El Paso developer Lane Gaddy on Friday said he and some partners are due to close on the seven-story building at 201-205 N. Stanton at the end of the month. Until then, there's not a lot he can say about the group's plans, he said.
"We're looking at some sort of multi-family development," Gaddy said.
Adair Margo operates the Tom Lea Institute on the building's sixth floor.
"My understanding is they're going to make this into condos," she said, and added that Gaddy has offered to help her find new quarters in the next few weeks.
The project would complement the 1915 Rogers Furniture Building next door at 209 N. Stanton. Miguel Fernandez Jr., one of the developers, in June told the City Council that he plans to develop a 44-room boutique hotel there. Gaddy said that project is proceeding.
Fernandez closed on that structure in recent weeks, city Rep. Steve Ortega said.
Built in 1917, the Martin Building is an example of the Chicago School of architecture, and it is one of many Downtown buildings that is mostly vacant and in some disrepair.
But Gaddy and Fernandez are part of a group of young developers who are trying to breathe more life into Downtown, Ortega said.
"I think you have two young guys with some money, and they're trying to do something good with it," he said.
Billy Abraham, owner of the building at 201 N. Stanton, just south of the Rogers Building, has been criticized about the condition of many of the Downtown buildings he owns. But on Friday he said he's been in talks with Fernandez about making the second, third and fourth floors of his building part of the hotel project. That would increase the number of rooms almost to 100, he said.
Fernandez could not be reached for comment Friday.
Together, the projects on Stanton Street will bring the wave of redevelopment east. San Jacinto Plaza, a block to the west, is expected to be redeveloped in the next two years, and just to the west of that is the newly renovated Mills Building, a project financed by local magnate Paul Foster.
The Mills Building is around the corner from the Plaza Theatre, which was renovated by the El Paso Community Foundation in 2005.
"I think it all began with that," Ortega said of the theater renovation.
All told, $232 million in public and private money has been invested Downtown since 2006, Ortega said.
He said the city soon will unveil plans for a pedestrian corridor running from San Jacinto Plaza west to Mills Plaza and west from there to Union Plaza, another historic area refurbished by young developers. Ortega also said there are rumors that that the historic Banner Building on the south side of San Jacinto Plaza might be next in line for a face-lift.
Robert Ayoub, president of property management company MIMCO and a member of the Downtown Management District, has said his group hopes that enough people move into Downtown's upper floors to support other businesses.
But for that to happen, there have to be more residential developments such as Gaddy's.
"Once you get a critical mass of apartments, there's going to be a demand for more grocery stores, liquor stores and other retail," Ayoub said in July.
In the beginning, it can be difficult to get banks to lend for such projects. But recent ones such as the First Avenue Lofts project by the Karam Brothers and the Magoffin Villas development just east of Downtown -- and Gaddy's project -- might show lenders that they're a smart bet.
Lizbeth Maynez already realizes the retail potential of the Downtown market. She opened the Sweet Corner candy shop on the ground floor of the Martin Building two months ago.
She's invested a lot of sweat and financial equity in such projects as installing a kitchen and making the restrooms comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. And two months in, she characterizes her business as "pretty good."
More encouraging is that she's building up a regular clientele for her frozen yogurt, smoothies and other sweet fare.
Gaddy said that's exactly the kind of business he wants on the ground floor of the building he's buying. The Sweet Corner and The Percolator coffee shop are next door.
"We're extremely excited to be their landlords," Gaddy said.
So excited, in fact, that he and his partners plan to make some exterior improvements outside the shops, Gaddy said.