River Square (copy)

River Square Center, which opened in renovated former warehouses at Franklin Avenue and Second Street in the mid-1990s, likely will be returning to local ownership.

River Square Center, which represented the epicenter of downtown Waco development years before Chip and Joanna Gaines made waves with their Magnolia Market at the Silos, may return to local ownership.

Most recently the property of LNR Properties LLC, of Miami Beach, Florida, according to the McLennan County Appraisal District, it was featured in an online auction with a minimum bid of $2.2 million. LNR Properties has not returned calls seeking comment, but Waco businessman Gordon Robinson confirmed the family’s real estate development company submitted a bid, and expressed confidence the Robinsons would take possession.

“I’m not sure when the closing will take place, considering all the coronavirus stuff going on … but I am fairly confident,” Robinson said. “I’m just excited to see it get back into the hands of local ownership, local management, and to see what we can do with that third floor, which has only two tenants.”

Located at Mary Avenue and South Second Street, the 92,807-square-foot center houses several shops, including Spice Village, and dining establishments, among them Cricket’s Grill & Drafthouse.

Promotional material on the LNR Properties for Sale website describes the center as a three-story mixed-use venue with 72% retail and 28% office. The property was built in 1911 on a 1.07-acre tract and was renovated in 2003. Originally built as a warehouse, it was repurposed to its current use in 1996.

As the Tribune-Herald has reported, longtime local nightclub owner Randy Roberts collaborated with builder and developer Mike Clark to transform the rambling, rusty warehousing area to a dining and entertainment complex that early on included such short-lived attractions as Burgers & Blues. An upscale restaurant, DiamondBack’s, remains open adjacent to Ninfa’s, a popular Tex-Mex restaurant located in River Square but which owns the space it occupies.

Vacancies abound on the third floor, which features professional office space.

“No question about it, that top floor has been neglected at least the last 10 years,” Robinson said. “There is much delayed maintenance to address.”

Robinson said the timing of addressing issues with River Square Center remains in limbo beyond his awaiting confirmation his bid was the winner.

“We’re in the midst of a financial crisis,” he said, referring to the economic turmoil relating to the coronavirus pandemic still raging.

Waco real estate agent Bland Cromwell, who for many years has worked with the Robinsons on acquisitions and investments, said late last week he has yet to speak with Gordon Robinson about River Square Center. He, like Robinson, said addressing the vacancy-laden top floor likely would become a priority.

Cromwell brokered the sale of River Square Center to Houston-based Stonehenge Development in 2007, one of several ownership changes involving the complex in recent years. Mike Clark was the seller, according to reporting at the time by the Tribune-Herald.

Houston-based Wallace Bajjali Development Partners bought River Square in 2008, but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2013.

Lenders bought back River Square in November 2015.

“It’s good property, in the heart of downtown, and where downtown development kicked off 25 years ago,” Robinson said.

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