At long last, the TFNB Your Bank for Life branch in downtown Waco will open to the public, more than two-and-a-half years after construction started.

For reference, it took less time to build Baylor University’s $266 million, 45,000-seat McLane Stadium.

But the extended life of the construction phase aside, the bank and adjacent parking sprawl along Eighth Street and Cleveland Avenue. The building’s two stories feature a galvanized steel roof, stone facade, cavernous interior, a second-floor mezzanine, circular light fixtures descending from the ceiling and granite teller tops. It is not one of those “banking cafes” featured in TV commercials but will have a “free-flowing” interior layout with a casual feel, a coffee cafe and wireless accommodations. At 15,000 square feet, it will have executive offices, a training center or two and a community room encircling the second floor for use by local groups, bank leaders have previously said.

Then there’s the towering message board, which often blinks plugs for Charity Champions, a cause near to the heart of TFNB President David Littlewood.

Littlewood has remained mum about how much the bank is spending on the branch, its fourth location in Greater Waco. Littlewood cautiously has described it as a multimillion-dollar project.

Just up Eighth Street, construction is proceeding on a coffee shop Chip and Joanna Gaines will open as just one piece of much larger addition planned for Magnolia Market at the Silos. Also nearby, food and drink joints are popping up all over, with Andy’s Frozen Custard scheduled to open Tuesday.

TFNB, meanwhile, will host the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s “Business After Hours” from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 24.

“Great food and beverages, live music, and tours of our spectacular spaces,” says the chamber’s glossy invitation on behalf of TFNB. “We look forward to welcoming you in our new downtown Waco location.”

‘Front porch’ plaza

City Center Waco is getting serious about its planned development near Elm Avenue, the Waco Suspension Bridge and the massive hole being gouged by earth movers to accommodate three new hotels. Planners have said the project is intended to turn a stretch of Bridge Street into the city’s “front porch.”

Through the local office of the Associated General Contractors of America, City Center is soliciting requests for a so-called Construction Manager at Risk to oversee the estimated $4 million project. Responses to the request for qualifications are due Friday. City Center Waco will choose a construction manager Sept. 26, according to the association newsletter.

“Timing is especially critical for this project because of the speed with which adjacent developments are moving,” the newsletter states.

The project would sit between the three planned hotels and a planned apartment complex and stretch from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Mann Street. Elements would include a walkway from near the Suspension Bridge to Bridge Street, architectural features and landscaping along the 100 block of Bridge Street, a festival street in the 200 block of Bridge Street easily closed to vehicular traffic, a festival area created by tweaking the right-of-way for Mann Street, an entertainment plaza with elements both north and south of the reworked block of Mann Street, and on- and off-street parking to accommodate festivals and community activities.

Gaineses at South by Southwest

What do Chip and Joanna Gaines have in common with comedian Cheech Marin, former Nintendo of America COO Reggie Fils-Aime and rocker Kim Gordon, bassist and vocalist with the Sonic Youth?

All will speak at the 2020 South by Southwest Conference and Festivals scheduled March 13-22 in Austin. Chip and Joanna Gaines, of Magnolia and “Fixer Upper” fame, are listed among the almost 20 featured speakers.

Gas prices

Hard to believe, but gas prices have slipped below $2 a gallon locally.

The Murphy USA station at Imperial and Hewitt drives was selling regular unleaded for $1.99 a gallon Saturday. Earlier in the week it was down to $1.95 a gallon. The Sam’s Club in Bellmead hit $2 a gallon on the nose Saturday, while Valero stores all over Greater Waco pegged $2.05 a gallon.

Asked about the dive to $1.95, GasBuddy petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan said in an email at midweek, “It’s among the cheapest 1% of stations in the U.S. The lowest price right now is $1.84 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

Prices may rise slightly short-term before dipping again, DeHaan said.

“They may rise slightly for a week or two as oil has rebounded closer to $60, but more downward moves will happen starting in late-September as we switch back to cheaper winter gasoline,” he wrote. “And yes, if there’s a trade deal between the U.S. and China that could spark slightly higher prices this winter.”

Industry observers believe a trade deal would lead to increased demand, pushing up gasoline prices.

The Greater Waco average price for regular unleaded stood at $2.14 a gallon on Saturday, according to GasBuddy.com. That is 16 cents below the $2.30 a month earlier and 40 cents below the $2.54 a year ago.

Restaurants reopening

The Panda Express on Bosque Boulevard, in the Target parking lot, and the Chipotle Mexican Grill on North Valley Mills Drive closed temporarily last week. Panda Express closed for remodeling, and Chipotle closed because of a wayward vehicle that gashed the building’s west side, the scar now covered with building materials.

Chipotle reopened Saturday. Panda was scheduled to do the same Sunday, according to a sign from the company posted on the door.

Restaurant operator

Guy Boutilier has been named CEO of a company that operates Cricket’s Draft House & Grill, DiamondBack’s restaurant and The Hall at River Square Center.

Boutillier is co-founder of the Uncle Julio’s Mexican Restaurants chain now found in 10 states, and he joined in opening Mi Chula’s Good Mexican Restaurant in the Dallas-Fort Worth area once upon a time.

Boutilier will soon be relocating to Waco, said Michael Kornman, managing partner of Dallas-based NCK Capital LLC.

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