The last 17 patients at the old Hillcrest Hospital complex on Herring Avenue recently moved across town. That ended an era that began in 1920 and included the 2009 opening of the $250 million Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center at Interstate 35 and West Loop 340.
Now 650,000 square feet of buildings and parking lots spread across 12 acres, the Herring campus had served as home to office space, rehabilitation services and skilled nursing services since the new Hillcrest opened across town. If it is not sold in three years, demolition crews will level a part of Waco’s history, leaving memories for generations.
Officials said Hillcrest is not abandoning the heart of Waco’s central city. The nearby MacArthur Clinic at 2201 MacArthur Drive will receive extra staffing, and Hillcrest is providing office space for organizations including Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Hoops for Hope and Faith in Action Initiatives in a building it owns near the hospital.
“We are closing a facility with a rich history, and we did not undertake it lightly,” President Glenn Robinson said. “But it was costing an additional $2 million to $3 million a year to operate that building, and if we kept it open, we probably were facing another $1 million a year in capital costs.”
Fortunately, positions elsewhere in the system were found for all but one of the 200 people working at the old Hillcrest, Robinson said.
To meet its goal of providing healthcare services at a time when reimbursement rates from Medicaid and Medicare are declining, “we have to be good stewards and spend every dollar wisely,” he said.
Additions to the hospital had produced a maze of hallways, and its climate control system was equally inefficient, he said.
Several real estate agents and developers said Monday that a complex of Hillcrest’s size and age represents a challenge to those wanting to give it new life.
City Manager Dale Fisseler, who was born at Hillcrest 57 years ago, said the city evaluated the complex and its potential for Waco’s use.
“It is such a massive facility that we really could not come up with anything that would suit our needs,” Fisseler said. “I would hope it stays in private hands. If the demolition is carried out, I want the area to remain an asset for the neighborhood, maybe green space or a park setting.”
Fisseler said he spent most of the summer at Hillcrest when he was 10 years old, having broken his leg jumping on a trampoline in Houston.
“It was a bad break, so I was in traction most of the time,” he said. “That is the last time I ever had anything to do with a trampoline.”
Mayor Kyle Deaver said a brother and his two grown sons were born at Hillcrest, but he does not necessarily have an emotional attachment to it.
“Hillcrest has done a great job with its new facility, and it needed to do what was best for its long-term business plan,” Deaver said. “Hopefully, we as a community can find a good use for what they left behind. I think the market will determine the highest and best use.”
He said Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the hit show “Fixer Upper” on HGTV and owners of Magnolia Market at the Silos, launched a 36-unit subdivision called Magnolia Villas at North 46th Street and Bosque Boulevard.
Something similar could take shape on the Hillcrest site, “which is a nice spot in the middle of the city with easy access to downtown,” Deaver said
The city bought the Hillcrest Tower adjacent to the hospital and made it headquarters for the Waco Police Department.
“That has been good for the neighborhood, something that has served to revitalize the area,” Deaver said.
Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, lives just blocks from the Hillcrest site.
She is hoping the Hillcrest complex, around which the diverse neighborhood has grown, will remain an anchor for the area in some form.
“As someone who lives in that area, I believe it has a lot of potential,” Henderson said. “And as a lover of historic buildings — and some of that campus is really old — I hope that maximum effort is made to adaptively reuse the architecturally significant pieces. I think that our community is growing both in terms of its number of people but also in its ability to attract people for numerous reasons. I think the idea that a significant amount of space might be available is a big opportunity.”
She said losing the building would be a setback, “but if this is a move that strengthens Hillcrest, we need to support it and see how we can strengthen the neighborhood in the wake of that decision.”
“Not many projects make that size of a building make sense, but maybe the older part could become a medical office building and patio homes could be built nearby,” she said. “At this point, it’s important not to pigeonhole it too much. A lot of things would work there.”
Real estate agent Jim Peevey said potential users “probably would want to demolish things and start over.”
With baby boomers reaching retirement age, demand is growing for retirement homes and assisted-living facilities, Peevey said. But Greater Waco already is seeing construction of several and more are on the way.
Providence Health Center, Waco’s oldest hospital, left North 18th Street and Colcord Avenue in 1989 and, like Hillcrest, relocated to West Waco, where it has continued to grow. Providence deeded the 18th Street property to Mercy Housing, which placed there the 54-unit Brook Oaks Senior Residences.
Waco builder and developer Brian Alford is familiar with the Hillcrest area, having placed 12 patio homes on Hillcrest Drive between Lake Shore and Lake Air drives.
“I would be a little more skeptical about that happening on the hospital site,” Alford said. “The price point would have to be less. The houses in my Bentwood Addition started at $350,000, but these houses would be priced somewhere between $175,000 and $225,000, I would think. I’m just not sure that’s a great location or not.”
He said questions abound about the potential of the Hillcrest site, as they do for the site of the now-demolished Floyd Casey Stadium.
The city of Waco reportedly envisions a mixed-use development with housing, retail and restaurants at the former stadium site.