The city of Waco and its downtown partners are teaming up on a cleanup effort that could put Bruce Huff out of business. And he’d be happy to see it.
Huff, 63, is a regular sight downtown, picking up trash as he leans on his cane or sits in his scooter.
A retired entrepreneur who has multiple sclerosis, Huff has spent the past year on a one-man crusade against unsightly litter that greets visitors in the downtown area.
“I got to thinking, who wants to come to Waco and see all this trash?” he said Tuesday afternoon, sitting on his scooter at a Webster Avenue trolley stop a few blocks from Magnolia Market.
“It’s very frustrating. No one seems to be willing to admit the fact that there’s trash out there. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. It should be attended to every day.”
Officials with the city and City Center Waco say they are making a full-court press this month to spruce up downtown and they are ready to spend money to keep it clean.
City parks workers and members of Baylor’s Kappa Omega Tau service fraternity have been cleaning bird-splattered sidewalks, removing trash, cutting overgrown bushes and making minor repairs for about the past two weeks.
For example, the fraternity members removed tree grates along Austin Avenue and dug out accumulated trash, replacing it with mulch. City workers then cut the holes in the grates to widen the space for the trees.
To maintain this month’s momentum, the downtown Public Improvement District will consider tripling the budget it already has for downtown sanitation and landscape maintenance starting in October.
City Center Waco executive director Megan Henderson, who staffs the downtown PID, said the growth of downtown attractions has given beautification efforts new urgency.
‘What visitors are seeing’
“You have additional traffic and trash and more stuff going on, but you’re also thinking, ‘Is this what visitors are seeing?’ ” Henderson said. “You see things with fresh eyes when there’s a lot of people here for the first time.”
The Public Improvement District currently spends $41,000 a year on general cleaning, landscaping and maintenance. Cleanups typically occur once a month, or twice a month in heavily visited areas, she said.
Henderson said the PID board next Monday will consider experimenting with more frequent cleanup service through a temporary agreement with its contractor, Lawns Ltd. In about three months, the PID would rewrite the maintenance contract and put it out for bid again.
The PID was created in 1988 to pay for extra services in the core of downtown through an extra 10 cents per $100 surtax on properties in the district. As property values have escalated downtown, so has the PID fund.
Ten years ago, the PID brought in about $130,000 a year. Last year, it brought in $350,000. This year, after a controversial reappraisal of property values across downtown, PID officials are expecting nearly $500,000 in revenue.
“PID revenues have increased significantly, which changes what they’re capable of,” Henderson said. “It doesn’t mean those are dollars to do crazy things with. It does mean applying new dollars to priorities the PID already has standards for. First and foremost, that’s to make downtown clean and safe.”
Huff said trash has been a problem in downtown for decades, and people’s personal littering habits are hard to change. But he hopes this new push will do the trick, he said.
In an address to Waco City Council last month, Huff said he is proud of what Magnolia Market is doing for downtown but also embarrassed by what visitors see. Huff said he is willing to do his part in making other people ashamed of the mess.
“It starts with me, a cripple, picking up trash for someone who wants to have the convenience of throwing it out of their car,” he said.
In an interview, City Manager Dale Fisseler said Huff’s words rang true.
“When I heard that, I said to myself, ‘I agree.’ ” Fisseler said.