A new Chili’s Grill & Bar will go up at Bagby Avenue and South Valley Mills Drive, in the development site anchored by a Gander Mountain outdoors store that has seen the arrival of several other restaurants.

The future of the Chili’s location in Parkdale shopping center at North Valley Mills Drive and Bosque Boulevard remains up in the air. A local real estate agent that markets that retail complex said Brinker International, the corporate parent of Chili’s, is weighing whether to operate two locations locally or close the Parkdale eatery when its lease expires in two years.

Bobby Horner, a plans examiner for the city of Waco, confirmed that Chili’s has submitted site plans calling for construction of a 6,000-square-foot building adjacent to the Zoe’s Kitchen nearly complete on the South Waco site.

The city has issued a building permit placing the value of the building at $1.25 million, and land preparation has begun.

Chili’s, known for its burgers, salads and Tex-Mex menu items, opened its first Waco location in 1992. It has developed a loyal following, with sizable lunchtime and dinner crowds, especially on Fridays and weekends.

Observers of the local real estate scene said the chain apparently wants to join the growing retail and restaurant action along the Interstate 35 corridor in Waco. Last year, the H-E-B grocery chain opened its largest store in the Central Texas market at South Valley Mills Drive and the I-35 frontage road, right across Valley Mills Drive from the Gander Mountain-anchored center.

Chris Gutierrez, with Texas Commercial & Industrial Real Estate Services, helped Dallas-based Leon Capital secure the former University High School site on which Gander Mountain, Starbucks, Bubba’s 33 and Potbelly Sandwich Works have built.

“I think Chili’s is interested in locating there for the same reason Leon Capital wanted the land in the first place,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a great retail corner with great accessibility, and is attractive to both the daytime and nighttime population.”

Gutierrez said it is his understanding the dining establishments there are doing well.

“I know I tried to get into Bubba’s the other day, and I couldn’t because of the crowd,” he said with a laugh.

Lisa Abad, assistant manager at Potbelly Sandwich Works, described business there as pretty good and getting better.

“We have a lot of Baylor students coming by,” she said of a growing customer base now that school is back in session.

She said Bubba’s 33, which advertises its beer, burgers and pizza, “is always busy” after it opens at 4 p.m. and stays open late.

“I’m excited about Zoe’s because they specialize in Mediterranean food,” said Abad, adding she is a fan of Chili’s and dines there often. “I think Chili’s will attract even more customers to the center and provide a little competition.”

With Chili’s being a sit-down restaurant, Abad said she’s not worried it will damage her sandwich shop.

No decision yet

Real estate agent Pat Farrar, who markets Parkdale — home to Hobby Lobby, Drug Emporium and Dickey’s Barbecue in addition to Chili’s — said Chili’s representatives have indicated they don’t yet know whether the Parkdale location will close.

“I was told they really have not decided whether to keep both,” he said, confirming the lease expires in two years.

He said he would have no trouble filling the vacant Chili’s building should the chain decide to shutter it.

“I know of people champing at the bit to get in there, and already have had offers,” Farrar said. “But I’m not marketing the building because, of course, Chili’s is still there and may not be leaving for awhile.”

Farrar said Bosque Boulevard at Valley Mills Drive “is one of the prime intersections in Waco.”

Commercial real estate specialist Jim Peevey, who is not involved in marketing Parkdale or the Gander Mountain-anchored site, said, “Obviously Chili’s sees the need to be on Interstate 35, where a lot of development is going on, including that at Central Texas Marketplace and on properties we marketed for the Waco Independent School District.”

Chick-fil-A built a new store at South Seventh Street and Interstate 35, on land the WISD sold as surplus property. Twisted Root, a burger chain, is remodeling the formerly WISD-owned Texas Playhouse Theater on I-35 near University Parks Drive.

“The Interstate 35 corridor is a huge draw right now, especially any property near downtown,” Peevey added.

Real estate agent Brad Davis said he sees the existing Chili’s serving the far North Valley Mills Drive market that includes older neighborhoods, whereas a new one would pick up customers from Baylor University and Interstate 35.

He said company’s such as Chili’s easily can determine whether one location is “cannibalizing” another, and it likely will make a decision on the future of its restaurant in Parkdale shopping center based on such information.

Chili’s would not become the first restaurant to open a second location in Greater Waco. Other sit-down establishments with multiple locations include George’s Restaurant & Bar, Poppa Rollo’s, Heitmiller’s Steakhouse, El Conquistador and Uncle Dan’s Barbecue.

Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, now with a location on Hewitt Drive, is building a second on I-35 near Chick-fil-A.

Calls to Brinker International for comment on the new Chili’s were not returned.

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