Work is set to resume this week on a stalled sidewalk project to connect the downtown’s historical heart to its biggest tourist attraction — Magnolia Market at the Silos.
Magnolia officials said they expect the lighted, landscaped and 10-feet-wide sidewalk will be finished sometime next month.
The Waco City Council in April 2016 agreed to reimburse Magnolia $650,000 in Tax Increment Financing Zone funds to build two blocks of sidewalk from the Silos at 601 Webster Ave. toward Franklin Avenue, along with the burial of overhead electrical lines.
The project was seen as a critical link between the Silos, which bring up to 20,000 visitors per week, and the traditional retail businesses in the Austin Avenue area.
Only about half of the sidewalk borders Magnolia, but city officials said the private company could contract the work faster and more cost-effectively than the city.
But progress in the 14 months has been slower than city officials expected. In recent months, Oncor has buried the electrical lines, but the old sidewalk remains barricaded and unusable, with a highway sign directing people to use the sidewalk across the street. And from April until last week, Sixth Street itself was closed because of construction work at and around the Silos.
‘A real impact on business’
“A year from now, when that’s a fantastic sidewalk and people are three times more likely to walk down it, that will be a benefit,” Henderson said. “But any closure has a real impact on business. I’m not going to say this is dire for any particular business, but closures in general are serious and disruptive for business.”
Calls seeking comment from the contractor, Pearson Construction, were not returned this week. Magnolia spokesman Brock Murphy said he doesn’t know the exact reasons for the delays but that he expects the contractor to finish the work in July.
Under the terms of the TIF agreement, Magnolia has until December to finish the work, said Melett Harrison, the city’s housing and economic development director. Magnolia won’t be reimbursed until the work is done and inspected.
City Manager Dale Fisseler said he still thinks it makes sense to expand downtown’s sidewalk network by paying TIF recipients to extend the sidewalk beyond their property line. He said the city doesn’t build many sidewalks and would probably have taken even longer to build the sidewalk along Sixth Street.
Jim Rambo, a sales employee at Interior Glow at Sixth Street and Austin Avenue, said the business is already getting spillover from Magnolia, but having an attractive sidewalk connection should bring even more.
“It will increase it,” Rambo said. “Once people realize that Magnolia is not a theme park that’s going to last all day, even if they come from Hawaii or Michigan, they want to shop.”
He said most visitors at Magnolia tend to take the inconvenient pedestrian situation in stride.
“I think most people who go there know they’re in for an adventure,” he said. “Look at the places they’re parking just to get free parking.”