For now, the future home of Funky Picnic Brewery and Cafe is more of a concept than reality.
But over the next year, a former antiques warehouse on Bryan Avenue will be transformed into a gathering spot that’s not only the home of Funky Picnic but also of Black Cat Pizza.
The two establishments will back up to a skinny park and a planned pedestrian walkway. Nearby will be a new dog park.
“Customers will be able to get growlers of beer and sandwiches to go,” said Samantha Glenn, one of Funky Picnic’s owners. “We’re looking at it like Fort Worth is our patio.”
During the next year about 30 businesses and 900 housing units will open, according to Near Southside Inc., the nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the 1,400-acre area swath south of downtown Fort Worth that includes South Main Village.
“We’re anticipating 2,000 people moving into South Main Village,” said Megan Henderson, a Near Southside spokeswoman.
Parts of the Near Southside were part of Fort Worth’s suburb as development started in the late 1800s, said Fort Worth historian Quentin McGown. Many of the old buildings being restored date to 1910 or a few years later following the great fire that ravaged the Southside in 1909.
Sarah Castillo is bringing one of those new businesses into this old neighborhood.
She started with her first food trailer in 2010 and later opened the Taco Heads restaurant on Montgomery Street.
Now, she is developing a Mexican family style restaurant named Tinie’s Mexican Rotisserie on South Main Street.
“It’s going to be so cool, it’s going to be so unique to Fort Worth,” Castillo said. “Even now, already, you start seeing people walking up and down the street after leaving Rahr or Hop Fusion and you start seeing the energy going.”
To Castillo, that’s a dramatic change from the neighborhood’s former sketchy reputation.
“It just used to be so dead before,” Castillo said. “You didn’t want to come down South Main, it wasn’t anything to look at. It was kind of scary.”
Jennifer Neil Farmer and her husband, Robb Farmer, are also big believers in the area.
Their company, F5designBUILD, owns the building where Funky Picnic will be going along with three others in the Near Southside, including a former flop house, where Game Theory, Fort Worth’s first board game lounge, will open.
”We have the Stockyards and we have the museums and they’re fabulous but where do people go to see something that’s unique to Fort Worth?” Jennifer Neil Farmer said. “I think this area is evolving in such a way to be that place. We’re going to have the unique businesses you don’t see in every city. I see it as exciting and positive.”
But there are challenges going forward.
As more people move in, parking will become an issue.
And many long-time residents are afraid the neighborhood will lose what drew them to the area in the first place.
Eddie Vanston was one of the first to see the potential in the area around South Main Street two decades ago. He’s restored the Markeen Apartments, the Supreme Golf buildings, Sawyer Grocery and Miller Manufacturing.
But Vanston, who also helped develop condominiums and retail where the much-beloved Record Town will soon relocate, says his time is coming to an end.
“Frankly, from my vantage point, this neighborhood now is done,” Vanston said. “I don’t see a lot that I’ll be doing here going forward. That’s the changing of the guard.”
To Vanston, there’s a lifespan to a neighborhood that he compares to a child’s — it grows up, matures and inevitably changes.
For many longtime businesses and residents, Vanston and investor Tom Reynolds (who helped save Record Town) are examples of what makes the South Main area so special.
Like Vanston, hairdresser Vandy Cespedes enjoyed many of the characters, including the homeless population, who were once a neighborhood staple.
She’s been on the Southside since 2006, watched Magnolia transform and had customers trudge through the mud while South Main Street was being rebuilt.
She just moved into a new location in the same development where Record Town will be located.
Yet Cespedes said she is worried that small independent businesses like hers will eventually be driven away as the area grows.
“I think there are so many good people here but watching from the beginning and seeing all of the changes is tough,” Cespedes said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of choking out of people by higher rents and taxes.”
Cespedes believes it’s on a path similar to West Seventh Street.
“It will be a Seventh Street in five years and five years from that it will fall, too,” Cespedes said. “Everything will have its day.”
Record producer Josh Block sees both the good and the bad of the growth. He’s looking forward to having new coffee shops and restaurants nearby but he wants the neighborhood to stay a safe space for creative businesses like his own.
Block helped put the area on the map by producing the first album of then-unknown Leon Bridges that helped make him a star. The album, Coming Home, was recorded in a 14,000-square-foot former golf warehouse behind Vanston’s Shipping and Receiving bar where Block set up a temporary studio.
In 2014, Block and his partners, Austin Jenkins and Chris Vivion, founded Niles City Studio in the same building.
Vanston, as a laid-back landlord, along with the unpretentious nature of the neighborhood, helped him to South Main.
“I would say the neighborhood felt comfortable,” Block said. “It didn’t feel edgy to the point of self-awareness. That’s what it was to me. Everybody I talked to had a sincerity about them.”
Regardless of how the neighborhood changes, Block expects Niles City to stay.
But he said the unique ability of recording artists to slip outside the studio and have a beer anonymously at Shipping and Receiving is pretty special.
“We work with locally popular people and some pretty well-known out-of-town people and the fact they have a little bit of anonymity in that bar is kind of nice,” Block said. “I just hope those people stay. If those stay, you can build whatever you want around it and it’s still going to be pretty special.”
More creative types are also moving into the neighborhood.
Red Productions, a video production and feature film company, that originally started on the Southside is coming back to the area after having its offices in the West Seventh Street corridor.
“We really wanted to plant and own something here and help grow the creative industry and creative class,” said Red Sanders, who founded the company after graduating from TCU in 2004.
The new space at 305 S. Main St. will also include Backlot Studios, where others can come in and work.
The move was helped by the city creating a Media Development Production Zone designed to attract permanent businesses in the film and video production business. The zone includes a two-year sales and tax exemption.
“It’s not just for us,” Sanders said. “It encourages our competitors to move into the area. You can have two more media companies take advantage of the incentive.”
Sanders isn’t worried about the South Main area becoming another West Seventh Street. He believes the dynamics are different with old buildings and the influence of the medical community, including the JPS Health Network and UT Southwestern Monty and Tex Moncrief Medical Center at Fort Worth.
“In the West Seventh development itself, you really saw them bulldoze and build it all new whereas on the Southside, I haven’t seen anybody take down a building,” Sanders said. “We love the inclusivity of it, the diversity of the neighborhood. It has that kind of Fort Worth casual cool. It’s not snobby. No one is on their high horse. Everyone is doing some really cool stuff.”