Hutto residents have a new place to celebrate special events: a re-purposed metal building in the middle of town that once supported the livelihood of hundreds of local farmers.
It has been 12 years since the city of Hutto purchased the grain and gin Co-Op properties off Hwy. 79 for nearly $1.5 million, and after spending a year and $953,000 transforming the iconic cotton gin building into an open-air event venue, renovations are nearly complete.
The new Gin at the Co-Op District is the first step in developing the approximately 20-acre Co-Op District into Hutto’s urban epicenter Mayor Debbie Holland said.
“The hope and the desire is that over time that whole area from East Street through the Co-Op property can become our downtown area,” Holland said. “As we build it out, there will be civic green space, and we recognize the need for civic areas and public open spaces. We [previously] just used the [area around the gin] for parking, and there’s nothing exciting about parking.”
One of the first community events scheduled at the renovated gin was set for Sept. 5, but because of construction delays, the Reds, Whites and Brews festival took place outside the building. As of Oct. 22, the renovation project had not been completed, and an opening date had not been confirmed.
Development Services Director Helen Ramirez said the delay stemmed from the complexity of the project, which included preserving the 6,500-square-foot gin building’s original structure and reinforcing it with 33 tons of custom-fit steel.
High area demand for steel also slowed the renovation process, Hutto Public Information Officer Christina Kane-Gibson said.
In addition to covered meeting space, the gin site will feature electric connections, lighting, running water and a smaller covered pavilion called The Hopper, Downtown Manager Kim McAuliffe said. Local residents and organizations will be able to rent the space but will need to provide restrooms, tables, chairs and other items. The venue does not include air conditioning or heat, but perforated metal siding and six garage-style glass doors let in light and keep the building ventilated, McAuliffe said.
Kane-Gibson said public restrooms were not considered as part of the gin building design but are part of the overall development plan for the Co-Op District.
Victor Stern, a former manager at the cotton gin, said he drives past the Co-Op property almost every day and can see the gin building change. Stern said some Hutto residents may not know what the building was originally used for, so the new event center will re-purpose the space while marking its historical significance.
Until 2001 the gin was a functioning facility used to remove seeds from cotton and was the last remaining gin of about five that operated in the area in the early 1900s, Stern said.
“The cotton was brought in, in wagons and trailers and sucked up into this gin [...] and the lint was blown into a big bale that would be about 500 pounds and it was tied up and shipped to a warehouse and someone buys it and it becomes a shirt,” Stern said. “There were about 600 people [living] in Hutto then. It was a whole lot different than it is now.”
Kane-Gibson said restoring the gin building showcases the historical significance of the Co-Op property and reinforces Hutto’s small-town atmosphere and roots as a farming community.
“[A cotton gin] is not that unique to Central Texas towns, but it’s unique for us because we’re preserving it,” she said.