By Rebecca Fiedler
The wheels are in motion to develop a part of Waco that Baylor students and Waco citizens alike will be able to enjoy.
The Brazos Riverfront project has been proposed by the city of Waco and taken up by developers Rick Sheldon and Joe Beard. The project would bring in business to the Brazos riverfront area and the Waco economy.
The project is a public-private partnership between the city of Waco and the Brazos River Partnership LLC, said Mike Anderson, the project’s development adviser and spokesperson.
Land covering 22 acres along the river will be redeveloped for use of public space, residential space, retail and restaurants. The boundary of the project runs along University Parks Drive, from Clifton Robinson Tower to the railroad line, Anderson said.
Funding for the project will come from private equity, said Larry Groth, Waco city manager. The city of Waco will also put in some money, Groth said, though how much money is still undetermined.
“We’re looking to attract a movie theater and eventually a bowling alley,” Anderson said. “We’re working with two of those now.”
Anderson said fitness centers have also expressed interest in the space.
Requests for proposals from developers were sent out by the City of Waco earlier this year. The City of Waco said it liked what it saw when it reviewed the work Sheldon and Beard had done, Groth said.
“We just now evaluated the proposal, they’re refining their numbers, and we will start negotiations probably either the end of this month or in September,” Groth said. “So we don’t have anything contracted at all at this point. We’re still in the negotiation phase.”
Anderson said negotiations with companies have been started. He projects both local businesses and chain companies will want to take advantage of the opportunities offered.
“There are more and more companies that move to Texas from California and other states,” Anderson said. “Not all of them want to be in Austin nor Houston or Dallas. Some of them want to be in a more centralized location, but also somewhere that has a more natural feel to it.”
The river development is something Waco has been working on since the mid-1980s, Groth said. Dropped during that same decade in times of economic disadvantage, the project has been recently revived.
Groth said he feels the time is right and the local economy is good enough.
“Our goal is pretty simple,” Groth said. “We want to develop the river with mixed uses, high quality.”
Beard is a fourth-generation Wacoan, Anderson said, and Sheldon moved to Waco 22 years ago. They were inspired to take on the project when their children were attending college.
“They were seeing these kids go to college and when they graduated, there was nowhere for them to stay or move in town,” Anderson said. “They really felt like there was a place needed to encourage graduates from Baylor University and researchers and some of the professors to have a place that they can call home close to the university, but also for young professionals in Waco.”
Internal roadways and parking will be built as part of the project, Groth said.
“Luckily, from a traffic standpoint, University Parks Drive is right there in front of it,” Groth said. “It has a lot of capacity right there by the interstate, which has lots of capacity, so I don’t see traffic issues as being a problem at all.”
The city of Waco has worked in other ways to improve areas along the river and downtown.
The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s website, www.wacochamber.com, tells of the Downtown Waco Public Improvement District.
The Downtown Waco Public Improvement District was established in 1988. Since then, more than 80 businesses have opened in the area, and the workforce has more than doubled, according to the website.
Groth said the development will not necessarily be a tourist attraction.
“We do hope it will serve as a tourist attraction, but it’ll be living spaces, office complexes, retail, restaurants, activities along the river,” Groth said.