Imagine Waco strives to keep downtown up

By Leigh Ann Henry

Imagine Waco has taken recent steps to revitalize the Greater Downtown Waco area, including plans to make it more sustainable.

Imagine Waco is a vision for how Greater Downtown Waco will develop, function and feel over the next 20 to 40 years. The program was first proposed in 2009.

Part of the goal is to change the face of downtown and how people interact with each other and their surroundings, said Scott Connell, senior vice president of strategic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the City of Waco recycling advisory committee.

In the sustainability effort, Waco is trying to make use of buildings and streets already in place during the revitalization of downtown.

By finding ways to reuse these structures as opposed to demolishing and rebuilding, they avoid landfill clogs and maintain eco-friendliness.

The plan is to make downtown more walkable and to provide public transportation services. The city hopes these options will encourage less driving in downtown and more utilization of their eco-friendly options, such as buses.

“One of the things we’re working on in our downtown development aspect is to create more of a neighborhood environment,” Connell said.

Additionally, emphasis is placed on the DASH, Downtown Area Shuttle service, which connects Baylor with downtown.

According to Connell, there have been many conversations between Baylor administrators and city administrators discussing potential ways to increase usage of the DASH and expand the route, promoting less vehicle travel from campus to downtown.

Connell said connecting the Baylor community to downtown is vital for the sustainable goals of the downtown.

The Public Improvement District has taken responsibility for several facets of the downtown redesign and houses a subcommittee, the Baylor Public Improvement District, which helps get Baylor connected to downtown.

“The effort to make downtown more accessible with biking and walking is a top priority of our subcommittee,” Reagan Ramsower, who serves as chair of the Baylor Public Improvement District and as vice president of finance and administration at Baylor, wrote in an e-mail to the Lariat.

Ramsower said the subcommittee is also responsible for the DASH.

The Public Improvement District has the responsibility of supporting sustainability during the changes seen downtown.

Blue recycling bins have been placed in several locations, the street lamp lights have been switched to LED lights and bike racks have been installed to encourage less driving. These efforts are solely focused on downtown.

The city has been working with the nearby apartment complexes, encouraging them to provide recycling receptacles for their residents, but has not yet been able to implement the plan.

“We’ve found that if you have a recycling box you are 50 percent more likely to recycle,” Connell said.

Connell also talked about the presence of several major companies, such as Mars Chocolate, and the sustainable programs they have in place.

For example, Mars bases its sustainable practices on five principles: quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom. Pursuance of those principles earned them the U.S. State Department’s 2010 Award for Corporate Excellence for its Commitment to CoaCoa Sustainability.

Connell said the development plans are trying to encourage local organizations and businesses to tap into potential sustainability programs as well.

“Our goal at the chamber is to try and engage the city, but also to engage the business community in looking for ways to be more sustainable,” Connell said.

As the city pursues its goals, Baylor will push to aid them.

“Baylor will continue to make sure its plans coincides with the downtown plans to promote accessibility and sustainability and be a strong voice of support for all these efforts,” Ramsower wrote in an e-mail to the Lariat.