Second life: San Marcos’ Springtown center planned for redevelopment


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Second life: San Marcos’ Springtown center planned for redevel
Photo by Brett Thorne

A shopping center that San Marcos City Council members called one of the prime properties in the city could be getting a massive face-lift in the coming months.

Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group purchased the Springtown Center property, located near the intersection of Hopkins Road and Thorpe Lane, in late 2014. The company is planning to revitalize the 230,000-square-foot shopping center with restaurants and retailers.

Endeavor Principal Buck Cody said the timeline for when construction will begin depends on many factors, but the company is currently in talks with restaurants and retailers that are not currently doing business in the city. The company's vision for the center includes a "significant entertainment component," Cody said.

"The goal and the vision is to take something that looks like it was built in 1998 and has been in a state of disrepair for the last 10 years and bring it up to 2015 standards," Cody said.

The center currently has four occupants: Bath & Body Works, GNC, Twin Liquors and WellMed.

Twin Liquors President David Jabour said he was anticipating the redevelopment.

"As soon as I heard Endeavor was purchasing the property, I was excited to know they were purchasing it," Jabour said. "They certainly have the expertise to redevelop this center for us."

City Manager Jared Miller said because the center straddles the two major gateways into the city—Hwy. 80 and Loop 82—it is crucial to make the area active again.

"Everyone who comes to town sees it. Having activity there goes a long way toward how we're perceived," he said. "Then there's the economic impact, providing additional resources for us to be able to provide services."

Challenges

Until Endeavor consolidated ownership of Springtown, there were at least four groups that owned portions of the center. This fractured ownership prevented the property from being redeveloped, Cody said. Consolidating ownership will allow the company to create a more unified project with complementing signage, amenities and construction materials, he said.

In addition to the fractured ownership, there is also what Cody called a "stigma" associated with the property because of how long it has been vacant.

"Retailers and restaurants—prospects—don't realize some of the back history, the fractured ownership that led to that vacancy," he said. "Someone just sees a failed project or an empty project and may not understand that there has been some demand there."

In 2010 the city of San Marcos and Triple Tap Ventures, the owner of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema movie theater franchise, were in discussions about adding a location in San Marcos at Springtown. The deal, which Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League characterized as "a plagued development" in 2014, ultimately fell through.

The city would have rebated the company sales tax generated by the new theater, but that plan was met with opposition from city residents.

Cody also said the big-box retail environment is not what it was decades ago.

As a result of declining revenue in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Best Buy launched smaller Best Buy Mobile stand-alone stores in 2012, according to its earnings report from that year. The company also increased focus on online revenue and closed 50 big box stores that year, the report stated.

This changing environment for big-box stores, in which many formerly dominant retailers are downsizing or focusing on online revenue, presents another challenge to the center's redevelopment, Cody said.

Density

The Springtown shopping center is also included in the city's comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2013. The plan calls for the area including Springtown—known in the plan as Midtown—to be developed densely with office, retail and residential offerings.

"Springtown Mall is primarily unoccupied, providing an ideal opportunity for redevelopment," the plan states.

Council members Jude Prather, Lisa Prewitt and John Thomaides said they support high-density development in the area as well.

Cody said Endeavor does not “currently envision a tremendous amount of density†at the center, but in later phases of the project, density could certainly be added.

"At some point could there be density there? Absolutely," Cody said. "In the meantime we think there is a great market for a [high-quality] shopping center. We feel like there is pent-up demand, and we're in a position to go execute that."

Prather, Prewitt and Thomaides said they would be willing to consider more generous incentives if the company will consider adding density to the project. Thomaides said the council could get "very creative" with what it offers to the firm in exchange for some residential component.

"There has been a lot of citizen input, and it's nearly unanimous that this is an area in our town that we all agree upon that we would love to see a high-density, mixed-use residential development," Prather said.

Incentives

City Council has been having discussions with Endeavor regarding potential economic development incentives for the center, but those talks are in the very early stages, council members said.

Thomaides said incentivizing retail can be a risky business. There is always the potential that enticing a retailer to locate in the city could cannibalize another business elsewhere in the city, which is how Springtown ended up mostly vacant in 2009, he said.

In the late 2000s the city extended $6 million of economic development incentives to the Stone Creek Crossing shopping center located on the city's south side. The center ultimately attracted Target, Bealls and JCPenney, each of which formerly had stores at Springtown.

"We have had some preliminary discussions [about incentives with the city]," Cody said. "We're trying to work through that."

Miller said the negotiations have been "fruitful."

"We've still got a little bit of work left to do [on the incentive]," he said. "I'm excited the whole site is in one owner's hands, and it will develop. Our involvement is to help it develop in the best possible way, but I have no doubt it will develop."