s Burgers, is still on board, as are all the other vendors that previously committed, including a deli, fish-and-chips vendor and a pizza place.

Owners James and Tambra Prince have made a few changes to the project here and there over the last several months, such as adding two more food stalls for future vendors. While they don’t have specific vendors promised to those spaces yet, the plan is for one stall to sell ice cream and the other to be a “pop-up” style stall, where various vendors can utilize the space to sell their goods.

“We wanted to make this stall an opportunity for people trying to start their business,” said James Prince. “We can do a short-term lease there and give them a lot of flexibility.”

Previously, the Princes planned on having a sit-down restaurant inside the food hall as well, but they have since decided to hold off on that portion of the project for now.

“We moved the restaurant out of the main food hall because while we know we have plenty of places for people to park, we didn’t think there’d be enough space for people to sit and eat,” he said. “We pulled the restaurant out of there and our goal is to put 50 seats in our greenhouse when we build it, which will be phase two of the project.”

The greenhouse, which won’t be built until after the food hall is complete, will be 6,000 square feet and will house a restaurant that will function like a traditional supper club, he added.

“We’ll plan to be open a couple weekends a month, and we’ll get a chef out of Austin or Houston to come out and take over the kitchen with farm-to-table, scratch-made food,” he said.

The Princes have also put in a 32,000-gallon water reclamation system, which will be used for irrigation, a toll booth they’ll fashion to serve outdoor drinks from, as well as a reclaimed windmill for novelty.

Tambra Prince said they’re placing a major focus on the outdoor part of the food hall in order to have a place for community events and outdoor games, individual pod areas, a tot lot for small children, and another play area for kids age 7 and up. Outdoor games will include tether ball, corn hole and even a life-size chess board.

The soft opening for Main Street Social is scheduled for mid-September, with a hard opening by Oct. 1.

“If our vendors aren’t ready, we’ll back it up, and, if we’re feeling really ready, we may open sooner,” James Prince said. “We want to make sure we’re all in sync.”

Other commercial projects

Ground has been broken and the pad sites are in place for two 20,000-square-foot buildings at Vista at 29, a mixed-use project on the Highway 29 corridor that is expected to bring retail, restaurants and office space to the area. The development will be located approximately a mile west of Ronald Reagan Boulevard and two miles east of Highway 183.

Ryan Perry, broker and vice president at leasing agent Asterra, said the first two buildings should be completed by September, and he is working with tenants on signing the first letters of intent on the retail lease spaces and the office and retail purchase options.

“We expect to have a great mix of professional office, retail, drive-thru restaurants and ‘sit down, stay a while’ restaurants,” Perry said. “This is a great opportunity to purchase or lease in a fantastic mixed-use development on a high traffic street in one of the fastest growing areas of Austin.”

Highway 29 Office Park, located at 14001 W. SH 29 in Liberty Hill, is owned by Youngquist Investments. Current tenants in the office park include KLM Design Build; Islet and Goertz Homebuilders; Vita Nova Counseling; and Preferred Elite Construction. Perry said he plans on having two more leases signed by the end of April.

As of now, there are no new tenants or leases signed at Water Tower Center, at 14125 W. SH 29 in Liberty Hill, or The Shops at San Gabriel Ridge on Highway 183 in north Leander, said Monique Rivera, broker with Asterra, but she is still actively looking for new tenants to add.

“At The Shops at San Gabriel, we would love any medical tenants, a nail shop, a tanning shop, yoga, martial arts, or ice cream,” she said. “At Water Tower we would love more medical [tenants], ice cream, a hair salon, dentist, orthodontist, martial arts, yoga, or a gym.”

Panther Plaza, located at the northeast corner of SH 29 and County Road 200, has been complete since October 2019, but has yet to sign any tenants. Phil Morris, assistant vice president of RESOLUT RE!, formerly known as Retail Solutions, said the building remains in shell condition, ready for tenant improvements.

“We’re working with at least one prospect right now that is an ‘essential service’ and hope to be able to move them forward,” he said. “With all of the craziness around, things have definitely slowed but not to a complete halt.”

Jardin Plaza, located next door to Mexican restaurant Jardin Corona at 15395 W. SH 29, is being developed by JLB Real Estate. Francisco Puebla, co-owner of developer JLB Real Estate and manager of Jardin Corona, said the building will consist of six units total ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet each.

The project has been under construction since fall 2019 and was originally set to be completed this month. Delays in construction have postponed the project, and it should now be completed within the next few months.

The 183 Highlands Retail Center, located on Highway 183 heading north into Liberty Hill, still has just one tenant: a dental office called #thesmiledoc. In addition to the retail center, commercial pad sites and an office park are also a part of the mixed-use development.

Tawney Stedman, broker with Capella, said construction has just been completed on Building A in the Highlands Office Park, which has units 750 to 9,100 square feet available for purchase or lease. Building B, which is 5,500 square feet, will be completed in August.

Signed on to a couple of the commercial pad sites are Trillium Montessori, a childcare center, slated to open in fall 2020; and Paws Landing, a luxury dog daycare, groomer and indoor dog park, which has recently started clearing land.

“As for COVID-19, activity has been slower than usual, but has shifted on our office condos from small users to purchasing larger spaces and full buildings,” Stedman said. “[We’ve had] many inquiries from medical users and investors wanting smaller properties.”

Two other projects, both along Highway 29, just broke ground within the last few weeks. The first project is being done by Georgetown-based Jimmy Jacobs Construction, just to the east of Meridell Achievement Center. It will be a standalone building for Comanche, Texas-based Higginbotham Brothers, a hardware store that provides lumber, building materials, paint, lawn and garden supplies and more, said Jerrod Worsham, owner of Jimmy Jacobs Construction. Higginbotham Brothers has been around since 1881 and has dozens of stores across Texas. Worsham estimates the Liberty Hill project will be completed in approximately nine months.

The other project is being completed by Plano-based Huffman Builders, just to the east of Indian Mound Ranch. The construction company could not be reached by press time for additional information.