The St. Elmo region of South Austin has been the “next big thing” for nearly a decade. Although the ongoing infusion of residential and creative retail uses into this warehouse-heavy industrial district still has plenty of potential, the whole enterprise got a big bucket of cold water to the face earlier this month with the announcement that the long-awaited St. Elmo Public Market plan — an adaptive reuse project set to transform a former school bus factory into a food hall space with a laundry list of trendy local restaurant concepts on deck — was officially defunct eight long years after its first announcement. The building, purchased by commercial real estate firm SomeraRoad, will now house a chain duckpin bowling alley and arcade bar.
RIP st elmo public market. One day they’ll write a case study on how you catalyzed the development of a neighborhood by simply putting up a “coming soon” sign for 10 years. pic.twitter.com/nB1Zuh8ttL
— Hussain Nathoo (@hussain_nathoo) November 18, 2023
Don’t get us wrong, that’s not a bad thing, but also not quite the community anchor for an emerging neighborhood we’d hoped for. But don’t worry, mon ami! Zere’s plenty still bubblin’ in ze St. Elmo gumbo pot! Pan your camera a block or so north from the former public market site up to the northeast corner of South Congress Avenue and Industrial Boulevard, near the northern boundary of the neighborhood, and you’ll find an interesting strip mall known as “The X-Change Center” that could become even more interesting. Located at 4201 South Congress Avenue, the collection of three brick-accented buildings on a roughly 5.5-acre lot splits the difference between retail and industrial, with a collection of storefronts closer to the street and an internal warehouse structure containing heavier uses.
The owners of the property, an LLC linked to Santa Monica-based investors Redcar Properties, are now seeking vertical mixed-use zoning in order to partially redevelop the property with housing, some of it affordable due to the requirements of the VMU program’s density bonuses. What makes this project interesting is the stated plan by the applicants to only demolish and redevelop the smaller buildings at the edges of the site with residential uses, while keeping the larger existing industrial building and adapting it into smaller structures suitable for office, restaurant, and retail use — although it’s hard to tell without any fancy renderings, it seems like this project will add housing to the site while maintaining elements of its existing warehouse-inspired design, which is beneficial to the overall industrial character of the St. Elmo region.
The applicant is requesting to rezone the property to general commercial services – mixed use – vertical mixed use building – neighborhood plan (CS-MU-V-NP) combined district zoning. The proposed development would consist of a mixed use project. Adaptive reuse of the larger existing industrial building has been proposed in order to redevelop it into smaller buildings for office, restaurant, and retail use. The applicant is requesting the vertical mixed use building (-V) to develop residential units with affordable housing per the City of Austin requirements.
The rezoning case for the property is currently scheduled for the agenda of tonight’s Planning Commission meeting, and since it appears supported by city staff, we’re not expecting too much drama here. Thanks to an email from the project’s local representative Ferris Clements included in the backup documents for the case, we have an extremely tiny view of the developer’s concept site plan for the project, showing how its adapted warehouse building will join hands with a new residential structure. Don’t bother trying to zoom in on this one, it doesn’t get any better:
What really has us interested in this project is the direct proximity of its adapted warehouse and housing to the Bergstrom Spur, an upcoming rails-to-trails adaptation of an abandoned freight line into a protected corridor for walking and wheeling — this sort of urban connectivity is pretty scarce south of Highway 290, and we’re convinced that building this trail is one of the keys to the continued success of the St. Elmo neighborhood. If this project moves forward, it’ll be directly south of the trail, and we hope its developers are embracing that presence in the design of this new northern anchor for the emerging district. Does anyone want to send us a better site plan?