Background & Bio
Tim Smith was born and raised in Abilene, and he and his wife, Pam, met as students at Mann Middle School. He graduated from Abilene High in 1987. After earning a degree in political science and spending some time in Houston, he and Pam returned to Abilene 16 years ago. He’s worked as probation officer and as a project manager with Pearson Digital Learning, but the bulk of his career has been self-employed in both residential and commercial real estate and development.
Smith is most well-known as an advocate for the development of the South of Downtown Abilene district. In 2016, he and Pam bought a building that had been boarded up and vacant for 45 years and spent the next year transforming it into their home.
“I’ve always had kind of had this disorder,” he said. “I can’t stand to see vacant, boarded-up buildings just rotting. Most people thought this one was too far gone. It was condemned, but I knew it had potential.”
Beyond being transformed into a high-end loft home, the courtyard on the property has become a much-used event space.
“We just allowed the courtyard to evolve, started planting plants, adding lighting and then someone asked about having a fundraiser there. We had about 350 people, live music. It was fantastic, and my phone has not stopped ringing,” he said.
Tim says it stays consistently booked, by Abilenians and out of town groups alike. Seeing old buildings in the area take new life was contagious, and the last three years have seen more business and development in the area, both through Tim’s work and other entrepreneurs.
“We never would have anticipated that this one project would have sparked so much,” Tim said. “Abilene’s never had a district like this, and we’ve just allowed this to expand and grow organically. People have gotten excited about this project.”
People may be excited now, but not everyone has been on board all along. Tim and Pam faced an often-lonely endeavor to bring new life to a building in an unpopular part of town.
“When we bought this, we did not have support,” Tim said. “We were called crazy; people wondered what we were doing and didn’t get it. People thought we were out of our minds. We kind of had to put blinders on and view it as a challenge to prove the naysayers wrong.”
He didn’t always see eye-to-eye with local officials and property owners as well. Taylor County owned several buildings in the area and commissioners weren’t always as motivated to sell or re-purpose as Tim hoped, leading to a protest coordinated with the grand opening of the courtyard in 2018. Since that time, however, Tim said relationships have improved.
“Things are cordial, and I think the attitude is different and has improved. The Taylor County commissioners are more willing to work with the private sector to activate this area,” he said.
Focus on the Future
Ultimately, Tim wants to continue to embrace and promote SoDA as an extension of Abilene’s downtown.
“I think it’s important for downtown to have diversity,” Tim said. “We’ve got the arts district north of tracks, and I envision (and we are marketing) this area [SoDA] as a trendy, edgy entertainment and nightlife district with interesting spaces. It’s an extension of north downtown and enhances our downtown.”
Others are catching the vision. The Mill, a wine bar and event venue, had already opened in the Texas Mill & Elevator Company in 2014, but in the past few years, even more businesses have emerged south of downtown. Whiskey bar Amendment 21 opened in the old Nichols Battery Company building in 2018; R Bar opened this year on South First; and Sockdolager Brewing Company is building a new facility at 101 Oak Street. Others still have plans underway for the area. Tim estimates currently 8-10 properties that had been vacant in this area are now being activated all at once.
“I think my role is becoming more to encourage other investors to invest,” Tim said. “For this to do what I want it to do, others have to jump in and invest. I’ve taken on the role of facilitator and encourager – helping people through re-zoning issues, permitting issues, how to negotiate properties. So I’ve passed the torch to some younger people eager to invest. I really feel like the group effort is what will make this happen.”
By Wendy Kilmer
Photography by Beth Dukes