The illegal drug trade appears to be behind the recent rash of shootings around Waco that continued this week, Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt said, and he said his department is working to stop it.
The number of shootings in Waco this month rose to at least seven Tuesday, when two men were shot in a car at the South Terrace public housing complex. A total of seven people have been wounded by gunfire and one has died in recent shootings in South, North and West Waco.
Holt said detectives, including some with Waco’s drug enforcement, gang and street crimes units are investigating the shootings and have found evidence of drug sales and distribution in all the cases.
“This is a big deal to us, because this is a big deal to our citizens,” Holt said. “We are bringing to bear the appropriate resources to get this stopped.”
He said several arrests have been made targeting the sale of illegal drugs and several of the recent shootings may be tied to the sale of drugs.
Waco police on Tuesday arrested Lewis Elton St. Julian Jr., 30, of Waco, at his home in the 2100 block of Ruidoso Street, on a first-degree felony charge of delivery of a controlled substance.
It was unknown if St. Julian’s arrest was tied to any of the recent shootings as each of the shootings remains under investigation.
“We can only go where the evidence takes us, and police work in and of itself is reactive in nature,” Holt said. “When we have these types of incidents, whether it is a shooting, a robbery or whatever, we are about gathering evidence and talking to people, and unfortunately when the crime surrounds the narcotics trade, very often as in this case, people who are involved are less than forthcoming.”
In the most recent shooting Tuesday, off-duty Waco officers working at the South Terrace complex heard gunshots around 9:30 p.m., Waco police Sgt. Patrick Swanton said. Officers discovered a man with a gunshot wound to his right arm in the 1200 block of Carter Drive before a second man came to a local hospital with a gunshot wound.
Victims told police that three people were sitting in a car at 200 Lyndon Circle when two men approached and began shooting into the car, police reported.
A victim who was struck in the back said he ran away from the vehicle as one of the gunmen chased him, but he made it to a friend’s house and was taken to the hospital, Swanton said.
The other gunshot victim said he initially ran away but circled back to the scene and was shot in the arm. A third man who was in the car also ran away and has not been accounted for, Swanton said, adding that he is not believed to be injured.
Police recovered “a large amount of narcotics” from the victims’ vehicle, Swanton said.
The shooting continued what police say was a pattern of violence in various parts of Waco this month.
Two people were shot and wounded Feb. 5 in the Mountainview neighborhood in West Waco, and more gunshots were reported about six hours later at a home in North Waco in the 3700 block of Ethel Avenue.
The North Waco home was targeted again by gunfire the next night. Police reported between 35 to 40 gunshots were fired into the home, but no injuries were reported.
Police reported another shooting near a residence at North 28th Street and Colonial Avenue at about 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 7. No injuries were reported in that shooting, and no suspect description was available.
Later in the night, three men were injured and one was killed in a shooting at a house near North 19th Street and Trice Avenue. Joangel Ortegon, 20, was found fatally wounded in the home.
Police said multiple spent casings of ammunition, along with drugs and firearms, were found in the home.
Also late Tuesday, police responded to a gunfire incident at Trendwood Apartments on Dallas Street in East Waco and found 11 casings and an apartment window that had been broken by a gunshot.
Holt said detectives are continuing to investigate the crimes, and the police department and other agencies are committed to ending the violence.
“The general public is no less safe today than they were five days ago when these things started, so long as you are not engaged in the narcotics trade,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we aren’t bringing the full resources of our department and our law enforcement together, because if people are shooting at each other in our community, we are going to get it stopped.”
The 17th Street Bridge has been short two lanes for about four months, and it will remain that way at least until engineers get a closer look. The closure is a precaution taken because of potential damage caused when a fire that destroyed a neighboring warehouse.
The Waco City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to hire CP&Y Inc. to determine the extent of the damage.
A fire early on the morning of Oct. 14 destroyed an unused building, which still housed agricultural chemicals, at 301 S. 17th St., just below the viaduct style bridge. The bridge, which spans from Webster to Franklin avenues, initially was completely shut down so city engineers and Texas Department of Transportation officials could inspect it, city officials said at the time.
A few days later, two of the bridge’s four lanes reopened, and officials said the city would need to hire a contractor for an in-depth analysis. They said there was no rush because the two lanes that remain open have sufficient capacity for the traffic the road sees.
The engineering study will guide the next steps, Assistant Director of Public Works Amy Burlarley-Hyland said.
“Once we get the contract with them and they get further into investigating exactly if, and how much damage we have due to the fire, we’ll have a better idea of how long it’s going to take to get it fixed and get those lanes open,” Burlarley-Hyland said. “We know the fire has affected it in that area, but until we do some testing and investigation those lanes are closed.”
Burlarley-Hyland said closing the lanes is mostly a precaution.
Fire can cause concrete and its steel reinforcements to expand then contract unevenly, potentially cracking concrete and warping and weakening structures.
Burlarley-Hyland said she does not expect the fire burned hot enough to affect the steel reinforcing bars in the bridge’s concrete, but if the bridge has taken damage, heavy loads could exacerbate it. The materials could also become brittle or deteriorate more quickly as a result of the flames.
“That can cause pieces of the concrete to crush and crumble because the rebar is pushing against it,” she said. “You can get some concrete falling off. If you have really intense fire, you can get some warping in metal parts of the structure.”
Class A office space probably does not exist in downtown Waco, but custom homebuilder Steve Sorrells aims at that designation with a project called 510 Collective that meshes private space with co-mingling opportunities.
His stage is the former Bank of America building at 510-518 Austin Ave., where he is making available 50,000 square feet to lessees with a pledge to finish-out individual units to user specifications. The building, in the heart of downtown and a block from the McLennan County Courthouse, will have a common area just inside the main entrance where people can rub elbows, chat or unwind.
“It’s getting fun now. We’re getting some good leasing activity,” Sorrells said. “Sometimes this is a hard property to get your head around, but we plan a lobby similar to a hotel lobby but with an office twist. It will become a neat spot that sets the tone for the quality of what we’re doing here. We’ll have a range of space, from floating areas with access to coffee service, Wi-Fi and conference rooms to permanent office space sized 10,000 to 15,000 square feet and everywhere in between.”
The banking complex, long under the Citizens brand, is flanked by what is left of the old Strand theater. Sorrells said he will incorporate the Strand and other structures “scabbed together” over the years at that address to create the office mecca called 510 Collective.
It will have a basement, elevator stops on five floors, a break room to “blow off steam and stretch your legs,” large and small conference areas and more. He said he will juxtapose historical elements with modern touches to create what he described as a “hip” finished product downtown.
“Steve is going to add an extra floor, which is under construction right now, and also is looking into the feasibility of having a rooftop area that would accommodate gatherings,” said Waco real estate agent Mike Meadows, who is marketing the site with Colt Kelly, both with Kelly Realtors.
Meadows said preleasing has started, and the property is attracting interest inside and outside the Waco market. He said talks continue with two prospects “who would take a considerable portion of the building.”
Lease rate for private offices is $28 per square foot per year, which includes tenant finish-out to building standards, Meadows said.
Rates for floating space remain under construction, Sorrells said.
The venue “is a prime example of a Class A office development at the very center of downtown Waco, proving fruitful for businesses and entrepreneurs alike,” according to a press release from Sorrells’ team, which includes San Angelo-based homebuilder Michael Biggerstaff.
They secured a $545,125 grant from Tax Increment Financing Zone No. 1 toward the $3.6 million project, said Melett Harrison, who oversees Waco’s economic development office. Harrison said 510 Collective was deemed a worthwhile step toward addressing a shortage of quality office space, as pinpointed in a downtown market study.
“If we want to create long-term economic opportunities downtown, we need residents, yes, we need tourists, yes, but we also need space where people can comfortably office, and we need to make use of these incredible, beautiful buildings,” said Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco.
“It’s an exciting and inspiring time in the heart of downtown, and business wants to be where the actions is, in the middle of Waco’s cultural renaissance,” Henderson said. “One thing I’ve learned in visiting other cities is that co-working spaces are not alone in offering value in collaboration. It’s valuable to all kinds of business. Having places where such co-mingling space has been baked into the layout has proven very effective.”
She said the opportunity to relax and enjoy a beverage with others during work breaks may contribute to productivity, creativity and buy-in.
Those who spoke with the Tribune-Herald said they believe 510 Collective does not represent competition for two downtown co-working venues: Waco Work, 600 Columbus Ave., which is privately owned and operated, and Hustle, 605 Austin Ave., the physical hub of Start Up Waco launched with backing from public and private entities, including the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Baylor University, Waco and McLennan County.
“This brings a new type of product into the community,” said Kris Collins, the chamber’s senior vice president for economic development. “At Hustle, all the private offices are occupied, which demonstrates strong demand for modern, updated office space among small, independent businesses. We don’t see Sorrells’ development competing with that. Steve is offering more individualized space than what we see at Hustle, which is a co-working environment with resources for early-stage business owners.”
Whatever the distinction, Collins sees 510 Collective as a welcome resource.
At WacoWork, community director Veronicka Thompson said the offerings there appear to be creating a loyal following.
“We have eight private offices at WacoWork and have been at capacity for a few months, but an office will be available soon,” she said in an email. “We receive inquiries for our private offices on a regular basis and currently have a waiting list of people to reach out to when offices do become available.”
Specifically addressing co-working space, WacoWork has room to grow.
“We offer everything from day passes to membership options with 24/7 access to the space, so we strive to cater our membership options to the business needs of potential members,” Thompson wrote.
Seth Morris, the chamber’s vice president for economic development, said his research suggests there is no Class A office space downtown.
The chamber has access to data compiled by Business Owners and Managers Association, which gives the Class A ranking to only two properties in Greater Waco: Woodway Medical Plaza, 6101 Woodway Drive, which is associated with Ascension Providence, and Baylor Scott & White McClinton Cancer Center, 150 Hillcrest Medical Boulevard, Morris said. Both properties are full, he said.
“These rankings are never 100% accurate, and they are relative and must be taken with a grain of salt,” Morris said. “There are other buildings you and I might consider Class A, but this is according to BOMA.”
Greater Waco is home to 3.7 million square feet of what the association classifies as Class B office space. About 160,000 square feet, or 4%, is vacant and available for occupancy, Morris said.
Waco real estate agent Jim Peevey, who markets property downtown, said he has no quarrel with those findings.
“The Roosevelt is close to Class A, to some degree,” Peevey said, referencing the Roosevelt Tower at Fourth Street and Austin Avenue. “I’ve had buildings that are Class A in terms of upkeep and management. The landlord does a fantastic job, but straight-up Class A is a different breed.”
Quality downtown office space remains elusive, Peevey said.
“I have clients needing 4,000 to 8,000 square feet, and I’m still working on it,” he said. “The downtown market has tightened up considerably.”
The Business Owners and Managers Association website states the office space classes represent a “subjective quality rating of buildings” intended to encourage standardization of discussion surrounding a market and the “conditions that differentiate among the classes.”
“A combination of factors including rent, building finishes, system standards and efficiency, building amenities, location/accessibility and market perception are used as relative measures,” according to the site.
It also states the organization “does not recommend the publishing of a classification rating for individual properties.”
DENVER — Sen. Bernie Sanders’ robust start in the race for the presidential nomination is triggering alarm among congressional Democrats, with many warning that a ticket headed by the self-declared socialist could be devastating to the party’s chances of winning the Senate and holding the House in November.
In anxious huddles around the Capitol, apprehensive Democrats are sharing their worries that Sanders’ socialist label and unyielding embrace of controversial proposals like “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal will repel voters in the affluent, moderate districts that flipped House control in 2018 and in closely divided states where Republican senators are vulnerable.
The Vermont independent narrowly won New Hampshire Tuesday on the heels of a strong showing in Iowa and is widely seen as a front-runner, along with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“I’m a proud capitalist,” said freshman Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, in pointed contrast with Sanders. McAdams, who is supporting former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and whose Salt Lake City district will be among the toughest for Democrats to defend, said having a liberal like Sanders atop his party’s ticket “would probably give me more opportunities to show my independence” from the party.
Another freshman from a competitive district, Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said Democrats need a presidential nominee who “doesn’t scare all those future former Republicans more than Trump scares them.” And while acknowledging that Republicans plan to tar all Democrats with the socialist label, ”There’s one candidate for whom that would not be a lie.”
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who backs the candidacy of former Vice President Joe Biden, warned a group of Democratic voters this week in Carson City, Nevada, that with Sanders atop the ticket, “you’re not going to take back the Senate. There’s not any way, because everybody’s going to be tarred with the same brush. We will probably lose seats in the House.”
In private conversations, other Democrats are more succinct. One House Democrat said colleagues from swing districts are scared by the prospects of a Sanders nomination, while another said moderates are increasingly concerned that a Sanders candidacy would devastate their prospects for winning the White House and retaining the House. The lawmakers insisted on anonymity to describe private conversations.
Democrats’ jitters have Republicans rubbing their hands in delight.
“It’s every Republican’s dream come true,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a former leader of the House GOP’s campaign committee, said of a possible Sanders nomination.
Republicans face an uphill fight in capturing control of the House, which Democrats lead 232-197, with one independent and five vacancies. The GOP controls the Senate 53-47 and is favored to retain its majority.
Biden supporters are happy to use apprehension about Sanders’ impact on the party’s strength in Congress as a tool for drumming up support.
Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., who’s endorsed Biden, said if Sanders were nominated, Democrats from moderate districts “might actually have to run away from our nominee to get elected.” And he added, ”It’s highly unlikely that Bernie Sanders will moderate his views, either.”
Congressional Democrats have little to gain by openly disparaging the man who could well be their presidential nominee, and they say they’re uncertain what they could do that would be effective. Any move to derail his candidacy that could be traced back to them would undoubtedly enrage Sanders and his impassioned supporters and risk the fury that split the party in 2016, when some Sanders backers never supported Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.
Underscoring a reluctance to speak critically of Sanders, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., chairwoman of House Democrats’ campaign arm, sidestepped questions about how his nomination would affect her candidates’ prospects. “We have a long way to go before we know who our nominee is,” she said.
Asked how many nervous lawmakers have expressed their worries about Sanders to her, Bustos paused for four seconds before answering, “We have discussions about the nominee but, you know, it runs the gamut.”
While many Democrats are reluctant to openly express dismay about Sanders, members of the House have spoken with their feet.
According to the website fivethirtyeight.com, Sanders has endorsements from only seven House members, all members of the progressive caucus from safely Democratic districts. Biden, in contrast, has backing from 41 House members, and has made a point of touting support from seven lawmakers from swing districts. Bloomberg, who hopes to poach Biden’s position as the moderate alternative to Sanders, has racked up 11 endorsements from House lawmakers, five of whom occupy swing seats.
Progressives argue the fears are overblown. Republicans tried to tie Democrats to socialism and liberal causes like Medicare for All during the 2018 campaign, they note, yet Democrats won a resounding majority in the House. And they argue that nominating Sanders could change the electorate in ways that help the party.
“They don’t want somebody that sells out,” said Sanders backer Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., a member of the “squad” of young liberal freshmen. She added, “Please don’t talk about only persuading Trumpers and independents” to be open to an alternative candidate. “How about persuading the Democrats that haven’t been engaged.”
“The single most important thing for Democrats to take back the Senate is turnout,” said Mike Lux, a liberal strategist who supports Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the presidential race. “We have to have a highly energized Democratic base turnout, a lot of young people coming out, voting not just in the presidential race but further down the ballot.”
Yet Sanders’ agenda is far from shared. Several top-tier Democratic Senate recruits, such as former astronaut Mark Kelly in Arizona, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham in North Carolina and former Gov. John Hickenlooper in Colorado, have explicitly distanced themselves from core Sanders positions like Medicare for All.
Hickenlooper, the likely Democratic nominee against Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, targeted Sanders during his own brief bid for the party’s presidential nomination last year. At a Democratic debate last summer, Hickenlooper warned that Sanders’ program would be “a disaster” at the ballot box.
“If you force Americans to make these radical changes,” Hickenlooper said, “they’re not going to go along.”
Gardner, widely considered the most endangered Republican senator, has been openly pining for Sanders to be the nominee. “In 2018, Cory said ‘the most dangerous thing to happen in America in the 2016 presidential election was Bernie Sanders’ normalization of socialism,’” Gardner campaign spokesman Jerrod Dobkin said. “Two years later, Cory’s been proven right.”
Democrats skeptical of Sanders stressed that the nominating process has just begun.
Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who is considered the most endangered Democratic Senate incumbent this year, has endorsed Biden, a longtime friend. He said he wouldn’t play “what-if games” about the top of the ticket and how it might affect his chances in deep-red Alabama.
“I still think that Biden is going to be the nominee,” Jones said. “I still think that moderate voice that’s out there is going to ultimately carry.”
City Center Waco may hire someone to act as hall monitor for downtown Waco, recording the location of eyesores like trash and bird droppings and reporting them back to City Center Waco’s office.
During a meeting Wednesday, members of the Downtown Public Improvement District board, which would pay for the position, learned of hurdles preventing other PID partners from filling the role. City Center Waco likely will look to hire someone for the new position in the spring, said James Clifton, who represents the Dr Pepper Museum on the PID board.
“It could be landscaping problems, it could be torn banners, anything they notice that doesn’t look right. At the end of the day or during the day they can call in to the office,” Clifton said. “It’s basically a person out there who can be a presence for security, be a presence if a visitor has a question, but mainly to be eyes on the ground.”
The board budgeted $59,000 this year for “clean and safe” services, which includes security guards, graffiti cleanup and bird dropping cleanup. In previous years, the board budgeted between $5,000 and $15,000 for graffiti abatement.
“There’s more in the ‘clean and safe’ direction, as that’s about 50%, 60% of the budget,” board President Peter Ellis said.
The PID is funded by a surtax of 10 cents per $100 of property value assessed on businesses in the district.
Reports of graffiti increased significantly last year, though it was difficult for the board to tell if the uptick was simply a result of more eyeballs on downtown’s buildings as foot traffic from tourism increased, officials have said.
The board initially tried to leverage security guards already working for in the PID under contract, asking them to report messes as they performed their duties, but it proved ineffective.
“During the daytime, part of the duty was being performed by the security contractor,” Clifton said. “We weren’t getting any information, it just didn’t work out. So we looked to contract with someone else in town.”
After that plan folded, the PID worked with Waco Tours for several months in an attempt to get their employees to do the same thing, but that arrangement was not ideal either, he said.
“They decided they didn’t want to do it, and we haven’t been able to find anyone else, so we just need to take it on ourselves,” Clifton said.
Lisa Torgersen, owner of Lawns Ltd., gave a presentation detailing how her company maintains 111 square blocks of unused lots and alleys in downtown for the PID. She said her workers are not under contract for trash pickup but often end up cleaning up loose trash while they mow, weed and edge.
“We’re having more trash overflow where it’s no one’s job to pick up trash,” Torgersen said. “It’s not our guys’ job, but we can’t pass by it so we keep picking it up.”
She said maintaining the alleys in particular has become more challenging as foot traffic in downtown has increased.
“We have a lot more people who are living there and a lot more people looking at what our downtown looks like, so we have to take care of that,” Torgersen said.