East Waco residents support riverfront development

The development's contractor, John W. Erwin, has set their site up along the corner of Washington Ave. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. MJ Routh | Multimedia Journalist

By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer

Sitting just across the river from downtown, East Waco has been neglected by city developments, according to Jeanette Bell, president of the neighborhood association.

Now, they’re finally getting development on the riverfront. However, members of the East Waco community have been at odds when it comes to gentrification, which is the process of renovating and improving a house or district so it conforms to middle-class taste.

“I am really for development in East Waco — we have not had any since the tornado [in 1953]. It is time for community economic housing, business and leadership development,” Bell said at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “The only issues and concerns that people may have — they will be addressed. There are ways you can keep your own self informed.”

According to Bell, the city has done what they can to include residents of East Waco, but their participation has disappointed her.

“I am in favor because [Judge Ed Kinkeade, the developer] knows what type of development that we want,” Bell said. “We don’t want our neighbors and our mom-and-pop shops to be pushed out of the neighborhood to the outskirts. We don’t want any cartel-ized wealthy development in our neighborhood because it does not fit the cultural, historical and social character of our neighborhood. He understands that. [The developers and the city] know what your issues and concerns are. All we have to do is attend the meetings.”

Bell said residents need to attend the city council meetings, attend the county commissioners meetings, check out the Waco website and watch the City of Waco television channel, channel 810. She also said the Northeast Riverside Neighborhood association is in favor of Judge Kinkeade’s project because she knows that his development is working in conjunction with ImagineWaco, the Texas Main Street Project, the city of Waco 2040 Plan, the Elm Avenue Improvement Plan and the Paul Quinn Plan, so it meets all the criteria to be congruent with the vision various planning committees have put forward for Waco.

She said she knows this because she has been on the board of Citizens of Waco and the Public Improvement District board because she owes it to herself to stay informed and advocate for her neighborhood.

With the help of Tax Instrument Financing (TIF) funds, the city is working with hotels to develop the riverfront. On the Elm Avenue side, there will be three hotels — Cambria Hotel, Even Hotel and Holiday Inn Express — in the next couple years. In December 2016, the council approved a $12 million TIF grant for the phases of developing the riverfront. Phase one is the construction of mixed use buildings including offices, apartments and parking garages; phase two consists of building hotel and retail space; phase three involved additional restaurant or retail space as well as the improvement of outdoor spaces. In September 2017, the council approved splitting phase two in half so the two posts can proceed independently of each other. They will improve facades of existing buildings, sidewalks, street lights, landscapes, curbs, gutters, water lines and sewers. Tuesday night, the council reallocated the TIF funds partially to the city and partially to the catalyst of the development, KB Hotels. However, it was the public hearing about the apartments the Kinkeade’s are building that drew several residents to voice their support.

This public hearing was a continuation from July 17, and topics included consideration of abandoning a portion of MLK Boulevard and Bridge Street so that developers have enough room and relocating Bridge Street, which, among other things requires design of the site to create a strong visual linkage between the Suspension Bridge and the Bridge Street Corridor.

Judge Ed Kinkeade and his son Brad Kinkeade, a Dallas attorney, are the developers of the apartments on the Elm Ave. riverfront property. They will be building workforce and luxury apartments.

“We’ve met with lots of folks in East Waco: Elected officials, leaders in the community and taking their input has made a much better development,” Kinkeade said.

The Kinkeade’s were inspired by the East Waco mural to create “Windows on Elm” in their retail space to display cultural artwork reflective of the area, childrens’ art and upcoming events, using the design of their building to promote existing culture. On the bottom floor of the apartments, the current idea is to have several panels of floor to ceiling windows and to display art from the inside.

Tommy Bowen, a long-time resident of East Waco, sees the value of the development to the community.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that we need some development on the east side of the river, especially on Elm Street,” Bowen said. “I would like to encourage the council to assist these people who would endeavor to improve and enhance the aesthetics as well as everything else on the east side of Waco.”