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San Marcos finds life in the middle a growing experience


City between Austin and San Antonio is adding a slew of new projects.

Austin-American Statesman (06/17/2006)
By Claudia Grisales

SAN MARCOS — When it comes to San Marcos, getting caught in the middle has its advantages.

Just ask Carol Barrett, who oversees planning and development for the growing city along the Interstate 35 corridor.

"The fact that you can easily access Austin or San Antonio is appealing," Barrett said. "People want to be based in San Marcos because they want dual access, dual identities."

Barrett could be on to something. In the next two years, San Marcos will add a slew of projects, from a 2,000-home development along the Blanco River to a major conference center to a large-scale retail development. And the list is likely to get longer: The city is handling an increasing number of inquiries for new projects, Barrett said.

"I see a corporate office market emerging, particularly for people coming into Texas that are going to say, 'I want to be somewhere where I am serving both markets' " she said.

For years, San Marcos has been a college town — home to Texas State University — with a cluster of über-popular outlet centers. Now, student-friendly apartments and small retail centers are giving way to major residential and commercial developments.

Some have said the projects might be too ambitious for the town, but developers are betting that burgeoning growth from Austin and San Antonio will inevitably spill into San Marcos.

San Marcos' population grew nearly 30 percent from 2000 to 2004. Its rate of housing starts has lagged behind growth in neighboring cities, but some officials say the town is starting to play catch up.

"We are not growing like Kyle and Buda," said Phil Neighbors, president of the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce. "But we do have a good bit going on right now."

As a result, some local employers are expanding.

Aircraft engine parts maker CFAN is expanding its plant by 100,000 square feet and plans to add more than 200 jobs by 2009. Last year, industrial lighting firm Wide-Lite expanded to a 210,000-square-foot building and more than doubled its work force to 410.

On the north side of town, close to where Yarrington Road hits I-35, plans are under way for the $450 million Blanco Riverwalk project, named for the nearby waterway. Last week, San Marcos approved the project, which will include 765 condos; more than 800,000 square feet of entertainment and retail space; 400,000 square feet of medical office, hospital and extended care facilities; three hotels; and a 5,000-square-foot amphitheater. Near the Blanco Riverwalk project is a 575-acre residential development called Blanco Vista. There, Canadian Carma Developers LP plans to build 2,000 single-family homes, a trail system and other amenities along Old Stagecoach Road and Five Mile Dam. It's the largest single-family subdivision ever for San Marcos.

On the south end of town, construction has started on the 311,000-square-foot Red Oak Village southeast of Wonder World Drive and I-35. The project, by Dallas-based Lincoln Property Group, will include a Sam's Club, Petsmart, Marshall's and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Construction is also set to start in August on the city's new 80,000-square-foot conference center on the south side of San Marcos. The city is footing the bill for the $16 million center, which is scheduled to open in 2008 with an adjacent 280-room Embassy Suites hotel.

The project is expected to draw about 225,000 visitors a year and generate 200 jobs. At the intersection of Texas 80 and Texas 21, Blanco River Village, a Pulte development broke ground last year to put up 400 homes starting at $120,000.

"Development is happening all over the city," Barrett said.

In downtown San Marcos, old buildings are giving way to new restaurants and condominiums.

Sanctuary Lofts, named for the Baptist church once located near Texas State University, is nearly complete. It will have 204 units, a six-story parking garage, a pool and retail space.

On a smaller scale, the Too Bitter club, which has sat vacant since 1977, is being renovated into a 10,000-square-foot, two-story retail development and apartment building. In other buildings, off Hopkins Street in what's known as the square downtown, new restaurants are replacing bottom floors while apartments are added above. Meanwhile, the Prime and Tanger outlet malls continue to expand as retail sales generate growing sales tax revenue for San Marcos.

Last year, Prime underwent a $50 million, 160,000 square-foot expansion, bringing the mall to 750,000 square feet. Next door, the Tanger Outlet is expected to launch its own renovation. Already, the outlets total 240 stores in more than 1 million square feet of space, employ 3,500 people and draw more than 7 million visitors annually.

Neighbors and others predict development will keep coming to San Marcos.

"We're enjoying a growth spurt that will enable our residents to find good jobs here, much like the rest of the Austin/San Antonio corridor," Neighbors said. "We're proud of the present and excited about the future."