Commercial real estate gearing up for bounce back post virus restrictions


By Rachel Madison

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some slowing in the commercial real estate industry locally over the last few months, construction on many new businesses has remained strong in Liberty Hill.

One of the most visible projects along State Highway 29 is a new Austin Regional Clinic, being constructed by Plano-based Huffman Builders just to the east of Indian Mound Ranch.

Ron Evans, principal at Huffman Builders, said the project is about two to three months from the shell construction being done, and then work on the interior will begin. The building is 6,500 square feet.

“With COVID-19, lots of clients, mostly medical, that are under construction have changed their opening dates by pushing them back,” he said. “I don’t know what Austin Regional Clinic’s opening date will be now. The interior finish out won’t start until they determine their move-in date and opening date. There’s no reason to finish it and have it sit there for months. The original plan was for them to open in late fall, but we’re not sure now.”

Evans added that he has another project breaking ground in a few months in Liberty Hill, on the north side of SH 29 next to Sunny Hill RV Park.

“We’ll be breaking ground on a 6,000-square-foot animal hospital,” he said. “That will be open most likely about a year from now. I don’t know if it’s been named yet, but the owner is Dr. Matthew Brooks of New Hope Animal Hospital. He will own it with another partner or two.”

Another major construction project along SH 29 next to Dairy Queen, is the new building for Texas Pawn & Jewelry, which is currently located in the strip center next to Subway and Happy Wok.

Troy Farr, owner of Texas Pawn & Jewelry, said the project is ahead of schedule, and he’s expecting the new 5,900-square-foot building to be complete by late July or early August.

“We are finishing the rock on the exterior this week,” he said. “Most of the exterior is done, so we are moving to the interior. We have some custom cabinets and custom gun racks being built. We have some flat wall that has to go up, and the electric in the front still needs to be put up.”

As of now, Farr said he doesn’t know what will happen to Texas Pawn & Jewelry’s current location once his business moves out. He also added that the acre lot next to his new building has been sold to a franchisee, who may eventually put a fast food restaurant on the site.

“Liberty Hill is going to be a growing mecca for the next several years,” Farr added.

Another big project is a new hardware store on SH 29 called Higginbotham Brothers. It’s being completed by Georgetown-based Jimmy Jacobs Construction, just to the east of Meridell Achievement Center. It will be a standalone building for the Comanche, Texas-based hardware store that provides lumber, building materials, paint, lawn and garden supplies and more. Higginbotham Brothers has been around since 1881 and has dozens of stores across Texas.

Jerrod Worsham, owner of Jimmy Jacobs Construction, said the project is going well. Structural steel is being erected on the project this week, and all underground utilities are complete. The building will be an 18,000-square-foot pre-engineered metal building with a limestone rock veneer on the front entry and metal panels above.

Worsham added that there are two standalone shed buildings on the property, for housing lumber, which will also be erected soon. The foundations for those buildings have been poured.

“All construction is moving forward, but we’re not certain on a completion date yet,” Worsham said. “I’d say it’ll be done about four months from now.”

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. Steel framing for the project has now been erected, but the completion date is still unknown.

The Main Street Social project on Loop 332 near downtown, has been moving along since its groundbreaking in January 2019. The project is in full construction mode, with steel and framing complete on the building and the exterior going up. The soft opening for Main Street Social is scheduled for mid-September, with a hard opening by Oct. 1.

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 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 US Highway 183. The first two buildings of the project are expected to be completed by September.

At the 183 Highlands Retail Center, located on US 183 heading north into Liberty Hill, things came to a standstill due to COVID-19, said Mason Turner, associate with Turner Commercial Properties.

“I think now the greater Austin market is starting to bounce back,” he said. “As far as the retail center at 183 Highlands, #thesmiledoc is moving along with their build out. I’m not sure when their target open date is, but it’s anticipated to be soon. No other retail tenants have secured space yet, but inquiries have picked up in the past couple weeks.”

Building A of the office condos was completed during the beginning of the pandemic, said Tawney Stedman, broker with Capella. In addition to the retail center, commercial pad sites and an office park are also a part of the mixed-use development. Building B of the office park is set to be completed in August.

“We completed Building A of the office condos during the beginning of the pandemic, but sales and leasing remained quiet,” Stedman said. “Once the restaurants announced opening to 25 percent, our phones started ringing. Right now we are working with several 5,000 to 10,000 square foot users as tenants; mostly medical and several small office users. Trillium Montessori is under construction and is anticipating opening this August.”

Another pad site belongs to Paws Landing, a luxury dog daycare, groomer and indoor dog park, which has recently just started clearing land.
Stedman said during the first phase of COVID-19, the commercial market went quiet, existing contracts were extended because of the uncertainty of the outcome, and leases went on hold.

“The market has been busy the last three weeks, partly because of the catch up,” she said. “Most of my activity has been from the office sector. Tenants are still looking for locations. While restaurants are closing, there are new restaurants coming into the Austin market eager to absorb second generation restaurant spaces. Retail has been slow, but it is speculative the lack of retail leasing will be short term.”

Other strip centers across Liberty Hill also experienced slowing during the pandemic. Panther Plaza, located at the northeast corner of SH 29 and County Road 200, has been complete since October 2019, but hasn’t signed any tenants.

The Shops at San Gabriel Ridge on US 183 in north Leander and the Water Tower Center, at 14125 W. SH 29 in Liberty Hill, also haven’t signed any new tenants. Monique Rivera, broker with Asterra, said she does have some promising prospects at both shopping centers, although nothing executed yet.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss and will happily share once things go through,” she added. “By the end of June, I should have more info.”

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. No new tenants have been reported.