AUSTIN (KXAN) — Plans to open a Whole Foods 365 store at Plaza Saltillo, a large mixed-use development on Capital Metro-owned land just east of the downtown Austin, were announced Tuesday. The Austin-based grocery giant signed a lease for the new store which will take up 30,000-square feet in the 10-acre development.
This store, the third Whole Foods 365 in Texas, will be located on the first block of the project near Interstate 35 along East Fifth Street, a spokesperson with Columbus Realty Partners said. Whole Foods 365 stores are smaller and billed as affordable and “easy to shop.”
The project is being developed by Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group and Dallas-based Columbus Realty Partners. Developers want to build a community that will flourish for at least a century. They are working with architect Michael Hsu who has worked on spots like Uchi and the South Congress Hotel.
The plaza covers six blocks of East Fifth Street from I-35 to the Plaza Saltillo Rail Station. Capital Metro said the revenue they make from the redevelopment will go toward Capital Metro’s general operating funds to support transit improvements for the next 99 years.
Plaza Saltillo will also serve as a transportation hub. In addition to the MetroRail station, there will be pedestrian paseos, an extension of San Marcos Street, new below and above ground parking garages, electric vehicle stations, reserved Car2Go spaces, a B-Cycle station and an extension of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway.
“For years many neighbors in east Austin have asked us to try and bring a grocery store to Saltillo, so we are thrilled that a 365 by Whole Foods Market will be serving the surrounding community. This innovative concept will offer customers a simple way to shop for healthy, high-quality food at great prices,” said Jason Thumlert with Endeavor.
Thumlert added that this new Whole Foods Market 365 will likely have local partners, just as Whole Foods Market 365 in Cedar Park is partnered with Juiceland and Easy Tiger Bakery.
“When we began the public discussion on what our community desired to see at Saltillo, access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables was a major request – so it’s wonderful that a local store like Whole Foods 365 will be opening its doors here,” said Austin City Council Member Pio Renteria. who represents the district where the plaza is being built.
Besides apartments, other businesses slated for Saltillo include wine and tapas spot Barcelona, the Ginger Man, Tarka Indian Kitchen, Epoch Coffee, gelato maker Dolce Neve and Stout Burgers and Beers.
Thumlert explained that recently, the Saltillo project completed cleaning up contamination on the site.
“It’s contaminated soil that’s really pervasive in this part of east Austin and so as we have excavated we remove those pollutants and that contaminated soil and take it to a landfill — in this case, actually in San Antonio — to dispose of in a safe environment,” he said.
He added that the waste there is a lot of old trash that had been burned and dumped in the area and buried over time. Thumlert said that because the site hadn’t been developed in a long time, the contaminated soil had been left to sit there.
Thumlert said that the developers are also looking for the project to expand affordable housing in the area. The first residents should be able to move in at the end of 2018, he said.
“It’s important to us to try and have this be a place that’s accessible to all, is part of the community, and is also something that people will be proud to have in their neighborhood or their community,” he said.
Eighty-one-year-old Olivia Garza has lived in low-income housing just outside of the plaza for more than three decades. She has lived in the neighborhood for her entire life. “But we didn’t have I-35 back then, there used to be a park in the middle,” she noted. Garza has noticed many big trucks passing by, working on the development during the last week.
“I don’t know whether they like it that we’re here — low income — but it’s been here for a long time, and it’s gonna stay because they’re gonna rebuild, that’s what I like, they’re gonna rebuild after so many years,” Garza said, looking forward to seeing all the new construction in her neighborhood.
In Garza’s eyes, parts of her neighborhood are very run down and there aren’t many grocery options close by. She is excited to hear the Whole Foods Market 365 will be installed.
“I hope I get to see that,” she laughed.
Newer residents nearby have noticed all the development too, Kelly Ernst who moved in near Plaza Saltillo nearly two years ago, said she’s noticed more buildings going up, and more people in the area in general.
“It’s really cool to see, at the same time it’s a little concerning because it feels like things are going up really quickly and there are some concerns about quality and longevity in the development,” Ernst said. “But this neighborhood has done a full 180 in just the few 12, 18 months I’ve lived here.”
Ernst hopes that more people come to visit and spend time in the plaza and the neighborhood to see the changes for themselves.
“I just hope [the developers] kind of keep in mind the character of the neighborhood, and help preserve a lot of the history that’s over here and a lot of the community in general, that’s what makes the east side so special still,” Ernst said. “It has its own kind of unique flavor and with some of the development that I’ve seen downtown I feel like some of that gets lost, and it takes a lot of conscious economic development to weave in these historical elements of the neighborhood in with modernization.”
Construction is expected to wrap on the project by the end of 2019 or early 2020.