Waco City Council approved $20.2 million in tax increment funds Tuesday for the Brazos Promenade project, over concerns that the award would deplete the fuel of downtown’s development engine.
The award of $8 million for site cleanup and $12.2 million for infrastructure and public spaces leaves less than $1 million in the coffers of the downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone.
The contribution supports a $100 million mixed-use project by Catalyst Urban Development on the city’s riverfront property. The development is slated to include a full-service hotel, restaurants, shopping and housing.
Councilman John Kinnaird said the project is worth the investment.
“This riverfront development has been a long time in coming, and I’m very excited to see it coming,” Kinnaird said. “I do recognize it’s going to be a considerable commitment of TIF funds. The TIF fund balance is going to be fairly low over the next two years, but there are other alternatives for incentivizing development in downtown.”
Downtown developer Shane Turner told the council he is excited about the riverfront development too, but worried about locking up too much of the TIF fund.
“I’ve spoken to quite a few developers in downtown, and there’s a huge concern that this depletes the TIF fund,” Turner said. “There’s a lot of projects in the pipeline.”
Turner also said the city appears to be applying a “double standard” in that Catalyst would be reimbursed for its costs immediately, while he has to wait several years to be fully reimbursed.
City staff said more TIF funding may be available next year than projected. For example, the cleanup may cost far less than $8 million.
The TIF zone funds public improvements in the downtown area through a portion of tax revenues collected from downtown properties.
The council also approved a $4.4 million contract Tuesday to Jay-Reese Contractors for the east riverwalk between McLane Stadium and Franklin Avenue.
The project ran about $1 million over budget because of engineering challenges that included the need to put much of the lighted concrete trail on piers in the river. Including engineering costs, the entire cost of the project is $5.7 million.
The city got a $2.7 million transportation grant for the project through the Texas Department of Transportation in 2013, on the eve of McLane Stadium’s opening.
“The vision for this stretch of trail is to make a connection to McLane Stadium,” senior park planner Tom Balk said. “There have been a lot more events and activities, many of them walking and running-oriented. This will open that up to the enjoyment of many visitors and residents.”
Council member Dillon Meek said he appreciates the city staff’s efforts to look at less costly alternatives, but he is confident with the final plans.
“I’m so excited about this, and I’m glad we’re spending the money we need to spend on it to make sure it’s done right,” Meek said. “It’s going to be an investment in making our city more walkable.”