Austin Business Journal / 20 November 2014

Posted on November 21, 2014

Jan Buchholz

Austin Business Journal

St. Elmo's Markets and Lofts — the ambitious plan to build a mixed-use project on South Congress Avenue with a public market and music venue — passed a major hurdle Thursday afternoon when the Austin City Council approved a necessary rezoning by a vote of 5-2.

A likely addition to the mix since the project was first announced will be the relocation of The Saxon Pub, the popular live music venue on Lamar Boulevard.

Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voted against the proposal that would convert an 9.5-acre industrial parcel into a condo development that would incorporate a music venue and a public market on par with Pike Place in Seattle or Quincy Market in Boston. Eventually a boutique hotel would be added.

"Having this pass on consent agenda was the least likely scenario. We thought it would be pulled for discussion and that we could be there until 10 p.m.," said Brandon Bolin, founder and CEO of GroundFloor Development.

Bolin said he was prepared to argue the merits of the case for as long as it took, but is relieved that Mayor Lee Leffingwell and council members Bill Spelman, Chris Riley, Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez backed the project without any discussion.

"At the end of the day we had made a strong case," Bolin said.

Though a few individuals protested previously, arguing that the project would make the area more noisy and unaffordable, others supported the idea of transforming an aging commercial neighborhood into a more livable, infill community with destination appeal.

"We tried to work with the opposition. We made good faith gestures by meeting with them," Bolin said.

As for the potential Saxon Pub relocation, Bolin said an earlier article in the Austin Business Journal about St. Elmo's Market was forwarded to Saxon Pub owner Joe Ables.

"He got a hold of me and said it was a 'hell of a project,'" Bolin said.

Ables also wrote a letter dated Oct. 10 to the mayor and council supporting the project, ending with the statement, "Please vote to keep Austin eclectic and the Live Music Capital City of the World."

Though the deal has yet to be signed, Bolin is optimistic Saxon Pub will be included.

"Joe is totally committed," he said.

Bolin has an option on the land near South Congress and St. Elmo Road with landowner Bill Coon, who operates the Office Furniture Now warehouse on the parcel. Eventually that store will close at that location, but Coon is looking for a new site in South or Southeast Austin.

Coon said he started the business 17 years ago with partner Dave Mattson.

"We're a vibrant business with 27 employees," Coon said.

Bolin expects to formally purchase the property from Coon in May 2015 and begin construction before the end of the year, perhaps as early as next summer. The for-sale condos, market and music venue could be completed by the end of 2017 or early 2018. The hotel would deliver after that.

KBGE is the engineering company orchestrating the project.

With the Council vote out of the way, Bolin said he has one order of business, for the short term at least.

"I'm going to take a breather," he said.