Redevelopment: Finally, new life for old IBM offices

What’s not to like about two nondescript, 1970s-style industrial buildings ravaged by fire and floods whose only occupants in the past 30 years have been raccoons?

“We love it,” said Tommy Burt, president and co-founder of Burt-Watts Industries, who led the investment team that purchased the properties in April 2013 from Powell Austin Properties Ltd., a local family.

His Austin-based contracting and construction management company now occupies a portion of the space acquired at 2111 and 2115 Kramer Lane in North Austin near The Domain.

“We got a good deal,” said Burt, who declined to say how much he paid for the two buildings that measure about 28,000 square feet each. According to the Travis Central Appraisal District, one building is valued at about $2 million and the other at $2.2 million.

Loan Science LLC and CommUnity Care leased the space Burt-Watts didn’t consume.

Burt said the ownership team spent $3 million to renovate all the spaces into attractive, contemporary offices that are a far cry from the buildings’ generic origins that date back to the early 1970s when IBM Corp. occupied them.

“I knew what I wanted to do with them when I walked it the first time,” Burt said.

The key was translating that vision into something practical, yet inspiring.

Burt leaned on his friend, colleague and sometimes co-investor Clay Little, partner in NoackLittle Architecture & Interiors. The two had collaborated on adaptive re-use — a formal term for converting obsolete spaces into something cool — at 1300 Guadalupe St. They purchased and converted that building into offices for both their firms.

Eventually, though, with 79 employees and growing, Burt-Watts needed much larger digs.

Burt began shopping for space and consulting with employees who had grown used to working close to downtown. He said they embraced the idea of moving north, off Braker Lane near Metric Boulevard.

“Everybody liked the amenities of The Domain nearby and having plenty of parking, which was a problem downtown,” Burt said. “We also got everybody involved in the concept of the design.”

Burt and Little have created a contemporary space — about 13,500 square feet — with wide shafts of natural light penetrating what was a dank, unappealing place. Modern finishes, unexpected flashes of color and an open floor plan have made all the difference in the world.

“Tommy has great design taste and he demands a lot of excellence,” Little said.

Added Burt: “I was worried about expectations, but it looks and feels even better that what I thought it could be. I’m greatly pleased.”

This article originally appeared in the Austin Business Journal.