1000 Friends of Waco seek to develop downtown

City Center Waco recently put up lights along Austin Avenue as part of improvements being made downtown. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

Megan Rule | Staff Writer

The 1000 Friends of Waco gathered Wednesday afternoon in order to bring together members of the community to talk about the development of the downtown area and hear feedback about events in the near future.

“There have been a lot of great successes over the past four to five years between Magnolia and Baylor’s athletic and academic success,” sais Jake Cockerill, manager of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Waco Chamber. “We’ve seen a lot of growth on the Baylor campus and through the city, which is making this all a more helpful discussion.”

The meeting was held as a generic roundtable discussion, open to the public, in order to see what is going on in greater downtown Waco with the start of the new year. Cockerill said the meeting highlighted some of the upcoming topics with the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce and City Center Waco.

“We discussed the Freedom Ball with Aviation Alliance to appreciate and support veterans and their spouses and the food truck showdown on April 1, which will be our third one – it’s a major attraction,” Cockerill said. “We also talked about our mentorship program called Lead and the economic index report where we talked through stats from our last year and the impact we made.”

The meeting also brought up improvements that have recently been made in downtown and ideas for the future. City Center Waco recently put up twinkle lights on the poles down Austin Avenue. There are also lights downtown to make the area feel more vibrant, and Cockerill said the next phase is to expand the lights onto Elm Street. Trash clean-up and keeping the city clean was brought up as well. The meeting also featured Waco Real Estate discussing the Franklin Avenue apartments and developing out Franklin Square for loft space.

“I think it’s cool to see downtown Waco develop because Waco naturally attracts super sweet, hip people, so creating downtown events helps bring together the Baylor family and the Waco family, making it feel like a more homey, college town,” said Hotchkiss, Colo., freshman Katy Parsons.

1000 Friends of Waco has made tremendous progress in the past two years, according to its website. The idea for the group was to bring together the downtown community to talk about the development of the downtown area, hear feedback about what is currently happening and to hear about what might be happening in the future. Every meeting involves individuals from the city talking about what has been approved in the past month.

The meetings are held as a roundtable discussion to keep conversations going. Although sometimes there are keynote speakers to talk about development or new buildings, sometimes people just stand up to talk about what they’re working on. Meetings are held once a month on either the second or third Wednesday and are open to the public.

“Things have been in the pipelines for years, so to see them come to life and make Waco a vibrant, flourishing downtown is what everyone wants to see happen,” Cockerill said.

A majority of the group is the same people every time, Cockerill said. The stakeholders, Creative Waco, City Center Waco and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, work collaboratively for 1000 Friends of Waco and are referenced in every meeting. Sometimes private companies and people working for them come to talk about events coming up and hear general feedback from the community about upcoming plans.

“Waco didn’t have much momentum when I got here as a student, so to see how far it’s come and be directly involved and in the know is cool,” Cockerill said. “Waco has jumped into a collaborative effort with its community partners to show that it’s not a passive growth that happens in our city; it’s very active.”