Wacoans both worry about, welcome tourism

Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor

By Elisabeth Thomas | Staff Writer

Over the past few years, Waco has been inundated with tourists flooding to Magnolia. Most Wacoans love the phenomenon, but some are hesitant.

The attention and development Chip and Joanna Gaines have brought to Waco has boosted the economy, empowered other entrepreneurs and revitalized downtown. After the 1953 tornado tore through downtown and businesses moved to the outskirts of town, the suburbs grew and many buildings downtown lay vacant. As businesses like Magnolia, Spice Village and Milo and community events like the Downtown Farmers Market draw development and popularity to the area, other entrepreneurs find opportunity and a ready market. However, the changes might not all be good, especially for those pushed out by gentrification.

Israel Silva has lived in Waco for 25 years and wants visitors to see that there is much more to Waco than Magnolia.

“I don’t want to make Waco just a big tourist attraction, but to make it a city as a whole,” Silva said. “Come to Waco to see the cool stuff, but also come to Waco to see the rest of it.”

Darius Brown, a city outreach minister and lifelong local, believes that tour businesses are working hard to make sure that tourists do see the whole picture of Waco’s history, culture and struggles. His concern is that the cost of living and property taxes are rising. However, his excitement for new networking, business opportunities and fun things to do while staying within Waco overcomes his hesitation.

“Downtown Waco is great because I no longer have to go to Dallas or Austin to have a good time,” Brown said. “Growth in Waco makes people feel like their dreams are possible.”

Waco junior Cora Hill was a senior in high school when Magnolia opened the silos that neighbored her school.

“I’ve watched Waco grow and certainly it was annoying when parking got out of control,” Hill said. “Also, I couldn’t climb the silos anymore, and that was too bad.”

Locals connected to social services and ministries are concerned about gentrification. Many of the offices for social services such as My Brother’s Keeper, the Meyer Center, the Salvation Army and Church Under the Bridge are located downtown. The fear is that the development of downtown and rise in value of downtown property will push these services and ministries to the edge of town. It also may become too expensive for low-income housing to remain. Hill is one of these locals.

“I had an internship with Mission Waco last summer and something that concerned them was how this new attention to downtown is going to effect housing displacement and gentrification,” Hill said. “There’s some low-income housing on Washington that’s been there for a long time. If that gets pushed towards East Waco, that would be a bad thing. It’s better for more low-income citizens to live in spaces where there’s a variety of incomes. You don’t want to have all the poor in poor areas.”

It seems most Wacoans appreciate the economic and cultural growth Waco is experiencing.

Waco junior Jamie Jones said she is excited about where Waco is headed, and that they can share that with visitors.

“I enjoy the tourism because I love being able to share my home with others,” Jones said. “One of the things that I love about all of the positive attention that Waco is getting is that it distances us from bad attention that we have gotten in the past.”