Lubbock, TX

Entrepreneurs lead Lubbock downtown revitalization

Forging a legacy in the heart of West Texas By Brenda Kissko

There is something about a burgeoning downtown district that breathes life into a community. The epicenter of business and culture intersect creating the city’s character and forecasting its future. These four entrepreneurs in downtown are a testiment to the vision and tenacity of Lubbock. 

Innovative partnerships serve as the focal point for the downtown grant program which was established by Market Lubbock, Inc. The investments in downtown will benefit locals and visitors for decades to come. These downtown grant recipients are leading the way for our community and creating a legacy of their own in the heart of Lubbock.

Charles Adams owns Charles Adams Gallery, a for-profit gallery, and founded Charles Adams Studio Project (CASP), a nonprofit corporation. Both are in the heart of downtown Lubbock’s Art District. Adams was born in Lubbock, went to Texas Tech University, then moved to New York City where he lived and owned a gallery.

“New York is great if you are young or rich,” Adams says. “I was at a point where I was neither. The flat, the dry and the prevailing winds were calling to me. I really missed the Southwest.” So, he moved back to Lubbock in 1980.

In New York, he had lived a few blocks from Westbeth, an industrial building complex adapted for reuse for artists to live and work. “When Margaret Talkington, [namesake of Texas Tech University’s J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts], gave me the money and the opportunity to build something to serve the local arts, I knew that I wanted to base it on Westbeth,” Adams says.

CASP offers artists studios, equipment and community for free or below-market prices. It also has public classes in printmaking and metal work.

“We have found that the public is obsessed with the processes of making art,” Adams says. “The current interest in redeveloping downtown has actually been spearheaded by the arts and the entertainment industry. Everything from huge performing arts center to artists renting old storefronts.”

I am glad that I took the leap to downtown ten years ago.

The entire CASP footprint is a combination of the reuse of historic buildings and new buildings. CASP has space and plans for a total of twenty new studios to be built as the money is raised. Urs Peter "Upe" Flueckiger, an architect and professor at the College of Architecture at Texas Tech University, designed CASP’s cohesive look while remodeling old buildings alongside new builds.

“Every time we build or make major improvements, we receive Market Lubbock grant money based on the total amount spent,” Adams says. “The City has been interested and accommodating from the beginning. They have adjusted zoning to accommodate what we are putting in without us having to ask.”

Now, locals and visitors gather in the downtown Lubbock Art District in the evenings and on weekends. 

“I am glad that I took the leap to downtown ten years ago,” Adams says. “It costs less to be here. I love living and working in the middle of all that is developing downtown. What CASP and I are building is for the long run and getting here early has allowed us to help shape the future of downtown.”

Mark Martinez was born and raised in El Paso and moved to Lubbock to earn his degree in Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Management from Texas Tech University. He then moved to Austin for 12 years before returning to Lubbock in 2015, where he is now the owner and operator of The Garden.

“I always had a place in my heart for Lubbock and decided to use all my experience in the bar and restaurant industry and open up my own place,” Martinez says. “We are in the business to create memories — a social place to gather and unwind in a unique environment.” 

I pride myself for keeping 79401 alive.

Martinez bought the old Cactus Courtyard and updated it with a new stage, landscaping, shading and paint. He says the downtown buildings are more affordable compared to other locations in the city, and that it’s important to bring the historic buildings that have stood the test of time back to life. He’s excited that the new Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences and new hotels in the area will increase customer traffic at The Garden.

For a small business owner, every penny counts. Martinez reinvested his downtown grant back into The Garden with new furniture and lighting to take it to the next level. He has plans for more businesses downtown and strives to create venues that will be a staple for Texas Tech students, their visiting parents and locals.

“Every great city has an amazing downtown,” Martinez says. “I pride myself for keeping 79401 alive.” 

Sally Blair is originally from Hobbs, New Mexico, and was living in Hawaii 10 years ago when she came to Lubbock to visit her brother who was attending Texas Tech University. She ended up staying in the “Hub City” and earned her bachelor's in fine arts from Texas Tech. Blair’s colorful ceramics, inspired by the Bauhaus, have been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and sold in Anthropologie. She recently moved her ceramic studio, Sally Blair Ceramics, to downtown on the corner of 19th Street and Avenue M.

Blair rehabbed a historic brick building that was nearly 100 years old. Having a creative eye, she saw the potential as soon as she walked in. They removed walls and many layers of false ceilings and insulation to expose the original ceiling. They put in updated lighting and electrical, painted the 4,000-square-foot building, and secured the facade. 

The chefs, artists, musicians, brewers, bakers and candlestick makers are what make the neighborhood special.

“The LEDA grant was a huge factor in choosing to place my studio downtown,” Blair says. “Having this community support my young business in such a real way made all of the difference. The week I got my occupancy from the city is the same week the world shut down for the pandemic. Having this grant during this turbulent time has literally kept the lights on.”

Blair says she originally planned to leave after graduating from Texas Tech but realized the low cost of living in Lubbock would allow her the lifestyle she wanted with plenty of time to be in her studio. Her partner is a sculptor who works primarily at CASP, and they love being able to hop on their bikes and take breaks at one of the many restaurants and breweries downtown. 

“I would recommend the downtown area to any new entrepreneur,” Blair says. “There are so many wonderful spots packed into this compact area. The chefs, artists, musicians, brewers, bakers and candlestick makers are what make the neighborhood special. I encourage everyone to spend some time and really explore downtown Lubbock.”

Cameron West grew up in Lubbock and earned his bachelor’s degree at Texas Tech then moved to Napa Valley for culinary school. He worked in award-winning restaurants in Orlando and Dallas before returning to his hometown and opening The West Table Kitchen and Bar with his wife, Rachel. Their restaurant features seasonal upscale dining that melds eclectic New American cuisine with global accents. 

The West Table is located in the historic Pioneer Building, where they’ve also opened The Brewery LBK. The Pioneer Pocket Hotel, Lubbock’s only fully automated hotel, and condos are also in the building. West says it’s important to preserve the character of the downtown aesthetic, and the reuse of historic spaces plays an important role in the sustainability movement. They have created a modern industrial atmosphere, softened with reclaimed wood, in their restaurant.

It’s an exciting time to be in downtown.

Having a restaurant in close proximity to the business helps draw a lunch and happy hour crowd, West says. He believes the new development of Buddy Holly Hall will bring a new dimension to the city.

“I believe in the growth and trajectory of this city,” West says. “The city has done a great job to incentivize businesses with grants and marketing support. It’s an exciting time to be in downtown.” 

The husband and wife duo just opened another new restaurant in downtown Lubbock. It is a modern West Texas diner named “Dirk’s” after Cameron’s grandfather, Dirk West. Dirk was the cartoonist who created the iconic Texas Tech Red Raider mascot, Raider Red. 

Great cities have great downtowns, and Lubbock is well on its way to developing a destination downtown to live, work and play.

We’re already planning our next visit.