Interview by Austin Meek
"What's Happening Here?" is a segment on Downtown Depot, our radio program on KWBU 103.3FM, where listeners submit their questions about a local property. WBN staff then investigates the ownership and shares the information on the show!
This week's "What's Happening Here?" selection is The Stratton, a more than 90-year-old building which sits at the corner of South Eighth Street and Austin Avenue in downtown Waco. Developer Peter Ellis acquired the building in January 2014 and is finally starting to see progress. This conversation took place on October 12, 2016.
So, what’s the latest on the Stratton?
Peter Ellis: We’re excited. We’ve been part of a lengthy application process, through Austin and other agencies—working with Historic Preservation. We have been credited as a national historic property, and we’re working out verbiage on a nice new sign that actually goes up on the building. So, that’ll happen—not too long ago, I got an e-mail last week about that. What that does, it gets us prepared to actually begin the physical work. It’ll happen next week or in the next few months. I can’t give specific days, but we’re excited because it’s another key step in the process. So, we’re through with some of those steps and on to the next.
Right now, we’re actually in the process of reporting back with pictures and details. That’s kind of our next phase of showing exactly which detail pieces of the property itself will be preserved and how we will preserve it amidst a rehab renovation. You know, repurposing it, obviously it won’t be a furniture warehouse anymore. So, we’re excited to bring residential, mixed-use, commercial…similar to what we’ve done here at the Praetorian. We’re looking forward to getting more into the physical side, of course, that’s the fun part. But, it does take a lot of detail work, and we’ve got a great team—folks that have been helping with that. They’ve been helping with everything from researching and Texas Collection kind of stuff over at Baylor University to working with local photographers and getting very key art to showcase just exactly what was there practically over a hundred years ago at this point. It’s something that we’re very eager and excited about.
We’re further along than we’ve ever been. It’s definitely been a slower process than we ever would have imagined, but we’re still on course. The exciting thing about it, I will say, from having done this property differently than we did the Praetorian. When we do begin physical construction, it will be more fluid than what we’ve even done before. It will move faster when we actually begin. So, if there’s any hope to communicate on timing, it’s that, when we do begin, it will begin to fall into place pretty quickly. So, but that being said, it takes a lot of preparation. I’s one of those things that’s 80% preparation, 20%, you know, situations, you know, work—yeah, there’s a hefty amount of physical work on the backside. It’s also, I’d say, equally hefty on the front end with paper work. We’re making good progress and timing, and we’re excited. Thank you for whomever asked from the public—it’s not a forgotten building by any means, and we’re excited to bring it to light.
So, what is the goal—we have the rendering, so people can see it—is that what y’all are going forward with, the kind of arts creative space?
Talk a little bit about that.
For those who kind of come in mid stream, perhaps, if they weren’t a part of any of the earlier public announcements on the project itself, it is substantially the same [as our initial plans], so we do want to work with local arts groups and have an interest in making it very public, very open to kind of all walks of life—from young to old and any background. It’s a space that’s very conducive for that. So, with that open space, we’re actually going to open it up even further than what you see that. So, we’ll end up having sort of a three-story atrium to the basement, which will also have food service, and kind of a full-scale, commercial gallery space, as well. We’re working hand-in-hand with the Art Center of Waco. We’re in conversation with their board, and the director of their board is excited and eager to be back in there; they were in there years ago and had to leave due to code requirements and other things. And now they’re hosted at MCC, but look forward to expanding back downtown, bringing them back online there at the Stratton.
And then upstairs, in the mezzanine, we’ll have more space for arts use as well as kind of a café seating area overlooking the restored Hippodrome and that corner there on 8th, as well as the upper-upper floors will have lofts and places for Wacoans to call their home here amidst kind of a resurgence of life and activity...to live downtown, be a part of the bustle and the life, that’s Waco. So, yeah, that kind of details it a bit. We are excited. It’s definitely—it’s substantially the same, and that’s all been a part of our process: communications with the PID [Public Improvement District], communicating what we are doing—the same plans are what we’ve been communicating and what we’re working toward. We’ll begin to have more details as time unfolds here in the months ahead, but that’s the plan overall.
Peter Ellis is a local developer and principal of Ellis Isle Equities who developed and restored neighborhoods in China Springs and Sanger Heights, respectively. He went on to make waves in the downtown community with Anthem Studios located in his 1915 building on 6th and Franklin, The Praetorian. Ellis is a Baylor graduate relocated from New Orleans to Waco who now serves on the Downtown Public Improvement District and the City Plan Commission boards. His current development is with the Stratton Building and Stratton Square on Austin Avenue and 8th street. He is also behind the brokerage & consulting network THiNCTANK, the initiator of First Friday Waco, a member of the Waco Arts Alliance, and the owner of coffee shop BRÛ. He and his family are heavily involved in Antioch Community Church.