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Is This a Thing? What’s coming to CS and what’s not (Episode 6)


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Economic Development Director Natalie Ruiz and Public Communications Director Jay Socol

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Is This a Thing? What’s coming to CS and what’s not (Episode 6)

  1. 1. Podcast Transcript Is This a Thing? What’s coming to CS and what’s not (Episode 6) Economic Development Director Natalie Ruiz and Public Communications Director Jay Socol Jay Socol: Hey everybody, Communications Director, Jay Socol, here. Welcome to another edition of, Is this a thing? This is a podcast about economic development in College Station, Texas. And usually we do this with Economic Development Director, Natalie Ruiz. It's been a long time since Natalie and I visited, so we have a lot of ground to cover, and we do. We talk about all kinds of things going on, up and down Texas Avenue, University, out on highway six down south in Tower Point and Caprock. We talk about big boxes that may still be vacant after a long time and why that is. We talk about some things that you may have heard rumors about, things like In-N-Out Burger and what the real story is about that. So I think you're going to like this interview. It's a little lengthy, but I think every bit of it is interesting. So sit back, relax and enjoy the interview. Jay Socol: Are you ready? Natalie Ruiz: I'm ready. Let's do it. Jay Socol: Here we are for another edition of, “Is This a Thing?” Natalie, how long has it been since we even talked? Natalie Ruiz: It's been a busy several months … no, it's been longer than several months, right?
  2. 2. Page 2 of 21 Jay Socol: It's been a few months, because the last time you and I talked was at your house, at nighttime about Burger Mojo, and we can talk about that again. But that's been a long time. Natalie Ruiz: That has been a long time. My kitchen was completely demolished with full remodel and we're done. So you're right, It's been awhile. Jay Socol: So it's time that we do another verbal tour around College Station to find out what's coming, what's not coming, what was a thing, what still is a thing, what may not be a thing anymore. We've got a lot to talk about. So I don't know how you wanted to slice and dice this, how to attack it, because we were taking this previously, you know, we'd go University Drive and Texas Avenue. You tell me how do you want to start. Natalie Ruiz: I think I'd still like to start at University Drive and go around town and then maybe at the end, we can talk about some of the items that may have been a thing, may not be a thing anymore, or it could be a thing in the future. Sort of the rumor mill and stuff. Jay Socol: All right, well let's do it. Natalie Ruiz: Great. Let's start it at ground zero. Really, University Drive is where we're seeing the most interest when it comes to new restaurants, new hotels. The University Town Center ... let me take a step back. At Highway 6 and a University Drive, we have the new Spec’s that went into the old Linens and Things building. The old Halloween Mart…Halloween Express…that was open for 30 days a year. So now we have a permanent tenant there that we're really excited about. But as you move down University Drive, I think the next stop is really the University Town Center, where we're seeing, you know, Grub Burger is located, Blue Baker Razoo’s. Natalie Ruiz: There's quite a bit of property behind there that they have building permits for a couple of new buildings as well as plans to extend Tarrow all the way through to Lincoln and do some additional commercial development as part of that. Jay Socol: So people who may not be totally familiar with the name University Town Center, you're talking about the area in the back where during Christmas time the trees are sold. Natalie Ruiz: Exactly, on that property and then it wraps around a bit closer to Lincoln, as part of that. There's a lot of interest in that property, especially from a restaurant standpoint. There's also some retail interest, but most of the folks that are looking at that type of retail wants some co-location. So we're seeing interest with some of ... for example, some specialty retail for some high-end goods that are geared towards women, but they want to co-locate together.
  3. 3. Page 3 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: They want a cluster. And so putting those pieces together like a puzzle and that's what they're working on currently. Leading some of these restaurants that are really interested in being on University Drive, but also putting together a cluster of retail uses that would complement each other. Jay Socol: Does it make it more challenging that it would be set back from University Drive? Natalie Ruiz: It does, the visibility is an issue. So in terms of the way that it's developed, the way that you market it, maybe even the way you reposition portions of the site to get some more visibility back there, it is an issue. Natalie Ruiz: So working through that from the retail and restaurant perspective will be the first phase. And then moving back closer to Lincoln Avenue when Tarrow was punched through. I think we'll start to see some more office multi-family, retail uses in that area as well. Jay Socol: So, when do you think there may be some series of announcements about the kinds of names we're going to see there. Natalie Ruiz: They're negotiating with folks now on the first step when you go on to develop a commercial piece of property as an LOI – it’s a Letter of Intent or Letter of Interest, that outlines, hey, restaurant X would like to locate in this general area, and here's what we're looking for: X thousand square feet, here's about what we want to pay, here are the terms. Natalie Ruiz: And so once you get that in place, then you start moving towards the final negotiations, but you lay that out up front. They're negotiating several LOIs now with restaurants and retail uses, but as I mentioned earlier, it's a puzzle. Natalie Ruiz: They'll want to put five or six together before they actually break ground and start construction. So I would hope that we would have some announcements maybe later on this summer, first part of the fall. I think that's probably best case. And then move forward with construction soon after that. Jay Socol: Okay, so that's University Town Center. Natalie Ruiz: That's University Town Center and then across the streets is Chimney Hill, where I think you and I drive by there almost daily by the Republic restaurant is under construction, Republic Steakhouse. They are also, as part of that development, Wade is putting together the Primrose Path, wine bar. And I think you did an interview with him last week and can focus on that a little more in detail. Jay Socol: Neat concept.
  4. 4. Page 4 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: So that's under construction now. They've also entered into an LOI with Starbucks that will have a drive-thru at that location as well. Jay Socol: That's a thing? Natalie Ruiz: That's a thing. Now, as with anything else, like if I go in to buy a house and I write a contract on a house, I still have time to work through all the details and can pull out or move forward. The LOI has been signed and Starbucks has said we want to move forward with a drive-thru location there next to The Republic Steakhouse on Chimney Hill. There's still a lot of details to be worked out, but right now that's a thing. Jay Socol: So in terms of location on that piece of property, do you know where they would be looking to put that? Natalie Ruiz: It will have frontage on University Drive and it'll be between The Republic and the Hilton. Not on the hard corner, but right in the center. Jay Socol: Okay. Tell me more about Chimney Hill. Natalie Ruiz: There's still more restaurant interest on Chimney Hill. They're working with several restaurants that are looking at potential there. You know, how their site could potentially lay out. There is a hotel that is also interested that has made an offer on part of the property to do a hotel development. Those are still really early at this point to say that it's truly a thing. Jay Socol: Is there enough room for all that? Natalie Ruiz: It'd be tight, but yes. Jay Socol: Okay. So one of the things that we discussed in previous interviews was the possibility of an In-N-Out burger at Chimney Hill. Isn't that right? Natalie Ruiz: Yes. And there's some history here, so bear with me on this one. I was working with a gentleman out of In-N-Out’s corporate office for about two years on a location in College Station. They wanted to be as close as they could to the University and ground zero for them was University at Texas.
  5. 5. Page 5 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: Looking at that intersection and kind of backing away and say, “Okay, what can we potentially redevelop? What would be the best location that one with very high-volume student-oriented location?” It's very difficult to find that in that area. Natalie Ruiz: That's where everybody wants to be. And so they were negotiating an LOI with the folks, the owner of the Chimney Hill tract. Very far along, getting very close to signing it when the gentleman that we had been working with for a couple of years left the company. Natalie Ruiz: And the corporate office at that time decided to hit the pause button on College Station as well as other locations in Texas and said, “Look, we're going to take a time out, we're not going to go through with this LOI. We're not coming. And then more ... I've reached out to them several times. Natalie Ruiz: I haven't been able to get a definitive, even a callback to be perfectly honest that says, no, we're not coming or, yes, we're coming. We're preparing for the National Retail Conference that's coming up in May. And through our efforts there, we've heard that that may not ... the In-N-Out location in College station may not be dead, but I don't know that for sure. Natalie Ruiz: You know, I hear that they're still considering a location. It may not be Chimney Hill, but they're still considering a College Station location. So I'm going to continue to politely stalk the In-N-Out folks to see if we can get an answer on that. Natalie Ruiz: But I want to be as open and honest as I can with you about that. We thought it was a thing that went away and I'm hearing that it may be a thing again. So right now, it's not a thing, but it could be – it’s something we're certainly working on. Jay Socol: So the door's not completely closed. It's cracked a little. Natalie Ruiz: It's ajar. Jay Socol: Ajar? Natalie Ruiz: Yes. Jay Socol: That's an economic development term.
  6. 6. Page 6 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: We're going to try to kick it in, but we'll see. Jay Socol: Well, but I think we need to talk about it, because that's sort of been a buzz for, I don't know, the better part of a year at least. Natalie Ruiz: Absolutely. And we were pumped knowing that they were getting ready to sign this LOI and working with the gentlemen that I've known for two years now and we finally found them the right location that checked all their boxes. And to hear that it was, you know, down to the eleventh hour and they pulled out was very difficult. I think he found me in the fetal position under my desk, but that's a different podcast. Jay Socol: Also comes with economic development. Natalie Ruiz: It does. Jay Socol: Okay, so have we done it after Chimney Hill, can we move on from there? Natalie Ruiz: Yes. I think that would fill up the Chimney Hill site. Burger Mojo, which we had talked about a little bit further west on University Drive there in front of the new embassy suites, the Dallis family, local family of Café Eccell, they are putting together a craft burger concept that they're working on a layout at there in front of Embassy Suites for ... it's going to be called Burger Mojo. Natalie Ruiz: They may or may not have craft beer along with it, that's something they're looking at, but it will have a drive-thru, indoor seating. I'm really excited to see what they come up with. It's really cool concept. Jay Socol: So this was the location that for a while, you were hoping Dunkin’ Donuts might be able to squeeze into, that turned out not to be a thing? Natalie Ruiz: Exactly. Jay Socol: So that's where Burger Mojo is going to go? Natalie Ruiz: Right. Jay Socol: Know anything about timeline?
  7. 7. Page 7 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: I don't know anything about, well, here's what I know about timeline. They're working on their site plan now. It's a very tight, compact site. I think we finally got most of the details worked out on how everything fits on the site. I don't know what their schedule is in terms of actually breaking ground and getting under construction. Jay Socol: But still a thing. Natalie Ruiz: Still a thing. Costa tells me they're moving forward with it. Jay Socol: All right, well keep on moving. Natalie Ruiz: So Century Square is where we're seeing a ton of restaurant development. I went over there and had lunch at Zoe's the other day. Great, addition. I think most folks know about the recent openings. You know, you have Merge Boutique, Piada, Orangetheory Fitness, Hopdoddy’s, King Ranch Saddle Shop, Runway 7. Poppy recently opened, Porter’s Steakhouse, Gallery Day Spa, the new ice cream Sub-Zero, and Hey, Sugar candy place. Jay Socol: All those things are opened now? Natalie Ruiz: All those things are opened. Jay Socol: Okay. Natalie Ruiz: Now, coming soon, you'll see there on the corner, Moe’s Irish Pub is under construction right now. They put their sign up, I believe last week. Star Cinema Grill, is under construction. They're doing some hiring out on the site. Natalie Ruiz: Hemline is a new boutique that'll be coming soon there as well. Berryhill Baja Grill, still coming. Sweet Paris Creperie -- with my thick Texas accent, that probably didn't come across very well, but it's crepes. Jay Socol: I knew what you meant. Natalie Ruiz: Fancy pancakes, Mess Waffles, ShareTea, French Fry Heaven, are all coming soon to Century Square. Jay Socol: Okay, now I have a question and maybe this isn't a fair question. This is out of ignorance, which is where I usually come from. That's a lot of stuff. There's a lot of stuff there and it's exciting stuff. How feasible is it that everything there makes
  8. 8. Page 8 of 21 it? I mean, honestly, how challenging is it for every food establishment, every retail spot, how feasible is it that those are sustainable? Natalie Ruiz: You know, I hear what you're saying, and is out of ignorance, but it's a good question. You know, in looking at the Midway Development Company that's doing that development, they also did City Center in Houston. And when you look at the evolution of City Center, it started out initially with a ton of restaurants. Natalie Ruiz: The retail wasn't there yet. You have to get folks in and around the side and staying there for a while. So the hotel components are big, we've got to keep those hotels full. We have to keep activities flowing. They're doing events on the weekends in the green area to try to get more and more families, young professionals, try to get more folks to the site to spend some time. Over time, what we saw at City Center were some of the more popular restaurants stayed and were very successful. Some of them eventually started turning into more retail-driven, because once you get more folks walking around and visiting the site then the retail will follow. Natalie Ruiz: To me, that's the one area -- we've seen this specialty boutiques, we've seen the saddle shops. I think we'll see that morph over time based on who's coming to the site and how successful they are and bringing different events. Jay Socol: Right. Well, clearly they know what they're doing over there, but it's just from a consumer standpoint, it's almost overwhelming how much is in there and I wonder, you know, little College Station, Texas, that's not really so little anymore. Do we have what it takes to make all this sustainable? Natalie Ruiz: I definitely think we do. With any new retail center, especially new restaurants, there's going to be a honeymoon period, where folks are gonna want to go try the new place. The key is making sure that they have the best impression when they come in, in that honeymoon period, because they may not come back if you don't. Natalie Ruiz: Working out all those kinks, making sure they have a great experience. So, I think we'll see some adjustments over time just like you would in any new restaurant. But I think we do have the population to sustain it over the long haul. Jay Socol: Well, that's good. It's an amazing space over there. it's fun to be there. Okay, so we've covered Century Square and now what? Natalie Ruiz: Northgate, we're still seeing a development interest there as well. You know, over the last three to five years we've seen an additional 5,000 beds in the Northgate area. And that was by design to try to get students closer to the university where they don't necessarily have to jump in a car to go to campus.
  9. 9. Page 9 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: What I had hoped, and I think we're finally starting to see is a little more restaurant in retail interest in that area. You and I've talked before, retail follows rooftops. Well as you bring a concentration of folks into one area, then you start to see needs for a grocer, for restaurants, for retail uses. Natalie Ruiz: There's limited space over there, but we're starting to see, you know, the food truck park opened recently to provide services there. We're continuing to see a little more restaurant interest and we're continuing to work with the owner of the Hurricane Harry’s shopping center on a potential redevelopment. Natalie Ruiz: Now, that's not something that's going to happen in the next 12, 18 months. We're still trying to figure out how that would fit together, but to me that's where we're going to see the next commercial development. You know once Century Square, you know, the leasing is filled up. I think we'll start to see that move across the street. Jay Socol: What do you imagine we'll see in that space? Natalie Ruiz: I think you'll see something similar to a Century Square and that you'll have those mix of uses. You could see more hotels, you could see office -- Jay Socol: Could we see grocery? Natalie Ruiz: I think at some point we have to have, even if it's smaller grocer, in that area. I think whether it's Century Square or the Hurricane Harry’s Shopping Center. I think we've got to have more, more grocer, more day-to-day goods, you know, that you can walk to, just to get basic groceries. Jay Socol: So there may still be consideration for including that even over Century Square. Natalie Ruiz: We've seen interest in that general area, from some smaller grocers. Some of those have gone through changes in the last year. But I still see what the next three to five years, a small grocer over there. I think the demand is there. Natalie Ruiz: It's just a matter of catching up those demographics to what's, you know, The Aspire that's currently under construction, $94 million. That's not up and running yet. Once you get all of these high-rises up and running and you show the numbers that you're able to justify a smaller grocery store in that area. Jay Socol: Okay, keep on moving.
  10. 10. Page 10 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: Let's go back to Texas Avenue, we have seen some recent developments along Texas Avenue in the Lack’s, or if you're really older, like me, the Winn-Dixie Shopping Center. Ace Hardware is moving into the space that College Depot used to occupy. Jay Socol: That's great. Are they going to take up that whole space? Natalie Ruiz: Yes. Jay Socol: Great. Natalie Ruiz: Yes. That's my understanding. So they've got signs up now. The Ace Hardware is moving in. We've also, there's been rumor about Red Lion looking for a location, the hotel. Over the last couple of years has been on again, off again. Natalie Ruiz: They recently pulled their building permit there near Franky's Exxon over by the ... I think it's O’Reilly, is across the street from Walmart. They've recently gotten their permit to begin construction, so that should start fairly soon. Jay Socol: Can I call a time out? Natalie Ruiz: Yes, call a time out. Jay Socol: Because, we need to go back to University Drive. We have to address, Pappadeaux. We have to do it. Natalie Ruiz: I was trying to avoid it. Jay Socol: I know, but we have to do it. So can you give me a quick one on Pappadeaux status? I think it's just a rinse and repeat, but we need to talk about it. Natalie Ruiz: Yes. From what I understand, Kelly visited with the folks over at Pappadeaux’s, our city manager, last week. I've said this over and over again and I say it because it's true. They have a very old school way of doing business that's based on quality. Natalie Ruiz: They have a handful of folks that are involved in the construction, their architectural design, the layout of the restaurant and that group doesn't expand. They don't go out and hire someone new. They want to use folks that know their business and what they're doing.
  11. 11. Page 11 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: So their capacity is to only build a couple of restaurants a year based on that model. When we got bumped, our restaurant here in College Station got bumped. The year the Super Bowl was in Houston. They decided to add another location there. Natalie Ruiz: So we got bumped off that list. We haven't been able to get back to the top of that list when you start comparing us to larger communities. What they've told us is they're still coming. They're working on the final layout, they're looking at options for developing the site. Natalie Ruiz: What tells me that they're also still coming other than they say they're still coming, is that they're continuing to spend money on the site. You don't see it out there, but they're continuing to look at development opportunities, how that site would lay out, the final grading of the site. Natalie Ruiz: We've seen development plans come in as recent as six months ago. So they’re continuing. They own the property. They have owned it for, what, four years now, and they're continuing to spend money on the site. So other than that, I would love to say yes, they're breaking ground on this date, but I, that'd be a total guess on my part. Jay Socol: Got you. Well, I figured we're in the same holding pattern we've been in but we still get asked about it all the time. Natalie Ruiz: We are. Jay Socol: So, we had to talk about it a little bit. Natalie Ruiz: And when Kelly reached out to them last week, it was also to confirm they're still coming, but also to talk about, you know, with all the rains that we've had, we've seen, you know, the grass get high, that we need to go up there and clean up the site and had those conversations with them as well. And they were appreciative of that. Jay Socol: And with Kelly Templin and moving over to Texas A&M and The RELLIS campus, is it fair now to say that all this is his fault? I mean, can we say that now? Natalie Ruiz: Hey, if they come here, I'll take credit. If they don't, it's all his fault. Jay Socol: Okay. Natalie Ruiz: I'm down.
  12. 12. Page 12 of 21 Jay Socol: All right. Fair enough. Okay, back to Texas Avenue, you last talked about Red Lion, I think. Natalie Ruiz: Red Lion and then cutting back over to Harvey Road, we have some activity on the Harvey Road site. Krispy Kreme is coming in at the TJ Maxx shopping center with a drive-thru there. We're really excited about that and I'm disappointed to hear about Toys R Us and them closing stores nationwide. Jay Socol: If you're ready to, talk holistically about Harvey Road because you and I have bounced a couple messages back and forth, I'm a little concerned about Harvey Road. Are you concerned about Harvey Road? Natalie Ruiz: Absolutely, Harvey Road is another gateway into College Station. It's predominantly multifamily and a lot of the apartments were built there probably before you and I ever went to college and they've been there quite a while. We've seen crime in that area go up in the last few years. Our police department's gotten more and more involved. Natalie Ruiz: The redevelopment of that area in my mind needs to happen, but it's going to be market-driven. It's not something that unless you have someone who's willing to come in from the private sector and write a huge check for something like The Marc that's 20 acres on University Drive only so much of that depth is really going to be retail driven. Natalie Ruiz: The rest of it's really going to be more office or multifamily. I'd love to see the whole thing redevelop and I think we will see that. But over time, what we'll see first is the potential redevelopment of the mall that really anchors that whole corridor on the Highway 6 side and that's something that's going to come over time. Natalie Ruiz: I don't know if you know this or if we've talked about it before, but the outbuildings like your Sears or Macy's or Penny's, those are all individually owned by those companies. The mall itself owns the interior and some of the parking. Natalie Ruiz: For that area to redevelop, you've got to put those pieces back together in order to, to redevelop and have any impact on the outside of the mall. That's something that the market will demand over time. It's just not going to be a quick or easy process. Natalie Ruiz: When you start to see redevelopment at that end, then you'll start seeing it come in a little further to Texas Avenue. Now, one of the good things I think that's happened recently is we have a lot of out of town property owners that may or may not have an interest in how their property functions, especially for multifamily. Natalie Ruiz: The Marc was one of those centers, like I said, its 20 acres of several different apartment projects that had been pieced together over time. It was a group out of New York that owned the company or owns the apartments and I guess the
  13. 13. Page 13 of 21 best way I can say this is they weren't very diligent about security maintenance, supporting their management there at that location. Natalie Ruiz: That has recently been sold to a group out of the ... they have an office in Dallas and also Austin. They have some ties to this community and we're working with them on beefing up that management, working out some of the code enforcement issues that we've seen over there, some of the increases in crime in trying to deal with some of the management issues over there. Jay Socol: Better days probably are ahead for that. Natalie Ruiz: I painted a pretty rosy picture, it's going to be a long-term but, but I think there are better days ahead and I think we will see as, as property values continue to go up, we'll start to see some redevelopment potential over there. Jay Socol: Krispy Kreme, that’s a good thing… Natalie Ruiz: Krispy Kreme, Toys R Us, we're still trying to get our hands around how much longer of a lease they have on that building. What are the particulars of what we'll do is start looking at what our users that are expanding and Texas that would be a good fit in College Station that could take that entire building, work with the owner on that? Natalie Ruiz: If that doesn't work, start working on smaller users where you, where you potentially carve it up. Now, one thing that I've learned the hard way, Jay, is that just because we have a vacant building that has a sign up that says “available,” it doesn't mean it's available. I have learned this the hard way. I think we've talked about the Albertson’s location… Jay Socol: Sure on University. Natalie Ruiz: HEB has approximately eight years left locked on the lease of that building. They picked it up when it was Albertson's. The ownership of the building is different. The available sign that's up on the building is a broker that represents HEB. What they're trying to do is sublease the building for that remaining eight years. Natalie Ruiz: They're very particular in that they don't want to allow another grocer in there to compete with the HEB at Villa Maria or at Holleman. But other than that, they would be willing to lease it. Since they're not willing to lease to a grocer, that's what the building was designed for.
  14. 14. Page 14 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: If you change that use, there's going to be a significant amount of tenant improvements on the inside of the building. You have an owner that's not particularly interested in making those investments in the building because they're still getting their check from HEB who's a great credit tenant, they're paying like clockwork and will for the next eight years. Natalie Ruiz: When folks are looking and want to carve up that building, the owner's going to have to take a risk and let HEB out of that lease. It has to be something that is more attractive than HEB in that particular center from a financial standpoint. Natalie Ruiz: Typically, when a new retailer comes in, the minimum they'll sign in terms of a lease is about 15 years, some will go as low as 10 years, but because of the amount of money that you invest in redoing a location, staffing, stocking, all of that, they want a longer-term play. Well, if the owner doesn't want to extend that to the 15 years, it's not really available. Natalie Ruiz: That's what we found out on Albertson’s. We're also seeing something similar at the Academy building. Now just because Academy has been vacant for a while and there's a sign out there and we've marketed it to so many folks… Natalie Ruiz: What we found the hard way is that Academy still has about four or five years left on that building in terms of a lease. They're trying to sublease it. Well, the owner of the building who lives out of state, he's not very interested in one injecting more cash into the building for someone to redo it so that doesn't look like an Academy. He's not really interested in extending that lease. Natalie Ruiz: You're not going to find a major retailer that is going to come in and invest in that situation if they can't get longer than a four-year lease. What we're finding is that there's tons of interest, but the owner’s not motivated at this point. Jay Socol: What do you do as a director of economic development? When you've got big boxes that are empty, but the ownership seems okay with it because the checks keep coming in? Natalie Ruiz: It's extremely frustrating. It's the most frustrating thing about this job is that, you know, you have space there in the community is looking at that like, wait a minute, you're telling me that we need more landing spots for commercial development and that's sitting there vacant? Natalie Ruiz: We reach out to the ownership, we reach out to the broker, we reach out to retailers that will come in and say, 'Hey, you know, maybe we can make them an offer that would make it attractive for them.' There are several, several national retailers that have tried to negotiate a deal on that property and they just can't get it done because of the ownership right now.
  15. 15. Page 15 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: They're happy sitting back and collecting their monthly rent from Academy, who's another great credit tenant. If I were the owner of the building and I lived out of state, maybe I wouldn't. If I didn't have to see it every day and it's not affecting my pocketbook, I’d feel differently, too. Jay Socol: Is it a different scenario for the Gander Mountain property next door? Natalie Ruiz: Yes and no. There's a larger issue with the Gander Mountain property. We have seen the interest there. Our first approach when we heard that they were leaving was going through and finding what retailers could move in and take over the entire space. Let's not carve it up. Natalie Ruiz: Is there a way that we could market it to folks that would take the entire piece? So we did. There were about five or six that fit that bill. We didn't get a lot of interest. We started moving to groups that can, maybe, there's two loading docks in the back so you could break it up into two or maybe three spaces. Natalie Ruiz: Started looking at that as an option as well. Still wasn't a lot of interest because retail this last year, especially the big boxes have really not been expanding, they've been slowing down. Recently, there is an offer on the property that's a major retailer that is negotiating, that would take the entire thing ... because they're still negotiating. Natalie Ruiz: I don't want to release a lot of that information just yet because, like I said, when you buy a house, you're still figuring out what the sales price would be, get your inspections done, that kind of thing. It would be a great addition to the community as someone that we don't have here. Natalie Ruiz: It’s someone, again, that would take the entire building, clean it up, change the look of it but as soon as I know more and as soon as I know that, that's a little further down the road, we can, we can make that announcement. Jay Socol: We need to make this a thing. Natalie Ruiz: I totally agree. I just don't want to jinx it. Jay Socol: Okay, but that's good. That's encouraging. Natalie Ruiz: It is. Jay Socol: More encouraging than the scenario next door.
  16. 16. Page 16 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: It is. The owner of that building is a real estate trust and they're going to take a hit on selling that building. They're not going to get back what they have in it. That's when you get banks involved and trying to figure out, okay, what, how much of a loss are we going to take? I think that will help make the deal work with this national tenant. Jay Socol: Okay, what next? Where do we go now? Natalie Ruiz: I don't know. I got off track. Let's see. Jay Socol: We went from Harvey Road out on the bypass to the old Academy and the old Gander Mountain. Natalie Ruiz: Let's jump over to Wellborn Road and Harvey Mitchell, the new HEB. Jay Socol: Jones Crossing? Natalie Ruiz: Jones Crossing. HEB is under construction. They've had some of the same issues that anyone else in town that's tried to pour concrete over the last 90 days with all the rain. They're still moving forward. The HEB along with another 50,000 square feet of retail that's being constructed with this first phase. Natalie Ruiz: There's a lot of interest and some LOIs that are being signed. Restaurants, barber studios, nail shops, gyms, there's a lot of interest there, but they want to wait until they have six or seven names. We've heard rumors of some of them, but I really, I don't want to release any of that until they give us the okay on that. But there is a ton of interest there. Natalie Ruiz: There's also, we've heard a lot about chef Tai’s, new restaurant there at Fitch and Barron. We need to get him in on a podcast to talk about the new concept that he's working on. That's an eight-acre development and it's a larger development. As I mentioned, Chef Tai who has Veritas and Madden’s and Paolo’s. Jay Socol: This one is called Urban something… Natalie Ruiz: I don't know. Jay Socol: I've seen the name of it. I've seen him talk about it before, but I forget the exact name of it. Natalie Ruiz: It'd be nice to get him in and visit with what his concept is there-
  17. 17. Page 17 of 21 Jay Socol: I need to do that. Natalie Ruiz: -and will do that. Moving over to Caprock, Tower Point area. We're still seeing a ton of interest their Rx Pizza. They're under construction right next to Mad Taco over the Caprock area. They're opening is planned for early June Casa do Brasil. Natalie Ruiz: The Brazilian steakhouse, again, they are planning to open early April. They've already started hiring staff and training, getting ready for that. The ground shuttle transit facility, the buses that take folks back and forth to the Houston airport are now in Austin. Natalie Ruiz: They have a transit facility out there that should open up sometime next month in April. Also, in visiting with Jesse Durden over at Caprock construction. They have a new concept that they're building now that's called The Yard and it's three commercial buildings that surround the synthetic green area. Natalie Ruiz: It's an interesting concept here. They're going to have, of course, their own headquarters there. They're expanding their corporate headquarters at that location Caprock is. They've also signed Bottleneck Wine Shop and Bar, about 3,000 square feet should open up this fall. Natalie Ruiz: They have several other users they are going to announce over the next few months. There's restaurant interest, there's office interest. It's a cool concept south of town. Looking forward to that. Jay Socol: The exact spot of this is where? Natalie Ruiz: Caprock, it would be the south side of Fitch where, you know, you've got Mad Taco, Blue Baker, Zaxsby's, that whole area there. Jay Socol: That's where The Yard would develop? Natalie Ruiz: Yes. They're continuing to develop that a little further back from Fitch. Angry Elephant recently opened in that general area, a new restaurant and bar still seeing interest in Tower Point, Gringo’s Mexican Food got their permit recently. What you'll have there is you've got Salt Grass. Next, to Salt Grass, there's a lease that was recently signed, we're still working out the details on the layout for Walk-On’s Bistro and Bar.
  18. 18. Page 18 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: It's a concept out of Louisiana. There are some Aggie ties to that here locally that they're opening the franchise here in town. And then on the other side of Walk-On’s will be the new Gringo’s. Right there on Highway 6. Natalie Ruiz: The Jiffy Lube also just opened in Tower Point. It really looks good across Highway 6 at the Lowe’s center. TaD's Cajun restaurant -- that sign’s been up for a while and I reached out to them recently. They're out of the Tomball area. They still have plans on coming into town and we're hoping to meet in the next couple of weeks to visit with them about what they have planned. Jay Socol: TAD as in T-A-D? Natalie Ruiz: TAD. Jay Socol: Okay. Natalie Ruiz: TaDs Cajun foods. Other things happening on Highway 6. The owners of Washbanger’s? I don't know if you've ever had the Banger Burger at Washbanger’s? Jay Socol: I have. Natalie Ruiz: It is pretty awesome and they're opening up a new restaurant called Stella. They are on Highway 6 near Barron. I believe the plans are to open up early summer. Jay Socol: I think I have already seen some construction there on that. I have seen steel beams or something like that? Natalie Ruiz: You do. There was a sign up there for the longest time, said coming soon and construction has started. And the plan is to open early summer. Jay Socol: That's going to be what kind of food again, do you know? Natalie Ruiz: It's down-home food. Is that how you say? I don't know how -- grits and a very southern, southern café concept. If it's the folks from Washbanger’s, I completely trust them. Oftentimes when I'm behind on laundry, I brought my kids with a Banger Burger to go and do laundry. It tends to work. Jay Socol: You are a good mom.
  19. 19. Page 19 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: Yes, that's what they tell me. Also, on Highway 6, Brazos Valley Auto Complex, that’s the new Mercedes and BMW dealerships. They're under construction near Sebesta and Highway 6. A lot of dirt work over there. I'm currently, you'll start to see the buildings go up very shortly. We've talked about the Academy, we've talked about Gander Mountain, those were, those were the really big ones on my list. Jay Socol: We've covered it? Natalie Ruiz: Gosh, I think, I've got three pages of notes. Jay Socol: What I didn't hear you talk about was Dunkin’ Donuts. Is that still, even if it's just a glimmer of hope, or is that a dead thing? Natalie Ruiz: There's a glimmer of hope. We've reached out to them to try to meet at this national conference. Once a year in May, there's the big National Retail Conference. There are about 30,000 attendees at this thing. You get to meet folks from corporate, you get to meet franchisees, you get to meet developers. Natalie Ruiz: From what I understand, Dunkin’ Donuts has plans for two locations in College Station. They wouldn't mind renting a space that had a drive-thru that would be an inline space in an existing shopping center, but they wanted a new build for one of them. Natalie Ruiz: Their preference was to be able to own the site and develop it themselves. The issue is, is when you look at their location criteria, where they would want to be, those aren't locations where they could buy the property. They would be leases were you would, you would do a land lease and then build it. Natalie Ruiz: We had some obstacles there were when you had that checklist of what the franchisee and the franchisor would want, something there has to give. That's what we've been working on this last 12 months is, okay, this location meets in terms of your location criteria, but you can own, could you lease, you know, can we work something out that way? Natalie Ruiz: Could I put you in touch with the owner of that property to do a design-build? That's a lot to say. I think there's still hope the franchisees still have this location. I know that Dunkin’ Donuts, as a franchise, corporate’s putting more pressure on them to locate within a certain timeframe. We're desperately putting locations in front of them. It's the franchise having to make that decision, what am I willing to compromise on? Jay Socol: Okay, as long as you're still working on it.
  20. 20. Page 20 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: I'm working on it definitely. Jay Socol: It is important for you and me- Natalie Ruiz: Absolutely. Jay Socol: And that's what matters. Did we miss anything? Is there any other parting comment or thought or issue that you're trying to focus on in economic development? Natalie Ruiz: No, just still really focusing from a large retail user. In 2017, the big box, the big big-box retail market really just hit the pause button for the whole year. That's what we saw here locally is what we saw in Texas and nationally. Natalie Ruiz: If there weren't stores already under construction, they hit the pause button, your Costcos. We've seen Sam's repurpose some of their stores. You didn't see a lot of new construction, what you saw in ‘17 were the discount retailers. Natalie Ruiz: You see the TJ Maxx and the Dollar Stores, the Aldi's, and we've seen all of them located here in this area. We're starting to hear the large, big-box retailer say, you know what, we, we definitely know we need that brick and mortar footprint. It may not need to be as big as what we initially thought. Natalie Ruiz: We're starting to see interest from some of the folks that were interested here prior to ‘17 coming back and saying, okay, we're ready to start looking again. We're right to locate here. We're ready to find the right balance here. Jay Socol: The Amazon effect isn't keeping everybody away forever? Natalie Ruiz: No, it's not and what the Amazon effect has done is start to blur the lines between your traditional brick and mortar retailers and your traditional online retailers. Over the holidays we saw FedEx partner with Walgreens in terms of delivering goods and services. Natalie Ruiz: Jennifer, in our office, she had three bikes ordered that Santa Claus delivered, but they delivered it to Walgreens instead of to her home. You're starting to see these partnerships develop between Walgreens and FedEx, where Walgreens already has that physical presence on the ground that FedEx could do a drop in one area that you could come and get those goods there. Jay Socol: And Walgreens hopes that you stay and shop around a little bit?
  21. 21. Page 21 of 21 Natalie Ruiz: Absolutely, we're seeing that with target partnered with Shipped, something that we're going to see a Walmart is also doing it as well as same day delivery. There's this mad dash to be out there providing those same-day deliveries of goods between the major retailers. Where we saw the online and brick and mortar retailers really be opposed to each other, we started to see more partnerships and relying on each other and the Sam's Clubs that have closed recently in Houston. The most recent things that we're hearing is those could be distribution centers for online pickup. We're going to continue to see more of that and in ‘18. Jay Socol: Did we do okay? Natalie Ruiz: I think I talked way too much, but I always do, just fast-forward if you need to. Jay Socol: We're catching up again it's been a number of months. We've really gone over some of the things we've talked about the past, so this was a good update and that took a while. But thank you for doing that. Natalie Ruiz: Anytime. Jay Socol: We'll talk to you again soon. Natalie Ruiz: Okay, thanks. Jay Socol: There you go. That's another addition of “Is This A Thing?” That was Natalie Ruiz, our economic development director. I'm Jay Socol. Thank you very much for joining us. We'll see you next time.