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A circa-1950s concrete block warehouse on San Antonio’s East Side, now empty of wall-to-wall shelves of auto parts, will transform into a contemporary space housing a restaurant, brewery, taproom, and offices by next year.
Ross Ormond, vice president of a Texarkana-based insurance firm, purchased the property in April with ambitious plans to request rezoning and renovate the building for use as office and commercial space. Ormond would not disclose the purchase price, but tax appraisal records have the building valued at over $1 million.
The aging structure, painted blue and white, sits at 533 Delaware St. alongside active railroad tracks that cut through Denver Heights. It is the former home of auto parts store Recycle 5, which outgrew the building and relocated. But when Ormond turned down the wrong street one day on his way to a local brewery and saw the warehouse for sale, he knew he had to have it.
“It was listed that day and I called my buddy in real estate,” said Ross Ormond. “I said we need to put an offer on this and let’s do it fast, because I think it’s going to go real quick … I’ll figure out the money.”
Ormond had been searching for a larger space for his family’s independent insurance brokerage, Offenhauser & Co. Insurance, and he said the building’s 30,000 square feet of concrete and steel fulfilled the industrial-style vision he had in mind. Renovation designs created by architects at Overland Partners show a two-story, brick structure with large windows, a courtyard, and rooftop terrace.
Ormond is in talks with several potential food vendors for a casual restaurant but already has lined up the owners of Viva San Antonio Brewery for a space on the main level of the building. Locally owned Alamo Beer Company and Freetail Brewing already are established nearby and he believes there’s room for more.
The project will be a new type of business venture both for Ormond, who is trying real estate development for the first time, and for the creators of Viva Beer, Michael Johnson and Bobby Jones, who work in finance.
If the name Viva Beer isn’t a familiar one, that is because Johnson and Jones have not yet sold a drop of their homebrew. But they’ve given plenty of it away and in the process developed a following of nearly 8,000 on Instagram.
With steady day jobs and a forward-thinking business plan, the pair are confident they can take their business from brewing small batches in Johnson’s garage to the next level.
“The traditional school of thought is if you have some recipes and a brand name and a market strategy, go raise a couple of million dollars to build a big beautiful brewery and then you’re off to the races,” said Jones, who works as a high-yield bond analyst at USAA (soon to be Victory Capital).
“And so we’ve talked a lot of those who have done that and there’s a lot of pain out there – because the beer industry has stabilized, and volumes haven’t quite grown as much as a lot of people forecasted or had built or planned for. So we put a lot of thought into how we built our business to ensure its success.”
While the brewery on Delaware will be a significant boost for Viva Beer, it’s going to be sized to allow the brewers to create and interact and develop rotational seasonal beers. Research and development of new beers will be conducted in the space.
“Instead of using the ‘field of dreams’ strategy – build it and they will come – we want to use some of the brewers out there who have excess capacity to help us bridge the gap to get us to the point where we need to be … without further pressuring the local beer industry,” said Johnson, a vice president of finance at Kiolbassa.
The Viva brewers plan to start out with a blonde ale, a Mexican-style lager, a pale ale, and an IPA – beers they say are more approachable and that match their brand identity of being “all about San Antonio.”
“I love these guys. They are good friends, and their product is ridiculously good,” Ormond said. “And the vision that they have just kind of fit, and the timing worked out. They believe in their product, and I believe in their product.”
Johnson said the first question he asked Ormond was, “You want fermenting beer next to your office space?” Ormond said yes.
Ormond also is eager to become part of the Eastside community and join the Denver Heights neighborhood. He recently met with the executive board of the neighborhood association.
“With the movement of their corporate offices to this location, it will definitely boost the economic development in our community and also the city,” neighborhood association President Aubry Lewis said in an email. “[We] voted unanimously to support this project, and we are all very excited with this new development coming into our area.”
Ormond has submitted a zoning change request, to Infill Development Zone C-3 for commercial use, that he expects to be approved this fall. And he has joined with the developers of Essex Modern City, a large, luxury housing and commercial development planned for the area, in meeting with City officials to push Union Pacific Railroad for a quiet zone in the area.
Johnson credits Ormond with having the conceptual ability to see the potential in the old warehouse.
“It’s just that long-term vision and interaction of community and commerce with the city overall that really convinced me, even before I saw the space, that this was the right partner for us,” Johnson said. “And then I saw the space – it’s pretty exciting.”