Urban Development Firm Aims to Help Shape Austin's Growth
By Shonda Novak
Lunsford and Glover say they identify overlooked or underused areas, then buy properties — usually taking an active role in having restoration work done — and work to attract local tenants to open restaurants, bars, offices or other “uniquely Austin” establishments that create a destination. The process benefits business owners and, they say, Austin as a whole.
Their stamp can be found in the popular Rainey Street district downtown and in the newest area they have set their sights — the Red Bluff district on East Cesar Chavez overlooking the Colorado River. The largely industrial Red Bluff area is seeing new bars and eateries crop up, like Jacoby’s Restaurant and Mercantile. It’s the former Kanetzky Electric Co. site, where Lunsford and Glover office on the second floor.
Nearby, Lustre Pearl will relocate this year, with plans for both a bar and restaurant. Lunsford moved the small 1889 bungalow Lustre Pearl was in from its original Rainey Street site to its new East Side locale. Lunsford’s ties to Lustre Pearl date to 2006, when he became the first person to buy a lot on Rainey Street, with plans for a bar or restaurant. Enter Bridget Dunlap, who Lunsford said instantly recognized the potential. Dunlap owns a number of Austin bars and restaurants such as Clive, Container Bar, Mettle and the Lustre Pearl when it reopens. “Bridget wrote me a check when she saw the site,” said Lunsford, 45. Glover, a former University of Texas rower whose boathouse was near Rainey, also was familiar with the area and “really fell in love with its potential.”
A UT graduate with a degree in urban studies, Glover, 34, became the go-to person for commercial brokerage services on Rainey in recent years. He says he worked “to save the historic backbone and soul of the neighborhood” by steering tenants to the area who have turned its bungalows into the restaurants and bars that are there today.
To date, Lunsford said he and Glover have had a hand in transforming 13 of the 17 lots on Rainey Street from underused properties “into beautiful, accessible spaces where the public can enjoy the authentic, diverse spirit of Austin.” at places including Craft Pride, Banger’s, G’raj Mahal, Blackheart and Javelina. Lunsford purchased and developed four of the properties, and Glover brokered nine deals, representing sellers, landlord and tenants.
Glover, who handles Dunlap’s site selection,helped find the location for her Mettle restaurant in East Austin.
Dunlap said the Glover and Lunsford are “the greatest and most clever gentlemen in their field.”
“They are my go-to dudes,” she said. “They are honest, smart and do have an empathetic side that makes the working relationship feel as though there is honesty and integrity while working these deals that can become tedious, banal, boring and and plain laborious.”
Not everyone is pleased with how the Rainey Street and Red Bluff areas are gentrifying.
Daniel Llanes is familiar with both. He lives in the Red Bluff area and is a liaison with the city for the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Association. The new venues — and the bars in particular — are “encroaching and impinging” on nearby residential areas, bringing parking issues, noise and other negative impacts, he said. Several neighborhood groups in the area are trying to prevent East Cesar Chavez from gentrifying the way Rainey Street and East Sixth Street have, Llanes said.
“Many of the neighborhoods around downtown are dealing with the alcohol culture. It’s a lot of money and we know that. But it has an adverse effect on surrounding neighborhoods,” Llanes said. Lunsford and Glover say their projects are meant to better the areas they are in. The Red Bluff area, they say, previously had a lot of industrial buildings, many of them abandoned.
“We saw an opportunity to develop there in a way that would make the area accessible to the public while maintaining the original, soulful Austin spirit it once embodied,” Glover said. “People think of Austin as a small town but it is actually a large area with many beautiful areas to be created and enjoyed by people.”
Lunsford points to the pair’s track record of transforming “withered properties” into “places that everyone can use and benefit from.”
“We’re very proud to have transformed some unwelcoming industrial spaces into places where the community can now come with their friends and family to enjoy dinner surrounded by some of Austin’s finest natural beauty,” Lunsford said.
They launched the company this year with their own money, but now are looking for outside investors to help raise $6 million for projects in the pipeline. Generally, the firm’s projects designed to be long-term holds that build investor wealth over many years.
“I’ll be very happy if we can get one or two major projects in the $1 million to $10 million range per year under our belt,” Glover said, adding that those could include “creative office, retail, restaurant/bar, boutique hotel and mixed-use developments.”
Lunsford said that Rainey Ventures has “a few redevelopment deals in our pipeline that I think, once we finish, people will take notice of some overlooked areas. Our plan is to develop real estate that contributes to and expands what we love most about Austin. The more we create, the weirder Austin stays. That is our mission.”