Following his passion

Some people go into the restaurant business because they figure that whether the economy is up or down, people will always need to eat. Others go into homebuilding because they know that sooner or later people will be looking for a nicer place to live. And Greg Thompson, owner of Cross Creek Construction & Design in Burton, Texas, entered the barn building business knowing that people will always ride horses.
Thompson first honed his construction skills as a carpenter, then as owner of a construction firm specializing in commercial interiors for the bustling Houston metro market. “It was a great business to run during the boom times of the 1960s through mid-1980s, when Houston was the capital of the Energy Patch,” he recalls. But then the Texas energy boom went bust and Thompson had to decide his next move.HBB-CrossCreek1.jpg
A lifelong horseman and owner of a small breeding farm in the rolling Texas hill country, Thompson figured he could make a living by servicing other people who shared his passion. “Texans have loved their horses since the days of the old vaqueros,” he points out, “and it seemed like that would remain a constant, whatever the economy was like. Besides, I’ve had horses since I was eight years old so I’d rather build barns than anything else!”
Thompson and wife Trish had bought their own farm in rural Brenham in 1981 to breed paint horses and quarter horses. “We were already spending half our time there, anyway,” laughs Greg, and so in 1991 he closed his Houston construction business and set up shop in the countryside as Cross Creek Construction & Design.
Fifteen years ago, Thompson knew he was taking a calculated risk that the hill country — roughly between Houston and the state capital of Austin — was ripe for development. With the state struggling through the lingering effects of the regional energy bust, as well as a nationwide economic recession, the risk of launching a rural building business was real. But soon enough, it became clear that Thompson had bet on the right horse.
Between 1963, when Thompson graduated from college with a business degree and started in construction, and 1991, when he founded Cross Creek, the greater Houston area had grown from half a million residents to more than 2.5 million. Moreover, the area around rural Burton, Texas, was starting to emerge as true horse country. With the oil industry encamped in Houston and the state government housed in Austin, affluent professionals started buying up rural acreage as the economy picked up steam throughout the 1990s.HBB-CrossCreek2.jpg
“I started by building horse barns for people who were buying some property in the country,” Thompson recalls, “and then, when they had the money to also build second homes, that got me into custom homebuilding as well.” In the last 15 years, he reports, the population around Burton has quadrupled. Today about two-thirds of Cross Creek’s business is equine construction, with the remainder coming from custom homes, equipment buildings, sheds, and feed stalls. The dozen projects Cross Creek performs each year range in value from $150,000 to $1 million, with an average project coming in at $300,000.
About 75 percent of his business, Thompson figures, comes from simple word-of-mouth. Yet he also generates “a lot of business from friends” through his longtime involvement and personal networking in several historic Texas institutions. One is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, an annual event that boasts 32,000 sustaining members; 17,000 show volunteers; 92 committees; 33,000 livestock and horse show entries; 300 commercial exhibitors; and some 1.8 million attendees who pack the same Reliant Park sports complex where the NFL Houston Texans and baseball’s Houston Astros play.HBB-CrossCreek3.jpg
Another organization in which Thompson is active is the Tejas Vaqueros, which upholds the heritage of America’s first cowboys. And with a third group, Ranchers Ride, each year he joins with 300 fellow members in recreating an historic Texas trail ride.
Cross Creek’s projects begin when Thompson hosts his client in the office he maintains within his own horse barn. “We have the initial meeting there,” he explains, “so I can show people the quality of our construction and what we can build.” From there, he and the client may visit other Cross Creek barns to get ideas about design and function.
Thompson does not build his projects with a construction workforce of his own, but outsources the work to local subcontractors. “What I bring to the project,” he believes, “is the fact that my customers can see that I really know horses. My clients are often oil company executives who would rather hire a general contractor than have to do the general contracting themselves. So I oversee the whole project, not just the building shell but everything from siting and roads to stalls and fences.”HBB-CrossCreek4.jpg
A recent example is the $1.5 million Pegasus Ranch project Cross Creek built for David Andras, owner of the Houston Polo Club’s Pegasus team. The Washington County stable includes 24 stalls, each 12×12, which are divided between four wings. One wing features a farrier room and another a wash bay, and both are floored with rubber pavers. Each of the stalls is constructed from stained cinderblock and finished with custom doors.
A 1,400-square foot center area called “the hub” contains an office with full bath and walk-in closet, large tack room with custom saddle racks and custom cabinetry, a groom’s lounge, a powder room, and a feed room that also serves as a tack room for guest riders. The hub area has a scored and stained concrete floor and is climate controlled with central heating and air conditioning.HBB-CrossCreek5.jpg
The exterior of the central hub area and the front walls of the stalls rise to a height of 12 feet, and 36-inch exterior alley walls around the entire building are made of cultured fieldstone. The four arched entries also are stone. On each of the four sides of the center hub are four saddling paddocks each with a floor of rubber pavers and custom ironwork. The building is crowned with five cupolas — 4x4x5 on each of the four wings, 8x8x9 in the center — and a center copper weathervane.
“The initial challenge of the project,” says Thompson, “was designing a 14,000-square foot roof in the shape of a cross and with 12 roof valleys. Also, each end of the four wings had its own hip roofs with gable louvers.” Yet from the initial meeting with Andras in June 2005, and the groundbreaking in August of that year, the project was completed in impressive time and ready for occupancy by May 2006.HBB-CrossCreek8.jpg
In his 15 years as a horse barn builder, Thompson says — and the Pegasus Ranch project illustrates — that equine facilities “have generally become bigger and fancier, while at the same time people are attracted to low-maintenance building materials. To give clients the custom touch they want, for example, we fabricate all of our own stalls, grills, and gates.”
Yet ironically, even if the barns have changed, the customers haven’t. “I’m doing construction for the same kind of people — oil company executives and other professionals — who were my customers when I built commercial interiors back in Houston,” he explains. “But back then in the big city, I had to manage a construction company with 35 employees. Now I just work with my wife Trish, who designs our custom-home projects, and my daughter Cori, who has a background in accounting and administration.”
And as compared to his former career as a big-city commercial builder, Thompson says that as a rural builder “I can still build great buildings for people who have exacting standards. But I can scale down and enjoy a lifestyle that’s worth living, and concentrate on projects that reflect the things I’m passionate about.”

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