Who Says There Are No Female Developers? Someone Who’s Never Met M2G Ventures' Co-Founders
If two heads are better than one, then identical twin real estate developers Susan Miller Gruppi and Jessica Miller Essl, are bringing twice the energy and double the creativity.
The twin sisters formed commercial real estate firm M2G Ventures five years ago and quickly transformed a portion of Downtown Fort Worth into The Foundry District — a modern retail, restaurant and office development linked together by public art, a coffee house and a beer brewery.
In a stroll through the district, pedestrians could suspect they have crash-landed into Deep Ellum, with colorful sidewalk art under their feet, a retro record store on the block and a craft cocktail bar offering house-made spirits attached to the Blackland Distillery.
Both women over the course of the past five years have shown a certain penchant for detail as they create office space surrounded by retail and restaurant concepts near Downtown Fort Worth.
One of the co-founders, Susan Miller Gruppi, will be speaking at Bisnow's Fort Worth State of the Market event Aug. 20.
In a world where developers are constantly hunting for new land to build Class-A properties, the two 30-somethings have made their own mark by making what's old new again, fully re-forming the bones of several older Fort Worth buildings into mixed-use office and retail projects.
Inside The Foundry District, the pair rebranded an old building with 1960s-style interior brickwork into a modern coffee shop complete with coworking space. Despite many updates to the building, the coffee shop's interior still features the original brickwork, giving the real estate a tie to both the past and future.
"I would say we have always been leading the trend [of redeveloping older properties] and now we just happen to look like we are joining the trend,” Miller Essl said. “We happen to be really good at looking at something and saying, 'this is what it currently is, and how I can solve that and make it something else.’"
The millennial developers secured a coveted Fort Worth gig when Stockyards Heritage Development Co. selected M2G Ventures to be its retail and restaurant leasing partner for the Fort Worth Stockyards and Mule Alley. In this role, the pair is recommending the best retail and restaurant concepts for the Stockyards.
The sisters said they never stop thinking about how to trailblaze when it comes to redevelopment projects, and they are bringing this passion to the Stockyards.
“We are constant learners and constant improvers,” Miller Gruppi said. “We are happy with where we are today, but we are constantly growing and constantly thinking about what we did on this project that we should do differently on the next project.”
The twins' next stomping ground is the ever-expanding industrial space. They recently added Class-A industrial to their portfolio, purchasing 55 acres at Interstate 35 and Golden Triangle in the Alliance Corridor with 750 feet of frontage on I-35.
The two women consider it their move into the hybrid/light industrial product space, and they intend to bring their same philosophy to their new space by trading in the sterile industrial environment common to this segment for something more inviting and outside the box design-wise.
“Even in industrial, where it’s a really stable asset class, it’s highly commoditized,” Miller Essl said. “But, we see it and say there is gray beyond the black and white. People tend to gravitate toward story-telling, branding and someone who thinks more about it. I think you will see over time us adding this approach to industrial development in a way that feels kind of obvious, but no one has really done it. Things like signage, merchandising and branding.”
How M2G Ventures creates color around basic industrial amenities will be the next frontier they cross. The most recent boundary they jumped over is geographic, with the pair taking a chance on a former Can Academy campus at 4621 Ross Ave. in Old East Dallas.
M2G Ventures will turn the building and area into a mixed-use development known as Bogart on Ross, complete with offices, public art and a ground-floor café and retail.
Once the 50K SF education building undergoes a transformation, the development will provide office tenants with an outdoor grove, community spaces, an on-site sculpture garden, offices with an accompanying employee lounge, an energy room with Pelotons and showers, and a Zen library for those seeking solitude and quiet.
Miller Essl said M2G Ventures sees the Bogart development as the perfect real estate move because it offers a firm of M2G’s size a chance to provide institutional quality Downtown while being innovative in the design.
The Bogart’s name fits the confident style of M2G Ventures’ two leaders.
“We did a play on words with Bogart, which one of the meanings of 'bogart' is take what’s yours," Miller Essl said.
From their days as students at Texas Christian University to their risk in Fort Worth and Dallas, the co-founders of M2G Ventures appear to live by the same motto, prompting them to redo buildings and communities that inspire them.