Demolition has begun on several boarded-up houses scattered near Interstate 35 on the west side of the highway, where a retail center, a sit-down restaurant and at least two hotels reportedly will take shape over the next few months, a real estate agent who represents the property owners said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, as part of the development continuing between South Fourth and South 11th streets along the interstate, work is about to begin on a Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers restaurant next to Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, and on a Panera Bread location next to Chick-fil-A.

Bland Cromwell, a commercial real estate specialist, said crews leveled homes near the land these restaurants acquired.

The exact use of about eight acres between South 10th and South 11th streets remains uncertain. Austin-based SCC Development had hoped to place an interstate-fronting retail center with space for two fast-food restaurants there. Behind the center SCC had hoped to place one or two sit-down restaurants that would back up to a pair of new hotels.

But Cromwell said last week SCC is transferring the land to another development group, which he declined to name because the deal is not complete.

SCC did not return calls seeking comment, but Cromwell said he believes the new developer has plans similar to SCC’s.

“I can say that about a third of the center already is committed,” Cromwell said, adding that the prospective new developer “is in the application stage” to secure brand names for the hotels that would rise nearby. “They will be nice three-story hotels,” he said. “Nothing like the Waco Hilton, but better than some properties in the area.”

He said the fast-food restaurants and the sit-down eateries that may take shape likely will target guests of the new lodging establishments.

Cromwell said he thinks the proposed retail and restaurant strip will have sufficient commitments from tenants within 60 days for construction to proceed.

Proposed new developments in the area mean about 20 vacant buildings and homes will fall between Cleveland Avenue and South 11th Street, near the sprawling Kate Ross Apartments.

The development also will address the continued need for hotel space near downtown, especially with the exploding popularity of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Market at the Silos, an offbeat tourist attraction and general store at Sixth Street and Webster Avenue that attracts about 25,000 visitors a week, according to Waco’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A Houston-based group, Gore Creek Partners, had announced plans to place a 75-unit upscale student housing project along Cleveland Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets.

“But they got a little nervous about occupancy rates and sold the tract,” Cromwell said, adding the land was bought by McGregor-based TFNB Your Bank for Life.

Bank president David Littlewood said the acreage would accommodate plans to place a full-service bank at Eighth Street and Interstate 35, leaving land available for further development by the bank or others. Bank publicist Liz Anderson said the new location likely will open in spring or summer 2017.

“We don’t believe there is a full-service community bank in that area, though there are branch locations near downtown,” Anderson said. “We want to emphasize this is going to be a full-service location, with eight or 10 employees to start, a four-lane drive-thru, lending processors, tellers and decision-makers on site.”

She said it would occupy a strategic location “between Magnolia Market at the Silos, Baylor University, a revitalized downtown and beyond.”

Founded as The First National Bank of McGregor in 1889, TFNB is the oldest bank in McLennan County and the seventh-oldest national bank in Texas still operating under its original charter. It now has two locations in the McGregor area and acquired Oglesby State Bank last year.

Piecemeal sale

Downtown developers Shane and Cody Turner spent several years assembling a 15-acre tract in this area by acquiring scores of commercial and residential properties near Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church, including some occupied homes. They once considered selling it all to a single developer but then agreed to part with it piecemeal.

Cromwell described that section of Interstate 35 as “absolutely the hottest piece of the market right now,” during an interview last year.

In the area around Fourth and Fifth streets and I-35, Dallas-based DuWest Realty has attracted a CVS Pharmacy and an In-N-Out Burger shop. Behind the burger shop, retail strips are under construction to accommodate a Chipotle Mexican Grill, a build-your-own pizza place called Pie Five Pizza, a gourmet frozen pop establishment called Steel City Pops, a Smoothie King, Wok Box Fresh Asian Kitchen and a nail salon called Le Nails.

Dallas-based Leon Capital Group placed a Twisted Root Burger joint in the former Texas Playhouse theater on I-35 near Fourth Street.

The city of Waco planning department confirmed Wednesday that Whataburger has submitted plans to demolish its location at Seventh Street and I-35 and build a larger one.

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