A week ago, Chris Erck
was close to selling Finesilver, a former uniform factory he
had painted a cobalt blue as part of a plan to transform the old building into workspaces for creative professionals.
The buy offers were tempting: Seven years after Erck
bought the building, the gallery he
opened there represented 30 artists from across the country with international followings Erck had helped develop.But the three-story structure at Camaron Street and Interstate 35 was only 40 percent leased.
Despite ample free parking, leasing efforts were hampered by the lack of nearby restaurants for office workers and fire safety-code requirements that keep the third floor undivided. Erck
, a restless young entrepreneur and developer who specializes in inventing concepts to creatively reuse older buildings, decided he'd rather abort his
vision than become a full-time leasing agent.
But as he
showed a visitor around the 122,000-square-foot building last week, it was obvious Erck still fervently believed in his
still could look at the work in progress and see the completed project he
envisioned the first time he
walked into the building.
"I can walk into a space and immediately see what it can be transformed into, and I like finding the inherent beauty in mundane objects," Erck
also owns and created the concept for Swig Martini Bar
in a former restaurant space downtown and Cementville Laboratory and Café
located in an old chemical lab across from Alamo Quarry Market.
As if to justify Erck's faith in Finesilver's potential, Monday morning unexpectedly brought two calls from brokers with firm offers from clients to lease the entire third floor.
switched gears again.Not an uncommon occurrence for this 39-year-old father of two whose imagination, drive and growing list of successful projects have won the admiration of seasoned San Antonio redevelopment specialists - and whose Finesilver project, his
first commercial venture, is the only one that has been slow out of the starting gate.
...Erck, a 1987 graduate of Stanford University with a degree in social sciences, began his career as a leasing agent for Trammell Crow in Dallas.He
quickly discovered he
didn't like leasing.What he
did like was developing new uses for older buildings. He
wife, Georgia, in 1989 returned to San Antonio, and Erck
began buying, remodeling and reselling older houses in Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills.But it was older commercial structures that drew Erck, whose business concepts are often hatched by standing inside a building and imagining a new use with a ghost of the past allowed to linger. A collector of contemporary art, Erck went looking for a space of about 6,000 square feet to open a gallery from which he could help artists attract international patrons.
walked into the sprawling old Finesilver building.
"I wasn't looking for anything this big, but I fell in love with it," Erck
said. That willingness to take a risk, even one that has no relation to his original plans, is what distinguishes Erck's style as a developer, said a local developer and friend of Erck's who sold him the building where Swig is on the River Walk. "Chris is incredibly creative and talented," said Bill Atwell, president of Atlee Development.
"And unlike most practical developers who say, 'Wait a minute, that's a lot of risk,' and are not willing to take that risk, Chris
gets a vision and is willing to take the risk to see that vision to fruition."
will open a second art gallery this fall in Houston in the city's Midtown.Swig Martini Bar
, whose profits have grown 20 percent yearly since its 1997 opening, now has a twin in Memphis and will have a third location in Aspen this fall.Erck wants to open two Swigs a year and is scouting locations and fielding interest from potential investment partners.
But even as his
vision expands beyond San Antonio, Erck
said San Antonio would remain his
home base and incubator for new business concepts.He's
got several more bar concepts and one for a boutique hotel with loft-like spaces, all waiting for the right buildings to inspire them.
"Fifteen years ago, if you had said, 'You're going to own bars and restaurants and galleries,' I'd have said, 'No way,'" Erck