February 18, 2014

St. Louis businessman to redevelop former Branch-Smith property

Burleson native Andrew Hillin owns an extended-warranty business and has renovated buildings in St. Louis.

A Burleson native who owns a St. Louis-based automotive extended-warranty business and has renovated several historic buildings in that city plans to redevelop the former Branch-Smith Printing facility on the south side.

Andrew Hillin, who moved to St. Louis after college, plans to move the Fort Worth office of his True Auto business into the building at 120 St. Louis Ave.

Hillin, True Auto’s CEO, opened an office off West Seventh Street a few years ago with the idea that he might return his family to the Fort Worth area someday. True Auto has 27 employees in Fort Worth and is expanding.

Last fall, Hillin put a contract on the former Branch-Smith facility, a 1920s property south of Vickery Boulevard that changed hands after Branch-Smith was sold in late 2011. He plans to add restaurant space and renovate the main three-story, 45,000-square-foot plant into 33 lofts. The office and restaurant will go in adjoining one-story buildings on the property.

“I love the architecture. I love the views from the building,” Hillin said. “I love the area and want to contribute to its growth.”

In 2003, Hillin founded Jacob Development Co., which focused on St. Louis’ Washington Avenue loft district, once known as the St. Louis Garment District and second only to New York as an American center for fashion design and manufacturing.

The district consists of buildings dating from the late 19th century to the end of World War II that have been restored and renovated into lofts, office space and storefronts. According to the St. Louis Business Journal, Hillin’s development company was involved in several multimillion-dollar projects, including Rudman on the Park, the Denim Lofts and the Garment Row Lofts.

Hillin said he used federal and state historic tax credits on the St. Louis projects and will apply for similar credits in Fort Worth.

Last year, the Texas Legislature enacted a law that provides a tax credit equal to 25 percent of eligible expenses incurred in a certified rehabilitation that totals more than $5,000. The credit may be applied against franchise tax obligations beginning in 2015.

The project will cost about $7.2 million, and Hillin is seeking $656,858 from the south-side tax increment financing district to help cover the costs of renovating a parking lot into a small public plaza. The property has a 140-space parking lot across St. Louis Avenue. The TIF board is scheduled to hear the request today.

Paul Paine, president of Fort Worth South Inc., the nonprofit advocacy group overseeing development on the near south side, said that the project is a good reuse of the building and that he’s excited about getting a small park.

“This had never been done before,” Paine said. “It’s a unique element and totally open to the public.”

The lofts will average 1,200 square feet and rent for about $1.20 a square foot, Hillin said. The project will have a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Construction should begin within months and take about eight months to complete, he said.

Alan Saloner of San Diego, the owner of the Branch-Smith building, is Hillin’s development partner. Schwarz-Hanson Architects in Fort Worth is the architect.

Saloner, an owner of Ovation Graphics, bought the old printing facilities when Ovation bought Branch-Smith’s assets. Branch-Smith was founded in 1910.

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