Whole Foods unveils major office expansion, downtown campus plans

Claudia Grisales and Shonda Novak |

Whole Foods Market Inc. on Thursday outlined its plans for a major expansion in downtown Austin, bringing closer to reality its vision for a future corporate campus surrounding its world headquarters and flagship store.

The campus would encompass multiple properties, including a shopping center purchased in May across the street from its home base at West Sixth Street and North Lamar Boulevard called 524 Lamar and a property purchased last year that houses the Whit Hanks Antiques store at 1009 West Sixth Street.

Whole Foods purchased the shopping center — which houses Chico’s, By George, Free People, Paper Source and other tenants — for an undisclosed price. The company will honor the existing leases.

“It has long been our goal to maintain our downtown Austin presence long-term by creating a campus centered around our flagship store,” Jim Sud, executive vice president of growth and business development at Whole Foods Market, said in an exclusive to the American-Statesman. “We believe the properties across the street will allow us to do this, while keeping us deeply rooted in the part of town we have always called home.”

The plan is years in the making and the purchase, and plans to move into their former offices above BookPeople and REI as well as a new tower at 311 Bowie Street will help house future Whole Foods workers in the coming five to seven years or more, Sud and spokeswoman Kate Lowery said. Whole Foods currently has 800 workers at its corporate headquarters.

The purchase of 524 Lamar puts the final piece in place for Whole Foods’ expansion plans. The new plan replaces plans Whole Foods scrapped to be part of a development Schlosser Development Group planned on land just east of Whole Foods headquarters. Whole Foods continues to have a lease on part of that land, where it could eventually build another building to accommodate its growth.

Sud said Whole Foods outgrew its current headquarters, built in 2005, two years ago, sooner than the 2015 date originally anticipated. The company has 200,000 square feet at its current headquarters and leases 50,000 square feet at a Las Cimas office complex in Southwest Austin. Whole Foods also has offices at 1105 North Lamar Boulevard, where the organic food giant houses its southwest regional office.

Later this year, Whole Foods plans to move 150 of their workers into their former 40,000-square foot offices at 601 North Lamar above the Bookpeople, REI and Anthropologie stores, where a tenant who once occupied the space has since moved out. Late last month, Whole Foods said they would move workers into their new 40,000-square foot space into the Bowie tower located near the retailer’s headquarters at 311 Bowie near 5th street. In the next five to seven years, or more, Whole Foods could redevelop sites at the 524 Lamar location as well as at another purchase made last year of the building that houses Whit Hanks Antiques and its neighboring parking lot to the south at 1009 West Sixth Street.

In all, the office spaces could house 2,000 total workers, Sud and spokeswoman Kate Lowery said. There’s no timeline for the development of the new Lamar and West Sixth street properties, but there are eventual plans to raze buildings at both locations and redevelop those sites for office spaces.

Jamil Alam, a managing principal with Endeavor Real Estate Group, who with Endeavor broker Will Marsh represents Whole Foods in their corporate expansion plans, said the move will mark a big shift for downtown development.

“Downtown Austin is on a roll. There are many reasons for this, but none more significant than the decision Whole Foods made many years ago to build their flagship store and headquarters at the intersection of 5th” at Lamar, said Alam. “Many of the office tenants and residents in downtown refer to the Whole Foods store as a primary factor in their decision to office or reside in downtown. Whole Foods decision to double-down on their headquarters at 5th (at) Lamar not only signifies their long term commitment to downtown Austin, but is an indication of how exciting and vibrant downtown Austin has become.”