A Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers restaurant will go up at South Ninth Street and Interstate 35, where structure demolition has begun on several blocks for a new development that will include fast-food restaurants, stores, student housing and possibly hotels.
“Fast food will take the 4.5 acres nearest the interstate, and we’ve made a deal with Freddy’s for about 2.5 acres and will look for something to complement it,” said Waco real estate agent Bland Cromwell, who is marketing an 11-acre tract along I-35 from South Eighth to 11th streets.
Downtown developers Shane and Cody Turner spent several years assembling the tract from scores of commercial and residential properties, including some occupied homes. The site wraps around Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church on I-35.
Elsewhere near downtown, the Clarion Hotel Waco at South Fourth Street and I-35 has fallen to the wrecking ball, and crews are sorting through the debris for scrap metal. A vacant convenience store next door also will be demolished, as Dallas-based DuWest Realty pursues tenants for the site.
It reportedly will make space available to retailers and restaurants wanting to lease 1,500 to 6,000 square feet, according to the DuWest website. Tenants for the site have not been determined, but DuWest reportedly is negotiating with the popular California-based In-N-Out Burger chain.
Cromwell describes the project he is representing as “redevelopment” that should pump life into a tired zone whose western edge touches 11th Street near the Kate Ross Homes housing complex. At nearly the opposite end of the site, a Chick-fil-A has been built on the former Sul Ross Elementary School site, which is part of yet another development.
Ora Lee Dean, who has lived on South 10th Street for 35 years, was briskly walking Friday to her job at Long John Silver’s on Sixth Street.
She said she has mixed emotions about the changing face of her neighborhood, once filled with families whose now vacant homes face destruction. She said her block has become a lonelier place as it has emptied in the past year or so, some residents accepting deals on their properties and moving out.
“For some folks, this is a good thing,” said Dean, 63. “For some, it isn’t.”
She has not received an offer on her home and is not inclined to move, saying she simply wants what is best for her family, particularly her grand- children.
Drew Garcia, 42, who lives at 807 S. 10th St., shook his head and described as “gruesome” the lingering presence of the boarded-up homes.
He said the restaurants and retail establishments likely will create jobs, and new apartments will serve the growing student population at Baylor University. He said he thinks money invested in the area could provide a stimulus to those still living there to keep their homes in better repair. “But I’m not sure how much better the neighborhood can get considering how close it is to this area behind us,” he said, referring to Kate Ross Homes, which has housed low-income residents since the middle of the 20th century.
He said he will hope for the best, and would welcome the opportunity to consider an offer on his residence.
Gary Moore, executive director of the Waco Housing Authority, which manages Kate Ross Homes, said he has met with representatives of the proposed development and shared with them information about the complex’s crime rate, which he said is comparable to that of the general area. He said the development group has expressed no interest in acquiring the sprawling Kate Ross facility. Javier Ponce, 38, who lives with his wife and three children on South 10th Street, said the neighborhood “could use a change of scenery.” He said he has lived in the area about 13 years, witnessed his share of drug dealing and watched many homes go vacant for a variety of reasons.
“Is this something positive? I think it is,” Cromwell said. “Sure, some people living there have been uprooted, and I understand concerns about that. But I believe the situation is market-driven. I do not believe the highest and best use of the property anymore is single-family residential housing.”
He said construction on the new Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers should begin as soon as on-site demolition has been completed.
Work along I-35 is progressing just as an Austin developer has launched construction on 36 “modular” apartments on the former campus of Waco Independent School District’s Alternative School, 805 S. Eighth St. Those units are expected to open in 2015 as the first phase of the 2.5-acre West Campus Lofts.
West Campus Lofts is part of a rapidly redeveloping section of downtown that borders I- 35 near Baylor. West Campus Lofts is across Eighth Street from the Tinsley Place townhouse project, which will have more than 200 units.
Meanwhile, the project being promoted by Cromwell will include a 75-unit “upscale” student housing project by Gore Creek Partners of Houston. It will take shape along Cleveland Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets, Cromwell said.