DAVID LOWE LOWE | DISPATCH RECORD After sitting vacant for awhile, these North Key Avenue properties have new business activity. Bella Italia Restaurant is in business in the building on the left, and the former Extraco Banks office on the right sold to John Ed Stepan on April 27. Stepan plans to move Ranch Investments from its current office to the former Extraco site by about Aug. 1, and Stepan also plans to lease about half of the former bank building to Domino's Pizza. The pizza store may open by September, Stepan said.
DAVID LOWE LOWE | DISPATCH RECORD After sitting vacant for awhile, these North Key Avenue properties have new business activity. Bella Italia Restaurant is in business in the building on the left, and the former Extraco Banks office on the right sold to John Ed Stepan on April 27. Stepan plans to move Ranch Investments from its current office to the former Extraco site by about Aug. 1, and Stepan also plans to lease about half of the former bank building to Domino's Pizza. The pizza store may open by September, Stepan said.

Opinions vary on what the availability of commercial real estate could mean for the local economy.

Real estate broker Ron Kuker says Lampasas has “great potential” for growth, but that small businesses face challenges in starting operations or relocating here.

The city’s Economic Development Director Mandy Walsh sees unused commercial buildings as opportunities for new business, although she said there are pros and cons involved.

The number of vacant commercial buildings fluctuates, but Mrs. Walsh said there are approximately 30 within the city. That includes several along North Key Avenue, around the courthouse square and at the Santa Fe Square Shopping Center on Central Texas Expressway.

Compared to new construction, existing buildings offer several benefits.

They allow incoming businesses “to move quickly and, in some cases, at a lower overall cost,” Mrs. Walsh said,

“Typically, when you're constructing a new building, the process takes longer and could require a higher level of capital investment,” she said. “The city also requires plans to be submitted for new construction. But with an existing structure, if you are not changing the building design or the use of that structure, construction drawings wouldn't be required. So that's an additional cost and step [business owners] wouldn't incur.”

Lampasas has seen significant growth in new housing developments, and some long-vacant commercial properties have found new owners in recent years.

Sometimes, though, it can be hard for property owners and entrepreneurs to agree on a suitable price for property.

Real estate broker Audrey Bear said strong residential growth may be fueling the prices on commercial property and the “soft market” that is in place now.

Census figures released last year estimated a population growth of 15 percent in Lampasas since 2010.

“Lampasas has grown so much residentially, so commercial real property owners think they should get top dollar,” Mrs. Bear said.

Some of the available sites are more suited for certain types of business than others.

The ones likely to succeed, Mrs. Bear said, “are going to have to be technology-based.”

She mentioned, as an example, a consulting firm that operates out of Lampasas and serves clients in far corners of the nation.

That type of business is not as directly affected by limited parking or space, which may be an issue with some existing buildings, Mrs. Bear said.

Mrs. Bear started her business in 2008, working from an office on North Key that had no parking lot, and she would park next door or in an alley. But she credits the reconstruction of Key Avenue – a nearly twoyear, $7.2 million project in 2011 and 2012 – with improving the site. She later relocated her office to East Third Street. Her former headquarters is one of several properties listed for sale on North Key.

Kuker discussed some of the same trends: the pricing of available commercial property, the issues with space, and the bigger companies that have found opportunity in Lampasas.

Some larger businesses that have come into the city, including convenience store chains, “have been doing pretty well,” Kuker said. And for an Austinbased company that opened a Lampasas office last year, the former Ewing building on Key Avenue “fit them perfect,” he said.

The amount of vacant space and the general price range of commercial realty “is not unusual for a small town,” Kuker said.

Kuker also said the “city’s done a wonderful job of infrastructure everywhere … sewer, water, electric. They’re working on internet.”

In the past year, Mrs. Walsh said, the city saw at least 25-30 new businesses open.

Some economic factors are market-driven and depend on customers and private business owners’ decisions.

Mrs. Bear said it is important to support small business if Lampasans want to see commercial areas attract and maintain companies.

Mrs. Walsh said the “best-case scenario is we have a motivated owner that understands a business occupying their building will improve local commerce, and we have an entrepreneur that sees an opportunity and decides to invest in Lampasas.”