Waco: Residents weigh-in on 'hip' vision for riverfront development

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Words like 'hip,' 'cool,' and 'polynuclear' were tossed around during a meeting about the future of Waco's riverfront Wednesday.

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)

"We don't want Waco to be Dallas, we want Waco to be Waco, just strengthened and made better," said Paris Rutherford, President of Catalyst Urban Development.

Rutherford presented the initial ideas and renderings for the Brazos Promenade Project Wednesday night during the first of two public input meetings City Center Waco is hosting for citizens to part of the process.

"The designs on paper right now are just ideas, we'll get into construction drawings next month," Rutherford told a crowd of about 50.

Spanning from Franklin Ave. to I-35, the project would update an area of the city Rutherford says looks like it's stuck in the 1960s.

"It's sending the wrong message about what's happening in Waco today," said Rutherford. "We want to create another anchor to Magnolia, a 'polynuclear city' with multiple points of interest so it's not just a 'one horse town,' if you know what I mean."

Concerns about horses weren't mentioned during the brainstorming session...but issues involving other animals - dogs and birds - sure were.

Along with streets, as renderings of an event lawn, kids zone, and dog park were presented, citizens raised concerns about everything from the seasonal swarm of grackles, to dog waste, to human waste.

"I enjoy the idea of the Farmer's Market down there, but I'm concerned about bathroom space, I'm not sure about porta-potties being the right way to deal with that," said resident Bill Lockhart.

Lockhart, a former urban planner who's lived in Waco since 2001, wants to make sure the development is pedestrian and disability-friendly.

"My wife and I walk the riverwalk nearly every Sunday afternoon, so we want to make sure that what's done is something that we will enjoy and also something that our kids, who like a nice urban environment, will enjoy as well," said Lockhart.

Overall, he said he liked the consistency of the ideas presented.

"Waco, so much, is a hodgepodge and kind of mixed-up and inconsistent - having a consistent plan is nice," said Lockhart. "You have good sidewalks, good bike lanes all connecting together."

Civic leader Ashley Thornton, a retired Baylor employee who now works part-time for Transformation Waco, is a member of Waco Walks and came to advocate for walkability.

"For the people at Baylor to not be walking downtown - it's a short walk, it could be beautiful - it just doesn't feel very walkable right now," said Thornton. "This particular project is huge, and if we can use that as kind of an anchor to think about what is our whole vision for University Parks Drive, I think that would be really smart."

She also hopes to see a mixture of housing options to promote diversity in the area.

"We talked about it being a community and a vibrant place, and I think places are vibrant when there's a variety," said Thornton. "We just need to have nice places where people of a variety of incomes can live in the same area and mix and mingle and do things together."

Other popular topics included parking, lighting, and trees.

"We're all about mixed use, that doesn't mean we're creating a massive downtown or anything like that, we want to create something that's memorable and beautiful," said Rutherford.

And profitable.

"The IRS code and the opportunity zone that was created, whoever did that needs to get a gold star because that's put another spotlight on the community, in a positive sense, from a financial standpoint," said Rutherford.

Last month, the Waco City Council approved a lease and incentive funds for CUD for the development of the city-owned land along the Brazos River.

Although the developer will be paying taxes, since the city owns the land, it's also responsible for maintaining it.

The project, which includes six-blocks of public and private space, will have restaurants, shops, apartments, a hotel, a music venue, and areas of open space for the Farmer's Market and more to use.

"Just last week I had several retailers call seeing if we had space in the project for them," said Rutherford.

Rutherford said this is his most popular project.

"It's my favorite project, but it's not necessarily our biggest project, and yet we get many more interactions, both from people in Waco and outside of Waco," said Rutherford. "Just today I had three calls from people in New York asking about it, 'can they invest in it.'"

Construction is expected to start in this fall and take two-years to complete.

Although it will be "an inconvenience for those nearby," Rutherford was confident the end result would be worth it.

"Obviously this is a lot of work and detail to do, I'm looking forward to reading all the commentary that we got and then refining our design from that so when we come back, we can show that we've listened and been good stewards of the process," said Rutherford.

Members of the public will have another chance to weigh-in at a second meeting to be scheduled in the near future.

"It doesn't just happen by magic, we all have to decide what kind of community we want to live in and then get out there and advocate for that," said Thornton.