Developers are eyeing up a project that could come to reshape Waco’s skyline and represent a $100 million investment just across the street from Magnolia Market at the Silos.
Julius Kramaric, an attorney and sports agent from the Czech Republic, already a force behind the Czech-inspired Pivovar restaurant and brewery on South Eighth Street, now envisions an office, retail and condo project next door with a pair of buildings that would tower over most others, if not all, in Waco.
Kramaric leads an investment group with principals in Washington, D.C., Miami and the Czech Republic, said Waco real estate agent Gregg Glime, who recently brokered sale of the Texas Meter & Device Co. complex at 300 S. Eighth St. to Kramaric and his colleagues. Glime said demolition may start next month, and partners expect a two-year design and permitting process.
A finished product probably is four years away, Glime said.
During conversation, said Glime, Kramaric expressed his desire to include towers taller than the ALICO Building at Fifth Street and Austin Avenue, once the tallest skyscraper in Texas at 22 stories.
“I’m not sure that’s still his plan, but I think it’s safe to say it will change the skyline of downtown Waco as we know it, and may prove to be one of the most attractive buildings west of the Mississippi,” Glime said.
Gensler, an international architecture, design, consulting and planning firm with 5,000 employees and 50 offices, including in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, has been hired to lend its expertise, he said.
Uses the building will encompass remain a work in progress.
“I think it’s still up for conversation, and Julius wants input from the city, collaboration on what’s best for the site,” Glime said. “I’m sure retail is going in there, and there has been discussion of high-end penthouse condos with 360-degree views of downtown, the Silos and Baylor University. Apartments are a consideration. So is multi-family. Entertainment could not be ruled out.”
He said providing parking is a must and he sees potential for underground space.
The 2.6-acre site is situated between Sixth and Eighth streets and Mary and Jackson avenues, within an Eighth Street corridor brimming with new, planned and established attractions, including the Magnolia Press coffee shop and the reconfigured entry to Magnolia Market scheduled to be completed in late summer or early fall. Not to be upstaged, the refurbished and expanded Hippodrome Theatre at Eighth Street and Austin Avenue offers first-run movies in an iconic setting, as well as multiple dining options.
Peter Ellis is spending an estimated $5 million converting the former Stratton-Stricker Furniture Co. building, also at Eighth Street and Austin Avenue, to a multi-story store called “Stories” to carry high-end and imported merchandise. He also plans a chef-driven restaurant and lofts.
Then there is the Union Hall food hall at Eighth Street and Franklin Avenue, which has resumed operations following a COVID-19-induced shutdown.
City Center Waco Executive Director Megan Henderson said she knew the Texas Meter & Device Co. address had suitors salivating. With a deal done, she looks forward to the public having more residential options, Henderson said.
“With more and more of these projects, you hear, ‘Wow, that’s a big step.’ We are a place taking big steps, and this is another one,” she said. “The location makes sense. Pivovar is surrounded by Texas Meter, so I’m not surprised the (Pivovar) owners are considering how to make a larger, more ambitious site plan.”
Pivovar, which means “brewery” in Czech, remains under construction at South Eighth Street and Jackson Avenue. Project bakers told a Tax Increment Financing board in 2018 that a brewery on the ground floor will produce Czech-style lager, served tank-to-tap. A restaurant will serve a fusion Czech-Texan cuisine, including goulash, and Pekarna Bakery will serve pastries.
Kramaric told the TIF board then his years-long search for a location ended in Waco because of the area’s Czech influence, particularly in nearby West.
Glime said green space may link Pivovar to Kramaric’s new development.
Henderson said she is eager to see how Kramaric’s planned buildings complement the five-story AC Hotel by Marriott proposed at the southeast corner of South Sixth Street and Mary Avenue. That $40.4 million undertaking will include a small restaurant, a bar and lounge with outdoor and seating, an executive conference center, retail space and a five-level parking garage.
“It’s great to see bread crumbs dropping dropping between the Stratton building and the Hippodrome, down to Magnolia, strengthening the connection between hotels, entertainment and shopping,” Henderson said.
Chris McGowan, a developer working with a group once planning an office park near Heritage Square, said Class A office space is nonexistent downtown. He said it has become a critical need going forward.
Local homebuilder Steve Sorrells is converting the former Bank of America building on Austin Avenue to what he calls Class A office space.
“We have some preleasing done, and we are in the middle of finalizing two other deals as we speak,” Kelly Realtors agent Colt Kelly said. “We are receiving quite a bit of interest, and construction is moving at a great pace.
“There is nothing else like this in Waco.”
Kramaric has a home in Waco, but is out of the country. Glime said Kramaric and other investors plan to convene in Waco in a few weeks.
The Texas Meter & Device Co. site includes several buildings. Though demolition will begin next month, the company that specializes in producing electric metering equipment and tools used in the utility industry can stay there up to two years, as it searches for a new home “in more of an industrial setting,” said Jim Peevey, a real estate agent representing the company.
“This is the epicenter of tourism right now,” Peevey said of Texas Meter’s location on South Eighth Street. “Everybody can see the potential of this site, and these guys have a vision for it. The sale is good for the area.”
Neither Glime nor Peevey would reveal the sales price.
Texas Meter President and CEO Steve Swenke could not be reached.
“Julius Kramaric, I’ve never met him, but I look forward to meeting him,” Peevey said. “Gregg told me a little about him. He probably doesn’t sleep.”
Glime could not say with certainty how much Kramaric will invest to create his towering monument to what has become his second home.
“But I would not be surprised if it turns out to be $100 million,” he said.