The porch of the Gospel Cafe on South 10th Street affords visitors a grand view of the demolition going on right across Cleveland Avenue. A yellow bulldozer knocks down trees with a mild grunt, leveling them and then scraping the ground to provide room for a pair of hotels and maybe a sit-down restaurant.
It’s a scene that has played out often the past couple of years, as aging rent houses and out buildings fall between South Ninth and South 11th streets, Cleveland Avenue and Interstate 35. But now the work has made its way almost to the doorstep of Gospel Cafe, where about 200 people a day show up to eat and visit.
“It’s capitalism at its best and it’s a good thing and a bad thing in the long run,” said John Cowley, a spokesman for Gospel Cafe, which is a ministry of CrossTies Ecumenical Church.
Cowley said a few regulars who frequented the cafe lost their homes, and he wonders if others in the low-income neighborhood will feel welcome.
“We’re going to stay here and continue to operate for as long as we can, but eventually we’re going to be surrounded by development that is not always amenable to poor people standing around,” Cowley said. “It physically hurts to see the neighborhood cleared, to see houses occupied by people you know torn down.
“But I’m sure that’s true for a thousand other developed locations over the years.”
Cowley said he’s not against progress, and developers bought two lots owned by the cafe and its financial supporters, paying what Cowley described as a fair price, though he would not reveal it.
Backers of the cafe held back from selling one tract, located at South 10th Street and Cleveland Avenue. If the time were to come that CrossTies is persuaded to sell the Gospel Cafe building to developers, this nearby land could become part of the deal and meet the parking needs of a small store or restaurant.
Land cleared in recent days nearest the Gospel Cafe will accommodate a 110-room La Quinta del Sol, which local hotelier Raju Patel will own and operate. Patel has described the hotel as a top-tier concept of La Quinta, one that will replace the La Quinta near Baylor University that the widening of Interstate 35 will take.
The hotel reportedly will stand four stories high, and city planners reportedly were preparing to consider an exemption if the proposed height of the hotel exceeded code. Waco’s planning department said this week that matter is no longer an issue, and review by the Waco Plan Commission is not necessary.
Patel is out of the country and not available for comment, said his wife, Kalpana Patel, reached at Waco’s new Candlewood Suites, which they own.
“I would refer comment to my husband, but the best estimate I have on the new La Quinta is that it will open sometime in 2017,” Kalpana Patel said.
Another hotel reportedly will be built near the La Quinta, but developers have not yet identified the brand under which it will operate.
With land deals and demolition drawing to a close in this South Waco neighborhood, construction comes next. Acres of land between South 10th and 11th streets found new owners about a month ago, ending four years of negotiations involving developers Shane and Cody Turner, Waco restaurateur Sammy Citrano and real estate agent Bland Cromwell, along with others who have assembled the parcels between South Ninth and South 11th streets, from I-35 to Cleveland Avenue.
Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church and Gospel Cafe were the lone holdouts, the church refusing to part with any land and the cafe refusing to relinquish one parcel.
The most recent deals involved 11th Street Partnership, a group that includes Citrano, the Turner brothers and others who sold acreage nearest I-35 to yet another partnership that includes brothers Shane and Cody Turner. The public can expect to see small commercial shops, fast-food restaurants and one sit-down eatery take shape there.
Developments will appear a short walk from Kate Ross Apartments, a longtime residence for low-income families along South 11th Street.
Cowley said a number of Kate Ross residents eat at the Gospel Cafe and attend worship services the cafe hosts on Sunday evenings.
“Eventually, Kate Ross could be sold,” Cowley said. “That would mean we probably would not have the traffic of poor people to make the Gospel Cafe and the church worthwhile to be here. That would not mean the end of the Gospel Cafe. We’d just have to find a new place as we did 20 years ago. It’s kind of disconcerting having to start over.”
If Kate Ross Apartments remains in place as a haven for the low income needing rental assistance, the Gospel Cafe likely will stay put, Cowley said.
Developers approached the Waco Housing Authority, which operates the federally funded housing units, for information about Kate Ross in 2013 but were not looking to buy the property, the authority’s executive director at the time, Gary Moore, told the Tribune-Herald in 2014.
Officials at the housing authority could not be reached for comment Friday, but Moore said two years ago he had no problem with development and hoped to be “congenial neighbors.”
“The answer to all these questions right now is we don’t know,” Gospel Cafe kitchen manager Sherry Castello said. “We’ll just take matters a week at a time, see how things are going and play it by ear. I can say I am amazed at how much land has been cleared in such a short time.”
Cowley said he thinks Gospel Cafe has been a good neighbor to the poor and underprivileged, and he hopes it has the opportunity to remain so.
“Some people come here by the carload. Some ride bicycles. Some stand on the street corner, but they know they can come inside,” Cowley said. “Some eat and pay at a later date. We see all kinds and we don’t try to make judgments, but 99 percent of our customers can’t afford a food budget all through the month.
“If it were not for us, a lot of people would be in trouble every month they live. We provide that little cushion, and that’s sufficient for us.”