In a move to honor a man who dedicated two decades to East Waco’s revitalization, a group is requesting to have a street renamed in his honor as a small gesture to keep his actions alive in history.
The city of Waco’s planning and zoning department has approved a request to rename Pleasant Street, from Elm Avenue to Taylor Street, to honor businessman and civic leader Douglas C. Brown. The request will go before the city council at its first meeting in August.
Councilman Wilbert Austin and Brown’s children, Sam Brown and Cathy Turner, worked on the request. Douglas C. Brown died in September 2009 at age 67 from an acute form of leukemia.
“I think he was kind of a man before his time when it comes to his optimism and love of East Waco,” Sam Brown said.
Austin, whose district includes East Waco, said he has had the idea for a while to rename a street, but it is difficult to find one that doesn’t affect too many homeowners or businesses. This portion fits the bill.
“Mr. Brown had a vision and he implemented his vision until God called him home,” Austin said. “I felt like this man could have put his money into anything or saved it in the bank, but instead of doing that, he wanted to do something to revitalize East Waco.
The Brown family has been in Waco for multiple generations.
Sam Brown said that in 1953, his grandfather, C.M. Brown, moved his business onto Elm Avenue. Douglas C. Brown purchased the business from C.M. a few years later, and C.M. Brown Produce Co. was born.
Douglas Brown was able to see what an area could be versus where it was headed, Sam Brown said.
It was in the early 1980s when his father began to notice that only businesses that brought a negative perception to the area were being developed, he said.
Concerned for the direction development was heading, Douglas Brown took it upon himself during a span of two decades to purchase about 20 buildings and another 10 to 15 underdeveloped properties in East Waco.
He searched out property owners who no longer lived in the area but had dilapidated buildings still standing and purchased the land, Sam Brown said.
Douglas Brown was able to secure a portion of connected pieces of land to hold until the right development came.
He worked to persuade the city to devote more attention and resources to reviving the area, and at one point filed a lawsuit against the Tax Increment Financing Zone board, claiming the inner-city revitalization board was neglecting East Waco in favor of downtown Waco. A judge ruled he did not have standing in the case.
He didn’t just buy property, but was a part of area organizations, including serving with the Boys and Girls Club, Downtown Waco Inc., the Eastern Waco Development Corp., the Public Improvement District board and the downtown Rotary Club.
“At that time, his vision became, ‘I want to have one big parcel of property ready to go when the city is ready to refocus on Elm,’ ” Sam Brown said. “Seems like he was a few years too early.”
Sam Brown said he and his sister now own the parcels of land and regularly talk to developers and the city in hopes of selling to someone who shares their father’s vision. He said others have accused them of holding on to the property for “big money.”
“We really feel like we’re truly trustees of this gift of history and heritage,” Sam Brown said. “I just think my sister and I are so fortunate that the timing has so much focus on downtown because I’d love to have someone come around with the right plan for us to relinquish it.”
With the excitement of Baylor University’s new McLane Stadium ready to open at the end of August and activities already being planned there, Sam Brown said he can envision this portion of East Waco tapping into that progress.
The Brown family shares a vision of a development that combines culture, the arts, retail and living space, he said.
“We picture this to be an area where you can listen to local musicians, eat good food from all parts of the world; we’re not picturing a big retail national chain development,” he said.
The family has sold only two parcels of the land Douglas Brown acquired: one to Lula Jane’s bakery and the other to Dana Feliciano for her herb shop, The Village Herbalist.
Both businesses brought something new to the area and to Waco, Sam Brown said, adding they have become attractions for East Waco.
Turner, who now lives in Carrollton, said her father always hoped East Waco would be revitalized to what it once was: the center of business.
She said she hopes to see the area flourish with people who own and run businesses and restaurants and have a love for that part of town.
There is a lot of history in the area and it’s a great location because it is convenient to the river, close to Baylor and accessible from several locations off Interstate 35, she said.
“Being down there in the evenings, it’s just really pretty,” she said.
Turner said she thinks it is thoughtful of Austin to help move this change along.
“He likes to give lots of credit to my dad, and I think my dad would have turned around and gave lots of credit to Councilman Austin,” she said.
Austin said Douglas Brown’s children fell right in his footsteps and are “two of the finest, generous children there is.”
“Sometimes I wonder now what Waco would be without the Browns,” Austin said.
He said Douglas Brown never cared about the color of a person’s skin and aimed to help anyone in need.
For 15 years, Douglas Brown helped struggling families in the area around the holidays.
“There were kids who weren’t going to have Christmas and he found out about it through me and he would personally pick them up and buy them a bicycle or something,” Austin said.
A street named in his honor is the least they can do, he said.
“History will teach people who Douglas C. Brown was.”