Standing outside the former Weakley-Watson Sporting Goods store in downtown Brownwood afternoon Thursday afternoon, Jeff Tucker of May noted that Ulysses S. Grant was president when the building was built in 1876. George Armstrong Custer had just been killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
“It’s been here a while. It’s seen a lot,” Tucker said of the 142-year-old iconic blue building on Fisk Street.
Tucker is one-half of a development partnership called Pecan Bayou Enterprises LLC, and PBE, as Tucker refers to the partnership, is the new owner of the long-vacant building. Mark Andrews of Rowlett is the other half.
PBE closed on the building Thursday, and although plans aren’t finalized on what the new owners are going to do with the property, Tucker said the purchase will tie in to another project that’s related to downtown development. He’s not ready to reveal details about that project.
“We’re actively working up another contract right now on another property that will be a very significant development for downtown, and it will dovetail into what we’re doing here ,” Tucker said.
As for the Weakley-Watson building, “we’ve got a mountain of ideas,” Tucker said.
Plans are to restore the building to its 1876 look, he said.
“We’re looking at several properties right now, and of those properties we’re looking at, all of those are of historic significance within the area,” Tucker said. “We want to redevelop those, but also we’re going to create some internal businesses of our own that we will run within those developments.
“Now all of that (will) have a positive impact on downtown and the historic community at large, and obviously the ripple effects that come from that are good commerce, tax base, things of that nature, and (will) drive tourism.”
Tucker said when people ask him what he does for a living, “I don’t really know how to respond.”
A former Fort Worth firefighter, Tucker lives on a ranch near May with his family. He has a global Cross Fit gymnastics business, and appeared last year on the Discovery Channel’s survival series “Darkness.”
When asked if the word “entrepreneur” would apply to him, Tucker replied, “I think I’m a serial entrepreneur.”
‘A visionary investor’
Pecan Bayou Enterprises’ plans for downtown development have garnered strong support from others including Ray Tipton, executive director of the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce.
“If you look at towns our size that have downtown districts, who have significant development, the reason they have any sort of development is, they have a visionary investor who has the means and goals and the outlook to do a significant project to kind of turn around the downtown area,” Tipton said.
“It’s vitally important to have somebody like Jeff Tucker, who loves Brownwood, who’s investing to spend some of his own money to offer something that the entire community’s going to enjoy.
“I think the benefits are going to be pretty big for downtown revitalization. His vision and projects that he’s thinking about doing will be pretty key on those efforts.”
Guy Andrews, executive director of the Brownwood Municipal Development District, said the projects of Tucker and Andrews are “really key to the development of downtown Brownwood. We have to really partner with them and take advantage of these opportunities. Success breeds success.”
Andrews agreed with Tipton that “what it takes is a private developer with a passion for Brownwood to jump-start downtown development. There is no way a community can expend the money necessary to redevelop an area on its own.”
Andrews said the purchase of the Weakley-Watson building “is just the beginning of downtown redevelopment. I know there are several projects planned by the Jeff Tucker-Mark Andrews partnership … I am not at liberty to say what all of this projects are, but I can tell you they will change the entire dynamics of downtown Brownwood, and can potentially lead to a once-again vibrant downtown for Brownwood.”
Andrews said while private developers will play a major role, local merchants and other organizations “have been energized to make the downtown more attractive for businesses to join the redevelopment efforts.”
The municipal development district is playing a role by investing in building improvements and providing assistance with signage and other enhancements, Andrews said.
‘Small town Americana’
Tucker said he is from Palo Pinto Canyon, and his wife, Tracy, is from Canyon. The family has been in Brown County for about six years. They have a daughter who graduated from Brownwood High School and now attends Tarleton State University. Another daughter will be a junior at Brownwood High School, and their son will be a freshman.
“When Tracy and I moved out here from Fort Worth, we wanted to get back to small town Americana,” Tucker said. “When she retired from TCU, she was the assistant dean of students there. I had developed a couple of successful businesses there, but we were just ready for a shift and wanted to bring our kids to where our roots were.
“This reminds (us) of what small town Americana really is. Over time, as I drove around Brownwood, what I see is constant opportunity. I’m almost paralyzed by the amount of things that I look at and say, well, that could be this, and this could be that.”
Pecan Bayou Enterprises was created “to really get a very succinct focus and look at, what are the best strategic areas to develop … obviously we want to be successful in the business end of it. We also want to be very smart … Mark and I are both very serious about, how can we create a positive atmosphere for the community?
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. It’s real easy to be negative in comments. We’ve obviously had conversations with city government here, and the city manager and the mayor and the (municipal development district). Every conversation I’ve had with them has been about, they obviously want to see Brownwood grow … what’s the best way to do that?”
Tucker said he thinks it’s on the city’s agenda to “create a more user friendly code, compliance and code updating for these types of projects.” Conversations he’s had with city officials have been “pretty positive,” Tucker said.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve been looking at since I’ve lived here for six years in this area,” Tucker said. “If you look at what’s going on in Coleman, if you look at what’s going on in Cisco, if you look at what’s going on in Comanche, my question has always been, why is that not going on in Brownwood?”