It was never going to be easy.
It was never going to be cheap.
It was never going to go quickly.
Keith Bassett knew those things when he took on the challenge of rebuilding 2202 Strand, which is known in historic registries as the William L. Moody Building and, in the hearts and minds of generations of Galveston residents and visitors, as Col. Bubbie’s Strand Surplus Senter.
But Bassett took it on anyway.
“Stupidity; sheer stupidity,” he said, with a wry smile.
As the owner of a retail business on The Strand for more than two decades, Bassett saw the building as a chance to move into a permanent space and start paying rent to himself. But the true answer is a little bit deeper than that.
“Apparently, I like challenges,” he said. “This one has turned out to be much bigger than anything we probably ever dreamed it would be.
“We thought we had planned a lot, and I guess you can never plan enough on a project like this.”
For the commitment Bassett has shown to the renovation project and to saving other buildings and businesses on Galveston Island, he and his business, Bassett Family Properties, have been named The Daily News’ Business of the Year for 2019.
Bassett Family Properties is the business Bassett and his wife, Genette, created to buy the Moody Building when Col. Bubbie’s, a military surplus store, closed in 2014.
Famed architect Nicholas Clayton designed the 136-year-old building, which has more or less survived the hurricanes and whims of development. The building once was a story taller, but the fourth floor was knocked off by the 1900 Storm and not rebuilt.
Bassett’s goal is to turn the William L. Moody Building into a mixed-use building with retail and residential spaces. The short-term goal is to open the bottom floor by the end of 2019. He calculates the building likely will have consumed more money than it’s worth by the time the restoration is completed.
“I’m passionate about it, that’s for sure,” he said. “We probably took on too much for a single person. It’s probably a better project for a more sophisticated builder, which we’re not. At some point, it becomes philanthropy more than a good business decision.”
The task already has been expensive, and even five years after the Bassetts bought it, the building needs a lot of work, including incremental screw turns meant to straighten a list in the building’s foundation.
The goal is to bring the building back in a historically accurate way. That means building doors and replacing columns to match the building’s original design. It means focusing on the smallest details, like the forged iron pulleys that operate the windows and restoring the hinges on the doors.
Bassett had to find a Pennsylvania company that could recreate the mortar used in the original building.
The project is also something of a Galveston innovation. Bassett is one of the first developers to sign a 380-agreement with the city. The incentive program allows the city to freeze property values or waive sales taxes collected at a property for up to 20 years as a means of refunding money to people who restore historic buildings up to 75 percent of the project cost.
Without that agreement and federal tax credits that also incentivize historic renovations, the project might have been impossible, Bassett said.
The Moody Building is not the first Bassett has occupied, owned or renovated in Galveston.
He initially got into the construction business as a home flipper, turning over one or two residential properties at a time.
That evolved into a property holding company, which led to larger projects like the Moody Building and the former Central Hotel at 2401 Market St., which Bassett is turning into an apartment building.
Like the Moody Building, the old hotel needed a lot of work, he said. He also bought and renovated a building at 2423 Market St. after Hurricane Ike, which struck in 2008.
Before getting into development, Bassett was a retail store owner.
After graduating from Tulane University, he was working at the U.S. National Bank in Galveston when he learned The Curiosity Shoppe, a gift store on The Strand, was for sale.
In 1992, while going to graduate school, he took over the shop. A few years later, the shop did gangbuster business during the Beanie Baby boom of mid-1990s, and Bassett went on to open Gracie’s, a retail shop on The Strand, in 1998.
Hurricane Ike flooded the stores. Gracie’s reopened downtown nine months after the storm.
The Bassett family’s mark on downtown is phenomenal, said Trey Click, executive director of the Historic Downtown Strand Seaport Partnership, a business advocacy group.
“What they’re doing with Col. Bubbie’s should be the centerpiece of downtown,” Click said. “They are a permanent part of downtown, and the family has always been a part of downtown. We’re lucky to have the Bassett family.”
The family’s work extends beyond downtown, however.
Bassett and his brother Mark bought Chalmers Hardware store, 2002 Broadway, in 2009 and Village Hardware on Stewart Road in 2012, and worked to keep both the popular neighborhood shops open.
Late last year, they moved an embroidery business developed at Chalmers into a previously vacant building on 53rd Street they had renovated.
The family’s hard work and investment have benefited Galveston, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
“He and his family have invested a lot of money in Galveston and have invested in some eyesores that probably needed some help,” Yarbrough said. “They have a what I call a ‘city gene;’ they do things for their community and obviously they want a return on their money, too.”
Bassett said he enjoys leaving his mark on the city, but thinks the Moody Building renovation might be the last big project he does for a while.
“It’s somewhat of a legacy,” he said. “It’s been a labor of love.”