The Astro Motel, once a haven for tired long-distance travelers near Waco’s infamous traffic circle, and more recently a high-crime address, has been shuttered and will fall to accommodate the widening of Interstate 35.
A notice from McLennan County Constable Freddie Cantu declared that “owners, employees and tenants” have been evicted, and warned anyone entering the premises could face criminal trespassing charges.
The notice is dated Jan. 9 and was tacked to a piece of plywood at the entrance to the hotel at 3416 S. J.H. Kultgen Freeway on the northbound interstate frontage road between New Road and the circle. It lies along a stretch of road that has seen the El Chico restaurant close and Texas Roadhouse Steakhouse face losing a slice of its parking lot due to the Texas Department of Transportation’s plans to widen I-35 from North Loop 340 to South Loop 340.
Land acquisition has been ongoing for years, and work will officially begin this spring, the transportation department has confirmed.
The department does not routinely resort to eviction notices to clear those living or staying on property it has bought or agreed to buy.
The Astro Motel proved a different story. Built in 1958, its rambling, ranch-style architecture, courtyard and offers of free HBO cable made it popular with travelers between Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. The Texas Historical Commission even listed it as a potential candidate for the National Register of Historic Places.
But time was not kind to The Astro Motel.
“It was a source of many calls for us,” said Waco Police spokesman Sgt. Patrick Swanton, speaking by phone. “Unfortunately, some lower-income hotels like that draw a criminal element, and that location had its share we had to respond to. Most recently, a wanted person barricaded himself in the attic of one of the spaces there. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. Some people living there are just down on their luck and needed a place to stay, but a lot of times there were less desirable people.”
He mentioned calls related to fights, wanted individuals and drug use.
Waco attorney Fred Brown, who represents owners Abdul Madatali and Wazir Madatali, said his clients negotiated a deal with TxDOT to sell the property, though he would not discuss specifics. Several of the last five or six residents, however, were in no mood to leave.
“When you live at a place, even a hotel, longer than 30 days, you are given a relocation check. You make your move, and TxDOT gives you check,” said Brown. “Several said, ‘No, we want the check first.’ My clients told TxDOT they no longer had a dog in this hunt, and said the highway department should take control. Again, some did not want to leave. Who knows everyone’s motivations? Anyway, TxDOT ended up placing a notice on the door of every occupied room. There were not that many. Most had already moved out. Finally, the eviction notice brought the matter to a close.”
Brown said the TxDOT deal would have left the business partners with a fraction of the one-acre site, so they chose to pull the plug.
“The hotel/motel industry has changed dramatically, become very competitive,” he said. “To get back in would take a lot more than they got for this place. I doubt they get back into the lodging industry.”
The Astro Motel site carries a $970,640 appraised taxable value, with $204,870 representing the value of the land, according to the McLennan County Appraisal District. The McLennan County Tax Office said $37,048 in delinquent 2017 taxes are owed on the property.
Waco real estate agent Gregg Glime is listing a 21,900-square-foot office and warehousing building on Interstate 35, near the Astro Motel and previously occupied by Nearly Me Technologies, a maker of prosthetic fashion products. He said he knows of no interest by TxDOT in that property.
“But I am hearing the highway department is being generous,” he said.
TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts on Monday confirmed TxDOT had purchased the Astro Motel site “as part of our right-of-way acquisition that has been going on at least two years,” he said in a phone interview.
Asked about the eviction notice, he said, “This is not a process that started a couple of months ago. It’s been going on two years. It’s not something that suddenly came up as a surprise to anyone.” He said he could not make a blanket statement about which properties the department would or would not be interested in acquiring due to the ongoing I-35 widening.
He acknowledged the state has not yet authorized funding to widen that portion of I-35 that includes the Astro Motel, “but we have to move forward anticipating we will receive the funding to continue.”
This spring, TxDOT is scheduled to begin work on widening the interstate to four lanes in each direction from South 12th Street northward, a project that could cost an estimated $300 million and last four to seven years.
A visit to the Astro Motel site on Monday revealed signs advertising weekly rates for $140 plus tax, a decorative deer with a shattered ear, the eviction notice signed by Constable Freddie Cantu, and lots of litter. A Bible from the Gideon Society and a coffee pot sat side-by-side near an entrance.
Grafitti created with black spray paint delivered messages.
“Astro’s Closed but we’re still killin’ it,” said one.
“Our last hoorah,” proclaimed another.