Brothers renovate Hippodrome, rejuvenate arts scene

HippodromeBy Ashley Davis
Copy Editor

All is not lost for the Hippodrome.

A development company has big plans to renovate and manage the once great movie theater that hosted everything from Broadway plays to silent film to children’s shows.

The Hippodrome, located at 724 Austin Ave., has received $423,900 in Tax Increment Financing zone funds approved by the Waco City Council last week. The council approved $1.4 million total in downtown renovations including the Hippodrome.

The Waco Performing Arts Co. would resume its production of plays and live concerts and would rent the venue out to traveling shows from around the country.

Brothers Shane and Cody Turner of the Kunkel Construction Inc. in Woodway have announced plans to spend $2.9 million for the renovations and management of the Hippodrome, which has remained unused for the past three years.

The brothers have also managed the development of several new loft buildings in the downtown Waco area. Shane Turner said he and his brother have been working with the Waco Performing Arts Co. for more than a year in drafting plans to reopen the Hippodrome.

He said their inspiration for becoming involved with the Hippodrome is to generate more traffic downtown.

“The Hippodrome is one of the most haunted buildings downtown. Since it’s been closed, it’s always been an eyesore and a deterrent for people who want the area re-energized,” Turner said.

Even now passers-by can drive down Austin Avenue and see construction well under way inside the old building with the Spanish-style façade.

The brothers plan to convert the second-floor balcony into restaurant seating, creating a more relaxed area for customers to eat and drink while watching a show.

There will also be a three-story annex built into the Hippodrome to house a lounge area, a full kitchen, and extended room for the lobby. These renovations will take up room in the current outdoor patio, however there will still be room for an outdoor stage, seating and an outdoor movie screen.

Turner said he hopes to rejuvenate the arts scene in Waco with the theater’s reopening.

Ronald Quigg, eight-year resident of Waco and a local artist who frequents the downtown area, said he believes these developments are a good thing for the area.

“It’ll help downtown. It’s not going to be good for parking but it’ll be another thing to attract people back to the center,” Quigg said.

The theater was managed by the Waco Performing Arts Co., starting in the 1980s until its closure in 2010 due to lack of funding.

The company proposing the renovation and reopening of the theater consists of the Turner brothers, who have already laid extensive plans for the work.

Since 1913, the Hippodrome has been a staple of downtown Waco and its familiar façade has graced the Waco skyline and added its history to that of the city.

The theater started as a venue for vaudeville tours that featured orchestras, cabarets and music revues. The theater has hosted stars like John Wayne and Elvis Presley. After the vaudeville era ended, the theater featured silent films as an affiliate of Paramount until a fire from the projection booth occurred in 1928, destroying much of the front of the building.

Since its heyday, the theater has struggled to stay afloat due to expensive renovations and lack of funding. In the 70s, many Wacoans abandoned the theater for newer theaters in other parts of town.

The theater has undergone several renovations funded by private groups such as the Cooper Foundation alongside volunteers dedicated to providing Waco with a performing arts center. It has also been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.