For some, it may be hard to remember a more notable increase in attention to a suburban city than the one currently happening in Waco.
Thanks to an increasingly recognizable University, a popular television program and a comforting culture of southern hospitality, what was once a small town in the middle of Texas has become a modern-day hotspot.
Over the last eight years, the city of Waco has seen an increase in population as close to 10,000 people have moved to the “Heart of Texas.” Data shows nearly a 10 percent increase in growth from 1990 to 2000 and again from 2000 to 2010.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population has grown more than seven percent since the last census taken in 2010. The city is raising the eyebrows of many, including prospective students and new business owners. Jessica King Gereghty, vice president of undergraduate admissions and enrollment management, said athough Baylor’s undergraduate population remains about the same, there has been a sharp increase in applications from high school students.
“For this year’s freshman class, we’ve had over 30,000 applications,” Gereghty said. “We’re hoping to enroll a little more than last year, but the University has had a priority to remain mid-size. We’ve set a goal of being around 14,300 undergraduate students.”
Baylor recently announced a waitlist for the fall semester of 2018 due to a high demand for enrollment among prospective students. Gereghty said Baylor has become more selective in its admissions process to create a more diverse campus life.
“We are not just reviewing a student’s academic files, but also reviewing their entire admissions application holistically to find the students that are both academically prepared to succeed at Baylor and then also the students that we believe will be a great fit with the mission and vision of the university,” Gereghty said.
Over the last five years, Baylor has expanded its recruitment reach across the nation, opening offices in California and Colorado, as well as internationally. Gereghty said the incoming freshman class will be about 60 percent Texas, as compared to 80 percent from previous years.
This is partly due to the attractive community of Waco itself. Gereghty said Baylor and Waco work hand-in-hand with each other to mutually benefit the central Texas community.
“Whatever is good for Waco is good for Baylor and whatever is good for Baylor is good for Waco,” Gereghty said. “The more well-known and the more expanded and vibrant our community becomes in Waco, the more we can attract a diverse and broad set of students.”
Jonathan Garza, a Baylor graduate and current realtor with Lucra Real Estate, said the way in which Waco has blossomed since his time as an undergraduate student is mind-blowing.
“It’s grown tremendously. From when I graduated in 2008 until now, it’s a night and day difference,” Garza said. “The amount of people that walk up and down downtown, the amount of tourists, it’s something new for Waco to adjust to.
Garza is in charge of commercial leasing and marketing and is working closely on a new project he said id sure to attract many Wacoans: Union Hall.
Union Hall is a food hall that will hold 21 vendors with room for more, including four restaurants in the corners of the building. Garza said he hopes Union Hall will become a staple in the downtown market, providing locals with a wide range of eateries.
“Baylor and the city of Waco have done a great job in the last 10 years at getting students to come downtown,” Garza said. “With the food hall, we’re just hoping to add a variety of food options. We’ve got some really unique options coming in.”
Garza said the increasing Waco market is becoming more and more attractive to business owners and out-of-towners, partly due to the youth in the community.
“There’s a lot of young creatives, young professionals that are here to help the Waco community,” Garza said. “They look really at the market, and they see what’s necessary. They look at things more on a bigger picture, at Waco as a whole, to meet the city’s needs.”
Union Hall has not set a specific timeframe for opening, though the owners are optimistic for sometime in the fall.