Heritage Square, in its current state as a surface parking lot, is quite useful. So much contiguous open space in downtown draws great crowds to seasonal events like the Texas Food Truck Showdown and Waco Wonderland, and it serves as a convenient pre-adventure meeting spot for customers of Waco Tours and BlueSky Helicopter Tours.
But is this the highest and best use for the 2.3 acre block in the heart of downtown? Undoubtedly not.
I believe spaces in the urban core should be designed for people, not cars, and that they should be created for all people, not some people.
Thankfully, both of the submitted RFPs would transform the parking lot toward those goals.
Ed Kinkeade's proposal of a mixed-use retail and office development, which would include a grocery store, caters to downtown residents who currently drive to Valley Mills or Bellmead for grocery shopping. Kinkeade's ties to the area and Baylor community are strong, but it seems odd that his project would only "possibly" include condominiums when residential projects are his calling card.
The second group, known as "The Civic Center," pairs local Chris McGowan, who served as Urban Development Director for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce from 2007-2015, with Phillip Williams, a Dallas-area developer of mixed-used projects for the past two decades. Williams' massive Watters Creek project in Allen, TX, which boasts national tenants like Anthropologie and Victoria's Secret, gives a glimpse of the variety of retail offerings the group could possibly provide. Their proposal's focus on Class A office space fills a pressing need that could be used to incentivize a large company to relocate to Waco.
While The Civic Center has no plans for a grocery on the Heritage Square site, McGowan confirmed to Waco Business News that the group would like to bring one as part of a larger project on a different block in downtown.
Regardless of which proposal the Waco City Council chooses, I'll have Chris McGowan on a future episode of Downtown Depot to discuss the process. The Council should reach a verdict before the end of the summer.