Groundbreaking for long-sought Waco riverfront development expected in 2017

Catalyst Urban Development Rendering

Catalyst Urban Development Rendering

By J. B. Smith
Waco Tribune-Herald

A Dallas developer said Tuesday he will be ready to start building a housing and leisure development on the city’s riverfront as soon as the city finishes cleaning up the site next year.

The first phase of the “Brazos Promenade” plan, which Paris Rutherford of Catalyst Urban Development showed Waco City Council on Tuesday, would include 294 living units, a parking garage and the first of a cluster of restaurants proposed on the 16-acre site.

Rutherford said work also could begin next year on the second phase, possibly including a 10-story full-service hotel overlooking the Brazos River. Also in the plan for the next few years are a renovation of the farmers market, the addition of an outdoor stage, bocce ball court, outdoor event spaces, destination restaurants with outdoor dining terraces and a rose garden.

Rutherford said the project will dovetail with other new developments in downtown and help Waco cement a reputation as an up-and-coming Texas city.

“Clearly what ‘Fixer Upper’ and the Gaineses have done, in addition to Baylor and the city, is to bring national attention to us,” he said, referring to the popular HGTV show featuring Chip and Joanna Gaines. “We have used that exposure in negotiations on the capital side. Having a connected waterfront district gives the city another reason for being on the cover of Texas Monthly.”

Assistant City Manager Cynthia Garcia said she hopes to take the project to the Tax Increment Financing Zone board to ask for public incentives in the next month or so. Catalyst and the city have not released estimates of the project cost or what incentives would be necessary.

By December, the city is expected to sign a long-term lease and development agreement with Catalyst to set the project in motion, Garcia said.

Environmental remediation

But first, the city will have to finish its environmental remediation of the site, including the removal of about 5 feet of dirt and debris that were dumped along the riverfront after the 1953 tornado. That process will take six to nine months, city officials said.

Catalyst already has financing for the project lined up with Centennial Bank of Seattle, Washington, project officials said. Catalyst boasts of developing $2.3 billion worth of property since 2009, including high-profile urban projects in McKinney, Plano, Rowlett and Fort Worth.

Rutherford said the Waco project would not be like any of those other projects. It would have its own architectural style, inspired by historic brick warehouses of downtown Waco and the “agro-urban” aesthetic of the nearby Magnolia Silos.

A disused fire station garage and fire training tower would be incorporated into the development, and the existing farmers market under the old oak grove would be a centerpiece.

The Brazos Promenade site would offer a range of distinctive dining options, Rutherford said.

“We’re not interested in national chains,” he said. “Whatever comes in is going to be unique. If you’re going to drive 20 miles and come into town from other areas, you don’t want to compete with all the highway restaurants. It’s all about urbanity.”

The development would be divided into a grid of traditional urban blocks, with rows of three-story buildings fronted by landscaped 18-foot sidewalks and lots of street parking. Those buildings would include lofts upstairs and “work-live spaces” downstairs that could be used as an apartment, a small business or both.

Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, said the concept of “live-work spaces” may sound like a trendy gimmick, but she expects the downstairs spaces will eventually just be shops.

“People are probably going to live there now because that’s what the demand is there,” Henderson said. “But over time, that ground floor is going to be worth more. . . . To create first-floor space now that meets tomorrow’s needs is just smart.”

The development would straddle University Parks Drive and would reshape the atmosphere of that six-lane boulevard to calm traffic and encourage walking. The center boulevard island would be widened, and street parking would be added to reduce traffic speeds.

The riverfront hotel, which was once envisioned next to Interstate 35, has been moved upstream to Webster Avenue and will incorporate the fire tower. The Interstate 35 site will be developed in a future phase with restaurants and an outdoor event space, Rutherford’s plan shows.

The city site wraps around several acres of land owned by developers Joe Beard and Rick Sheldon, who had once negotiated with the city to build a riverfront development. Catalyst has met with those landowners, and Rutherford said he thinks their developments will complement each other.

In other business Tuesday, the council:

• Approved a $200,000 contribution to the new Heart of Texas Community Loan Center to help build up a capital fund to expand a program offering small employer- based loans as an alternative to payday lending. City and Waco Independent School District employees already have access to the program, which is expected to expand soon to private employers.

• Approved $294,000 in Tax Increment Financing Zone funds for Mary Avenue Market, a project that would put five or six vendors at the old Morrison Supply Co. at Sixth Street and Mary Avenue. Of that funding, $164,000 would be used to build off-site sidewalks on the blocks leading to the Dr Pepper Museum and Magnolia Market.

• Approved $465,000 in TIF money for West Campus Lofts for the second phase of a student housing complex at 805 S. Eighth St., this time involving the renovation of the 1922 South Waco Junior High School building. The overall project cost is $3.2 million for 32 loft apartments.