October 28, 2022

After Founding the Foundry, Twin Sisters Look for New Owners to Take District to Next Level

By Bob Francis, Fort Worth Report, October 26, 2022

It began with a vision that depended on one building and a sign. 

That’s how Susan Gruppi, co-founder of M2G Ventures recalls it now, seven years later.  

Gruppi and her twin sister, Jessica Essl Miller, had founded M2G Ventures in 2014, and in 2015, while they officed at the CoLab space on Carroll Street, they began to buy and sell properties.

One they bought but didn’t sell until recently was a building that housed longtime tenant M&O Burger and a small museum that celebrated the glory days of downtown retailer Leonard’s Department Store. That building, at 200 Carroll St., northwest of Montgomery Plaza, became the first of 12 that M2G Ventures and partners would eventually own. But at the time, it was only one small part of a much larger vision.

“We bought that building, and we put the sign on the top of the building that says ‘The Foundry,’ when we only owned one building,” Gruppi said. “We were just projecting in a way.” 

The young company was willing to take a chance on the area and spent money to prove it. 

“We paid the extra money for the sign, and everything,” said Gruppi. “We had an idea.” 

Now, seven years later, M2G Ventures has sold The Foundry District, a six-acre mixed-use development with over 98,000 square feet of redeveloped mid-century warehouse and anchored by a large outdoor art space, to Charlotte, North Carolina-based Asana Partners for an undisclosed amount. 

“The Foundry District is a wonderful strategic fit for our portfolio of neighborhood mixed-use properties in dynamic locations. This project has a reputation for bringing the best that Fort Worth has to offer into one central location, including art, amenities and a compelling mix of local tenants,” said Brad Kantrowitz, director at Asana Partners, in a statement. 

Cushman & Wakefield’s Chris Harden and Kris Von Hohn brokered the transaction.

Since 2015, M2G Ventures redeveloped the space into showrooms, creative offices, an area with curated amenities and food and beverage spaces.

“We’d really gotten it to the place that we could get it to,” said Gruppi, when asked why they sold it. “The next group needed to have a lot deeper pockets, the same amount of vision, but deeper pockets than we really could.”

This is Asana Partners’ first Fort Worth investment. In the past few years, Asana Partners has acquired several properties in Dallas, including 43 buildings in the Deep Ellum district, commercial space in Victory Park and The Hill shopping center. 

“They are who we wanted to sell it to the whole time,” said Gruppi. “They share a similar vision, but they have the capital behind them to take it to the next level.”

It has been quite a journey for M2G, which is now handling the retail leasing for Stockyards redevelopment and has several other projects in the works, including the assignment of redeveloping and rebranding The Archetype at 3131 Irving Blvd. in Dallas and turning it into a modern, urban industrial project. 

But Gruppi said The Foundry District interested them from the start. 

“We were always interested in that area because you drive past it on your way to downtown. It was obviously very close to everything,” said Gruppi. 

When Gruppi and Miller would travel, they were always interested in the adaptive reuse developments they saw, not the brand-new developments. 

“Not being negative, because there’s nothing wrong with it, but that type of stuff (the brand new developments) never really got us excited,” she said. “It was adaptive reuse stuff.” 

But at the time there wasn’t a lot of that in Fort Worth. 

“So this area, we loved it for its location, but we also loved it because there were buildings that we could use that were really underutilized and could paint a new story onto them,” she said. 

And paint, they literally did. 

M2G Ventures’ chief creative officer is artist Katie Murray, who had been the sisters’ college roommate. She painted the side of their first building with a mural that said, “Don’t quit your daydream.” 

The graphic worked, Gruppi noted, as people who once drove past the industrial area stopped to take photos or look at the mural. 

 As M2G Ventures began to acquire buildings, they added more art and graphics, including Inspiration Alley, an outdoor art gallery that helped draw visitors to the once-industrial area. Inspiration Alley was named one of the top outdoor art experiences in the U.S. by Forbes and now consists of more than 70 pieces of art. 

That focus on creating a district and a distinct experience began to draw retailers and business to the area, including Blackland DistilleryCowtown MarathonMaple Branch Craft BreweryGL Seaman & Company and Doc’s Records & Vintage.

“People wanted to be a part of this,” said Gruppi. 

Among those wanting to be part of it was entrepreneur Jonathan Morris, who had recently opened the Fort Worth Barber Shop. 

“I particularly liked that they were intentional about infusing art into the district and being across from Inspiration Alley I knew would bring a lot of people to the area,” said Morris. Morris opened a spinoff of his barber shop called The Lathery. The shop provided high-quality men’s and unisex grooming products. 

“It was cool to me that they were putting emphasis on public art and activating this space in a really interesting way,” said Morris. “I thought it was great how public art helped bring commerce and the intersection of those two things.”

Gruppi said getting the attention of one of Fort Worth’s young entrepreneurs meant a lot to them. 

“He came to us and said, ‘I’d like to do something here.’ It meant we were on to something,” she said. “It meant a lot.” 

Other tenants brought in new ideas and new energy to the District, Gruppi said. 

GL Seaman & Co., an office furniture company, brought The Foundry’s first corporate design client. Then Maple Branch brought an outdoor patio. 

“The pedestrian experience just isn’t quite there in the area, so you don’t have a complete walking experience,” said Guppi. 

That’s the type of issues the new owners may be able to tackle, said Gruppi. “We had taken it to where we could.” 

The area is still growing with new tenants, including an undisclosed iconic Dallas-based Tex-Mex concept, whose name is still under wraps, that has signed a lease to open its first Fort Worth location in 4,008 square feet at 2700 Weisenberger St. Bumble Bee Yoga, a not-for-profit yoga studio with a cause committed to transforming suffering into power, is anticipating a December opening in 2,400 square feet at 2712 Weisenberger St.

Gruppi said it was time for M2G Ventures to turn it over to the next steward. 

“This is Asana’s first entry into Fort Worth, and it’ll be fun to see how they continue to mature the landscape,” she said. “What they do is adaptive reuse, but on an institutional-type scale, and they’re just really amazing.”

Gruppi said she hopes her 5-year-old daughter will go to the Foundry District in 15 years and it may look completely different, but “she’ll know that mom was part of it at the very beginning.”