Waco is booming. There is increased demand for goods and services, a rising creative class infusing arts and culture into downtown, and, thanks to the Fixer Upper phenomenon, a national spotlight showcasing picturesque parts of the city.
But even Waco's most optimistic cheerleaders would accede that the town has its share of looming issues. Thankfully, these problems are neither unique nor unsolvable.
Does this sound familiar?
Or how about this?
Those are words about Waco, right?
Nope. The quotes refer to Detroit, Michigan. Both describe the history and problems facing the Motor City, which sound strikingly similar to ones currently combatted in Waco. In fact, the two towns on opposite sides of the States share much in common.
In the early 1900s, Waco was known as the "Athens of Texas" for its educational resources. It was one of the nation's economic leaders thanks to a booming cotton industry. Ambitious private citizens financed and constructed the Waco Suspension Bridge in 1870, which allowed the millions of heads of cattle herded along the Chisolm Trail to cross the Brazos River for a fee. But post-war "white flight" to the suburbs, along with tragedies like the Waco Horror and the Waco Tornado, eventually decimated the city's once-thriving urban core.
Approximately $51 million in damages occurred as a result of the 1953 tornado; although $9 million was donated through relief efforts, that amount could not offset the near-fatal blow to the downtown business community. Today, 65 years later, some areas have yet to recover.
Similarly, Detroit experienced mammoth success before a period of intense economic drought. Fueled by a burgeoning automobile industry led by General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, the Motor City became the 4th-largest in the nation in 1920, after only New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia. But those fine cars opened up the possibility of commuting; many middle-class citizens moved out of town in search of more house for less money. As a result, Detroit's urban center was left with a higher proportion of poor in its population, a reduced tax base, depressed property values, abandoned buildings and neighborhoods, and a pronounced demographic imbalance.
Feelings of inequality among African-Americans citizens culminated in the Twelfth Street Riots of 1967. The result was 43 dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed, mostly in black residential and business areas. Thousands of small businesses closed permanently or relocated to safer neighborhoods; the affected district lay in ruins for decades.
Thankfully, as is happening in Waco, wise and well-funded entrepreneurs have accepted the challenge of resurrecting Detroit.
One of them is developer Jim Ketai. He's the author of the first quote above, which I pulled from his illuminating conversation on the Leading Voices in Real Estate podcast. Ketai heads a group called Bedrock Detroit, a full-service commercial real estate firm spearheading revitalization efforts in the Motor City.
Another major player in the scene, and the author of the second quote above, is Dan Gilbert, billionaire owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and founder/chairman of Quicken Loans. Gilbert, who was born in Detroit, partnered with Ketai to acquire more than 90 downtown properties. The area within Bedrock's footprint has been transformed by renovated buildings leased to technology companies and startups, world-renowned restaurants and national retailers, and local entrepreneurs.
Detroit is a modern day success story. After filing for bankruptcy just five years ago, the City is now setting the standard of how development can infuse new life in old bones. One example: the 100-room Foundation Hotel, located in what used to be a dilapidated downtown fire station, opened last year after a $28 million restoration project.
Even though multiple stakeholders have joined the push pioneered by the team at Bedrock, Ketai cautions that the work is far from over.
A up-and-down history, a lot of recent progress, opportunities to affect the outcome...sounds like Waco, doesn't it?