sidewalks ra6

Shoppers navigate broken sidewalks along South Sixth Street on their way to Magnolia Market.

In Waco’s newly popular downtown, maintaining sidewalks is currently no one’s job, and it shows.

Some sections, such as South Eighth Street near Magnolia Silos, are broken, weedy and nearly impassable. But even some showcase walkways, such as those on Austin Avenue, have become cracked and uneven because of settling.

The city of Waco doesn’t routinely maintain or repair them, on the premise that sidewalks throughout the city are the duty of adjacent property owners to maintain — though it’s a duty rarely observed.

Now a downtown board is looking to step into the gap, figuratively speaking.

The downtown Public Improvement District board Monday discussed setting aside a modest sum for sidewalks in its proposed five-year plan.

Megan Henderson of City Center Waco, which staffs the PID, proposed an arrangement in which the city of Waco would bring sidewalks, lights and trees up to standard one section at a time. The city then would turn the sections over for permanent maintenance to the PID.

“The idea is from this point forward, once something enters into the maintenance system, we keep it nice so it can realize its full expected useful life,” she said.

Henderson suggested spending about $30,000 next year on sidewalk maintenance, including painting street lamps.

The PID’s money comes from a tax assessment on downtown property owners, which brought in revenues of $474,000 in this budget year. Most of that money is spent on security, landscaping and trash pickup, along with marketing, events and transportation.

The property owners who make up the PID board weren’t ready to vote Monday on the five-year plan, but several voiced interest in improving the downtown sidewalk situation.

Businessman Gordon Robinson noted that some spots along Austin Avenue, especially by the Liberty Building, have sidewalk pavers that have heaved up, causing trip hazards. He said fixing them would just require pulling up the pavers and bedding them again in sand.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said.

Another board member asked whether the city would also expect the PID to maintain curbs adjacent to the sidewalk. Henderson said that’s an important question, but it hasn’t been answered yet.

David Lacy, president of Community Bank and Trust and an Austin Avenue landlord, said all the details need to be spelled out before the PID commits to assuming sidewalk maintenance.

“I don’t think we should get into this without a really good contract,” he said.

Overall, the proposed five-year PID plan would continue an emphasis on basic services to make downtown clean and safe.

The PID in the last year has already stepped up its funding to clean sidewalks and remove trash from alleys and lots. The five-year plan calls for ratcheting up funding more for cleanup, maintenance and security spending, from $245,553 in 2018 to $353,633 in 2022.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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