When a fire destroyed Rio Grande Street bakery and restaurant Texas French Bread back in January, the future of this longtime local business didn’t seem particularly sunny. Owner Murph Willcott and his wife Carissa Ries, devastated at the loss of the nearly century-old building at this site occupied by their business since 1986, weren’t sure what a path forward for their livelihoods might look like here.
Eight months later, they still aren’t sure, but they would at least like to hear some good ideas. A request for proposals document issued by Texas French Bread’s owners earlier this month asks local developers to submit concepts for the reimagining of their 0.35-acre property at the corner of West 29th and Rio Grande Streets, likely in the form of a mixed-use project under a long-term ground lease agreement intended to provide a reborn Texas French Bread with sufficient revenue to continue operating out of a portion of the site “for years to come:”
At present, our goal is to secure a long term ground lease tenant for the site who brings development, construction and financial expertise to the project. We want to see the TFB site built back better than ever – we hope within the context of a project that allows for Texas French Bread to continue operations there for years to come. The point being, we recognize that we are not experts in the aforementioned areas that will be key to the success of the project and we want to put together a powerful team capable of building something truly exceptional.
— Texas French Bread RFP
The bakery site, which spans adjacent tracts at 2900, 2902, and 2904 Rio Grande Street, is directly north of the West Campus area, but also convenient to neighborhoods like Hyde Park. (The RFP notes that the Hemphill Park station of Project Connect’s upcoming rail lines is also planned only a few blocks away.) According to the RFP, the site’s central location could make it suitable for a boutique hotel, office, or even residential development — which would likely allow for the operation of the Texas French Bread business on the ground floor, and the owners say they will favor proposals for the land that include their participation on site.
The zoning of the properties allows for a wide variety of uses, but the maximum height of a project here would be limited to 40 feet on the majority of the site due to compatibility requirements imposed by adjacent single-family homes.
This means that a full build-out of the property could rise a maximum of three stories, with other limitations including a base parking requirement of one space per 500 square feet of commercial use, one space per 275 square feet of office use, and one space per 100 square feet of restaurant use. A large heritage oak tree stands at the north end of the site, and the RFP states the owners will require any prospective lessee to leave the tree in place and observe a setback to protect its critical root zone. Finally, the business would like to return in a manner that doesn’t bug its neighbors:
TFB has maintained a business presence in the neighborhood for about 40 years, and the principals, Murph Willcott and Carissa Ries, reside in the neighborhood. The successful respondent will in its proposal demonstrate respect for neighborhood aesthetics and a plan having architectural compatibility with other neighborhood structures.
— Texas French Bread RFP
Even with these various constraints, Willcott says the developers they’ve spoken with already think of them as “speed bumps” rather than “deal killers,” and they’re confident they can find a local builder that can bring an inspiring concept to life here and doesn’t erase the history of their beloved business in the process.
We’ve seen local concepts like this before, most recently for Amaya’s Taco Village — and as many single-story businesses in the central city struggle through the growing pains of booming property values, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more Austin icons pursue a similar approach for maximizing their investment and securing their future inside a denser new development. The owners encourage interested parties to contact them by email at email@example.com — we would love to see one of our readers in the development community come up with something great here.