Brazos riverfront Catalyst rendering

A rendering from 2016 shows early plans for the Brazos Promenade mixed-use riverfront development. Environmental cleanup of the site cost about $6 million less than expected.

The riverfront site the city of Waco is offering for the Brazos Promenade development has won a clean bill of health from state environmental regulators, after a cheaper-than-expected cleanup.

City officials set aside $8 million in fall 2016 for an environmental remediation of debris at the 18.5-acre site around the old fire tower, expecting a long process of digging out old industrial debris.

The cleanup was necessary to allow Catalyst Urban Development to start work on a $100 million mixed-use destination with restaurants, retail, apartments and a full-service hotel.

City staff told the Waco City Council on Tuesday that the cleanup got a “certificate of completion” on Feb. 9 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, meaning no further cleanup is needed.

“We think we’re going to end up using less than $2 million of the $8 million you allocated,” Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford said. “The savings in timing is just as important.”

Lease agreement

Ford said the city is wrapping up a lease and development agreement with Catalyst for the land and expects to hold public meetings on the development this spring.

“They believe they could have the design complete this year, with construction in late 2018, early 2019,” Ford said. “I think that’s achievable.”

The remainder of the $8 million cleanup fund will be returned to the coffers of the Tax Increment Financing Zone, which funds downtown projects.

“When was the last time we had an environmental cleanup come in less than the budgeted amount?” Councilman John Kinnaird marveled. “That’s fantastic.”

Councilman Jim Holmes agreed, adding that he is eager to see crews and cranes at the site.

“I think it’s very important to get vertical as quickly as possible,” Holmes said. “The sooner we get that going, the better.”

Ford said plans for a $120 million project are also proceeding on the adjacent Brazos Commons property owned by Joe Beard and Rick Sheldon. They announced earlier this month that they could not come to an agreement with Drury Hotels to build a full-service hotel. But Ford said the Waco hotel market remains hot, and Beard and Sheldon are working to recruit another hotel.

“We think it’s just going to be a number of months,” he said.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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