Traffic along Sixth and Eighth streets between Franklin and Interstate 35 is a mess. In a four-block area the everyday motorist must negotiate foot traffic from Waco’s largest tourist draw, overflow parking from one of our city’s largest employers, a major rail line and an emerging entertainment and shopping area.
To complicate matters, this particular area of town has precious little infrastructure to support the spike in traffic we’ve seen there over the past six months. There is little to no parking, precious few sidewalks and legions of television fans who know very little about navigating downtown Waco.
Last week the Trib published an insightful guest column by Lisa Hosack in which she extolled the popularity of “Fixer Upper,” the HGTV ratings juggernaut based here in Waco. We put the piece out on our Facebook page where faithful naysayers took aim at all the shoppers and pedestrians who now regularly frequent this part of town.
I respectfully ask the naysayers to think a little before griping. There is traffic and there is productive traffic. This area is full of the latter, and before we spend time griping about it, let’s find a way around it while city crews catch up on the infrastructure needs of the area.
There’s no bad guy here, folks. Problem? Sure. But it’s a great problem to have.
Magnolia Market, new home of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ emerging business empire and the spiritual home of “Fixer Upper” fans nationwide, is drawing 20,000 people every week to downtown Waco. The success of Magnolia Market, known as The Silos, exceeded all expectations — including that of the Gaines family circle, I suspect.
But it’s not just Magnolia Market mucking up traffic in the area. The Waco Regional Benefits Office of the Department of Veterans Affairs employs about 400 people at its facility across the street from Magnolia Market. The facility has inadequate parking onsite and employees scramble each day to find a place along Sixth or Eighth streets to park. The Findery, a new upscale shopping experience at Eighth and Webster, is drawing increasing numbers of customers — many from Magnolia Market — and The Backyard is one of Waco’s most popular venues for lunch, dinner and live music. We routinely see tour buses parked along Eighth Street, along with vendors who service the establishment.
This is my kind of traffic. Magnolia Market’s upscale customer base is overwhelmingly from outside the Waco trade zone, offering an infusion of tax dollars any city would envy. Shops inside the Findery are drawing their own loyal followings in addition to the overflow from Magnolia. The Backyard has a very good live music clientele. Oh, and lest we forget, those VA parking woes are caused by a federal workforce, complete with good-paying jobs and solid benefits.
What’s not to like?
When someone interrupts my commute, I get irritated. But even I can see there’s no real downside here. I find that Fifth Street, or 11th Street for that matter, gets me where I need to go in about the same time. I have gladly ceded the Sixth and Eighth street corridors to the good folks visiting our town and spending money here in Waco.
On Jan. 12, the newest “Fixer Upper” episode drew more than 5 million viewers and was one of the 15 highest-rated shows in HGTV history. There was no way to predict that level of success for the show or for the Magnolia Market area downtown. Perhaps we need to give the city a chance to catch up on sidewalks and walking paths around this area of town before we vent about dodging shoppers.
In the meantime, I invite commuters to join me on 11th Street and to recognize this traffic mess as the best possible problem a city can have.
Steve Boggs is editor of the Tribune-Herald. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.