For many tourists coming to shop in Waco, the view of Webster Avenue west of the Magnolia Silos makes a lousy first impression.
Visitors to the Silos and other nearby retail destinations routinely park along that stretch between Seventh and 11th streets. But city officials say those visitors tend to walk in the street rather than on the weedy, broken sidewalks.
“I’m not even sure you can call these sidewalks,” said Jim Reed, a city capital improvement manager who gave the downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board a tour of the area Thursday.
The TIF board voted afterward to spend $1.3 million to extend lighted, landscaped sidewalks down four blocks of Webster and a block of Ninth Street.
Once completed in June 2019, the project will make a dent in the long list of downtown sidewalks that need to be replaced.
Like other the sidewalks the TIF has funded over the years, these will be enhanced with antique-style lamp posts, street trees and accessibility ramps. The sidewalks along both sides of Webster will be 9 to 10 feet wide, while the block of Ninth Street between Webster and Clay will have a standard 6-foot sidewalk, Reed said.
The project will also include building new curbs, gutters and drains. Reed said officials are also talking to local utility companies about possibly burying overhead wires to reduce the visual clutter and the guy wires that create a tripping hazard.
He said the sudden emergence of the Silos as one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions has caused city officials to scramble to upgrade pedestrian facilities.
“We think it’s a very important project,” he said. “Things have accelerated in that area faster than we had the money and time to address it.”
Earlier this year, Magnolia used TIF funds to build more than two blocks of lighted sidewalk down Sixth Street, connecting it to Mary Avenue Market and other new downtown businesses.
Reed said the new sidewalk will benefit not only Magnolia shoppers but those visiting The Findery and the Backyard.
“We want to take this opportunity to welcome people to Waco, whether they’re going to the Yoga Bar, The Findery, Balcones or the Backyard,” Reed said.
The sidewalk on the block of Ninth Street will serve as a dropoff point for local and out-of-town buses carrying visitors to the “Silo district,” he said.
Elm Avenue project
The TIF board on Thursday also pitched in more money for another major pedestrian project across the river.
The board recommended increasing the TIF’s commitment toward the Elm Avenue streetscape project from $956,200 to almost $1.3 million.
The Texas Department of Transportation committed this fall to fund the majority of the $3.8 million project, which will create new lighted, landscaped sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of Elm Avenue.
But that local match was calculated based on McLennan County’s official status as an “economically disadvantaged” county. In September, the county lost that status because of improvements in property values and employment.
That change in status lost the city $334,800 in state and federal funds.
Economic development director Melett Harrison urged the TIF board to approve the additional money, noting that state and federal governments are still paying for 66 percent of the project.
“This is a much-needed project, and the neighborhood is really excited about it,” Harrison said.
The TIF board voted unanimously to recommend the funding, which must be approved by the Waco City Council.