An extended family from Italy that has opened about 15 restaurants in Texas has signed a lease on the former Chili’s building at Bosque Boulevard and Valley Mills Drive, and plans to open there Bella Luna Italian Bistro in about two months, according to a family spokesman.

“We own other places in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Houston, Temple and Killeen, but this will be our first in Waco,” said Edmond Mecalia, 38, a native of Venice, Italy, who emigrated to New York and has resided in Texas about 15 years.

He said the Lone Star state “is the best land to live in, my friend,” during a phone interview Friday.

Waco real estate agent Pat Farrar said he has marketed the 5,200-square-foot space previously occupied by Chili’s for about eight months. A deal fell through that would have placed there a privately run emergency medical center.

Mecalia said remodeling of the building and securing a liquor license will take a couple of months, during which time he will hire about 20 people.

He said Bella Luna will serve authentic Italian dishes, pizza, pasta, seafood, steaks, salads, soups and Italian wine and beer.

Mecalia said nearly 75 family members now live and staff restaurants in Texas, including Italiano’s Pizza & Subs in Temple and Joe’s Pizza in Killeen, which are the establishments nearest to Waco.

Chili’s has relocated to Valley Mills Drive and Bagby Avenue, where Dallas-based Leon Capital Group demolished the longtime University High School campus and has placed there such eateries as Zoe’s Kitchen, Bubba’s 33, Starbucks and Potbelly Sandwich Shop, as well as Chili’s.

Infrastructure grant

The city of Hillsboro will receive a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce for water infrastructure improvements to serve its North Industrial Park, according to a news release.

The project is estimated to create 240 jobs, retain 265 jobs and generate $100 million in private investment, the release states.

“President Trump has made clear the need to drastically improve infrastructure across the United States,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in a statement. “Through this project, the City of Hillsboro will not only significantly improve its capacity to retain and recruit businesses but also will create jobs for hundreds of residents.”

The project addresses water pressure and volume deficiencies that impact the North Industrial Park’s ability to maintain existing businesses and attract future employers, said a release. The project was made possible by planning led by the Heart of Texas Council of Governments.

Salado inn reopens

The historic Stagecoach Inn in Salado, south of Waco on Interstate 35, has reopened following a year-long renovation, according to a news release.

Located along the old Chisholm Trail, Stagecoach first opened as the Shady Villa Hotel in 1861. It was re-purposed as a restaurant in 1943 by Dion and Ruth Van Bibber and became a favorite among travelers.

The news release said diners visiting the remodeled property can enjoy 1861 Hushpuppies, Chicken Fried Steak and the Strawberry Kiss. New items include deep-fried bacon and the Tomahawk Pork Chop.

It also serves “classic drinks and house cocktails,” and its wine list features selections of Old World and New World wines, the release said..

Downtown Waco

Several projects continue to take shape in downtown Waco, including renovation of the iconic Pioneer Savings & Loan building at Ninth Street and Washington Avenue that has been vacant since 1991.

An Associated General Contractors newsletter says bids are being taken for the third phase of the project, which includes finish-out work.

The Waco-based Walker Partners engineering firm bought the building from local businessman Clifton Robinson last year. Company president George E. “Jed” Walker said he would relocate company headquarters from Austin Avenue to the refurbished two-story structure.

Jacob Bell, client manager for Walker Partners, which also has offices in Austin and Killeen, said Friday the company plans to move into the former Pioneer Savings location in spring of next year.

“So far, we’ve gone through demolition and exterior work that we call the ‘shell’ package. Now we’re on to finish-out,” said Bell, adding a staff of 45 employees, including surveyors and engineers, will occupy the space.

Elsewhere, Pura Vida Day Spa has moved into the former Wild West Waco nightclub space at 115 Mary Ave., but owner Erin Kubala said Pura Vida will still make use of its former location at 708 Austin Ave.

“The original plan was to move the entire operation there and just have one location, but I have decided to open a second, upscale spa at our old address,” said Kubala in an email message. “It will be a high-end day spa with a sauna, hot tub, cold plunge and private party area for larger groups and parties. We are calling it Pura Vida Elite.”

Kubala said she has secured a building permit, and Kaiser Construction has begun remodeling the place on Austin Avenue.

“We are hoping to be up and going by Nov. 1,” she said. “We are super excited and think it will be something fun and different, with great facilities for locals and out-of-town guests.”

In an interview, Kubala said she does not believe one location will siphon guests away from the other. She said at the former Wild West site, guests often stop by during their lunch hour for a quick massage, whereas the Austin Avenue spot will provide “the complete spa experience,” including relaxing “and spending 30 minutes in a hot tub.”

Gas prices fall

Gas prices continue to plunge in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, slipping yet another nickel during the past week, said the AAA Texas auto club in a statement. It said the statewide average for regular unleaded now sits at $2.39 a gallon.

“Gulf Coast refineries are making progress building toward resuming normal operations,” according to the statement. “But it could take some longer than others to return to pre-hurricane production rates. The Energy Information Administration reports that Gulf Coast capacity utilization rates are up since last week. As utilization rates increase, gas prices will drop.”

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