Waco is a city on the rise, going from “just a stop along the way” to a weekend destination, Carla Pendergraft, director of marketing for the City of Waco Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said.
“Waco is a heavily weekend town for tourism,” Pendergraft said. “We have a lot of companies but not a lot of Fortune 500 or 1000 companies, which is how you get weekday business. With Waco, we have a lot of retail and a few headquarters. We’re a leisure town and a tourist town.”
Pendergraft said that where Waco used to be a side trip as a part of a larger trip, it is now becoming an end destination. She recalled a tour group that came from New York State to visit Waco, and only Waco, for three or four days. The downtown scene has seen a lot of development over the past years, and Waco has quite a few projects in the works for the future, Pendergraft said.
The Sue and Frank Mayborn Natural Science and Cultural History Museum Complex opened in 2004. McLane Stadium opened in 2014 and showed that Baylor was a major force in attracting tourists to Waco. When the stadium was built, the team was winning quite a bit, but Baylor was always more than football. The Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation completed construction in 2015, and the Clyde Hart Track and Field Stadium completed construction in 2014. The Rosenbaum Fountain on Fountain Mall was completed and dedicated in 2015.
In October 2015, the Magnolia Silos opened its downtown location on Webster Avenue. Pendergraft said “Fixer Upper” saw a lot happening in downtown Waco and wanted to be a part of it. There was definitely a huge resurgence that started downtown before Magnolia Silos opened, but the Silos have certainly helped, Pendergraft said.
“We were really excited to move from our little shop on Bosque to downtown at the Silos,” Brock Murphy, director of public relations for Magnolia, said. “Downtown has seen great growth over the last couple of years. We have been excited to be one of many businesses to make downtown our home. With the number of people coming to Waco and visiting downtown, we’d love for them to experience the Waco we know and love.”
Pendergraft said Magnolia Silos reported 1.9 million visitors for 2016, and the next closest attraction in terms of numbers is the Cameron Park Zoo at 270,000 visitors last year. Murphy said there are anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 visitors a week at the Magnolia Silos, and Fridays and Saturdays are definitely the busiest days.
“I came here because I have been on a ‘Fixer Upper’ binge lately,” said Lauryn McNeil, Pearland resident and visitor to the Magnolia Silos. “So then I was visiting my friend in Belton, and she offered to go, and I said I was definitely coming.”
The Magnolia Silos is a part of the trolley route that goes through downtown Waco, and it has had over 80,000 people ride it since July, Pendergraft said. The trolley makes seven stops, two of which are at free parking spots for the public. The trolley starts at the Riversquare Center, then goes to the Farmer’s Market, the Magnolia Market, The Findery and the Backyard Bar Stage & Grill, Balcones Distilling, Austin Avenue boutiques and shops, finally arriving at Dichotomy and the nearby shops before circling back to Riversquare Center.
“Some friends invited me to come. I had never been here before,” said Pat McCarty, a magnolia visitor and Fort Worth resident. “I enjoyed my experience. It was very pleasant, very organized and very clean. It was a perfect day because of the weather, I had great macaroni and cheese, and I’m enjoying watching people. I’m impressed with this place.”
The public improvement district runs from Interstate 35 to Jefferson Avenue and 11th Street to the Brazos Riverfront, according to the City of Waco website. Over $750 million of development activity has been announced since 2007, according to the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce website.
The Brazos Commons Riverfront development is another recently announced project focused on drawing people to the riverfront area that is part of downtown. More information about the Riverfront project funding can be found at http://wacochamber.com/chamber/campaigns/riverfront/.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Pendergraft said. “I’ve been here for 27 years, and it’s something we always worked for and hoped towards, but you need help. You just have serendipity happen. With a lot of people working towards this, a little bit of luck and a little bit of serendipity, it’s wonderful. I feel fortunate to be here around a lot of hard work by people.”