Downtown (copy)

After a 19-month study, a consultant told city officials Tuesday they should incentivize pedestrian infrastructure, restaurants and a grocery store in the downtown area, while backing away from incentives for apartments near Baylor University or retail developments on Interstate 35.

City officials should prioritize a grocery store, “destination restaurants” and walkways connecting downtown attractions as they consider how to use downtown development money in the coming years, according to a new study.

Dan Guimond, of the Denver-based Economic & Planning Systems Inc., presented the findings of the 19-month study of downtown Waco and its development potential to the Tax Increment Financing Zone board and the Waco City Council during their meetings Tuesday. The study was funded by $60,000 approved by the TIF board and the city council in March last year.

“I think we’ve taken very much a preliminary step, in terms of recommending some prioritization of projects and investments,” Guimond told the eight-member TIF board. “But I think it’s something that you will need to continue to work on and take to the next step because I think it will take additional consideration on the part of the community, as well as some additional analysis in terms of helping to flesh out some of the projects we’re recommending.”

The TIF board — comprised of representatives of each city council district, McLennan County, Waco Independent School District and McLennan Community College — recommends uses for a portion of tax revenue from downtown properties to incentivize development in the area. The Waco City Council has final approval over how the money is used.

Identifying specific types of projects to push would be a shift from the board’s past practice of considering development proposals as they come along, Chairman Wes Filer said.

Whether city staffers, the city-led nonprofit City Center Waco, the TIF board itself or a combination of the three would be tasked with setting guidelines for specific types of projects remains to be seen.

“It’s a little different process than just waiting for a project, and then deciding, ‘does this fit within what we want or not?’ ” Filer said.

The consultant recommended the formation of a committee that would prioritize projects more likely to be embraced by the TIF board.

“You could line up $100 million of projects pretty quickly,” Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford said in the TIF board meeting. “But as we think about the next 12 years, we can’t fund that, so that’s where I think this project evaluation committee, maybe that’s something we really need to think about.”

Guimond showed an initial project list he assembled with Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco. The top four priorities are pedestrian walkways connecting Elm Avenue to the rest of downtown, connecting the area along the Brazos River to the area around Magnolia Market at the Silos, connecting the river area and to Austin Avenue, and connecting Mary Avenue to the Silos area.

The study found the TIF board should not offer money for apartments bordering Baylor University or for retail projects along Interstate 35.

Guimond said Waco should recruit and support a downtown grocery store as part of a retail strategy, but it could be at least five years before it becomes reality. He also said the city should explore a new multi-tenant office space downtown and continue assisting on building conversions and renovations. A three-star hotel to host Waco Convention Center visitors would also prove to be an asset, Guimond said.

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver said he appreciated the presentation and asked Guimond to return to answer questions at the council’s budget retreat in September.

“I think we’ve got a good product here and something that we can really work with,” Deaver said of the report.

District 1 Councilwoman Andrea J. Barefield said she wants to learn more about changes to the communications process for TIF projects as talks continue.

“I think a home run for us right now is if we identify five really fantastic things to actually go ahead and do. … We cannot eat this elephant whole,” Barefield said.

Bike share ordinance

Also Tuesday, council members passed an ordinance revision allowing a bike share company to construct bike racks on city property where bikes could be picked up and dropped off for short-term use. The city is expected to explore a hybrid model in a bike share program, which would offer a cross between docked and “dockless” models.

The council also approved a resolution allowing staff to start the process of choosing a vendor for the bike share program.

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