By Rachel Leland
Though only two miles away from campus, few Baylor students have visited the street that once stood as Waco’s cultural and economic heart.
Those who have visited find Elm Street bears more resemblance to a ghost town than the bustling economic center it once was.
Now, over 60 years since the community was devastated by a tornado in 1953 that claimed hundreds of businesses, a specialized team of Baylor business students led by Dr. Marlene Reed, a senior lecturer, have set themselves to the task of revitalizing the community.
Composed of a group of hand-selected senior business majors, the class organized itself into seven teams, which will home in on specific community needs the project would require, such as damage assessment and community engagement.
The students met with a local councilman and business owners to better understand the changes and solutions developing on Elm Street, and what development would bring for home and business owners in the area.
The team researched the community’s reaction to the development of previous buildings in the area, such as McLane Stadium.
“We wanted to make sure the people already in the community didn’t feel left out of the picture,” said Coppell senior Elizabeth Starr.
One of the group’s chief concerns was that renovations could potentially introduce gentrification to the community.
Most of the homeowners in the area are low-income and might not be able to afford the higher property taxes that new businesses would bring.
“That’s an area where the city can step in and do certain things like rent control,” said Alamo, Calif., senior Michael Summers.
Aside from rising property taxes, many homes could face demolition if they have already been marked by the city.
The residential development team found that inexpensive housing could be provided for current residents if they introduced “container homes.” Stylish and affordable, container homes are refurbished shipping containers that cost approximately $52,000 to buy and transform into a house.
Though these homes could be made for little money, the entire development of Elm Street would be much more costly. Much of the infrastructure is old and decrepit. Pipes must be replaced and sidewalks repaved.
Fortunately, the students discovered that the city of Waco actually has Tax Increment Financing funds, which are public finances reserved for building infrastructure, particularly in poor communities.
“We kind of realized that it wasn’t the lack of funding that was holding everything back,” said senior Clayton Morris.
The students found the city was eager to contribute the TIF money to developing East Waco, but that it had not begun the process of determining where the money could best be used. Those who the teams presented before were impressed by the amount of in-depth research the students undertook.
“Baylor brings not only professorial expertise, but the passion, inspiration and brilliance of students like these amazing members of the business school,” said Megan Henderson, executive director of the Waco Downtown Development Corp., who worked closely with the teams.
Though the students will graduate in May, Reed intends to continue connecting the skills and resources of her students with needs in East Waco in years to come.