Andrea Barefield is carrying on a family tradition as she starts her job as downtown Waco’s Main Street manager.
She will be working to unite business owners, residents, and civic and government leaders to push downtown’s revitalization along and extend it across the Brazos River into East Waco.
In that quest, she is inspired by the career of her mother, the late Mayor Mae Jackson.
“It’s all relationship building,” she said. “I don’t know that I could learn that in a class. I had a pretty good teacher in that. It was Mae Jackson 101.”
Barefield, 39, started two weeks ago at the position, working under downtown development director Megan Henderson at the Business Resource Center. The nonprofit group receives funding from the city of Waco to implement the Imagine Waco Plan for Greater Downtown and provides staffing for the downtown Public Improvement District.
As Main Street manager, Barefield will work with the Texas Main Street program to provide expert advice from state officials for historic preservation and small business development. More broadly, her role is to market the central city and work with its “stakeholders,” such as neighborhood associations and business leaders, to build consensus for projects and programs.
For example, she is working with businesses to get more sponsorships for the downtown Dash shuttle, which now has an extended route and runs more days.
She hopes to work with the Northeast Riverside Neighborhood Association and property owners on a proposal to create a pedestrian-friendly connection between Elm Avenue and the Suspension Bridge.
Henderson, the Business Resource Center’s executive director, said the small agency has been working hard behind the scenes, but it needs more of a connection with the public and the communities of Greater Downtown.
“One thing that’s really going to bring value to downtown is having someone whose primary job is gathering and disseminating information and telling the story of what’s going on,” she said. “Doing the work isn’t enough.”
Henderson said Barefield has a talent for marketing and good people skills.
“Andrea has a very strong ability to relate to people,” Henderson said. “She communicates well and is confident without being cocky or overconfident.”
Barefield said she inherited her sense of poise and self-confidence from her mother, a social worker known for her strong opinions and her connections across racial lines.
Barefield worked on her mother’s successful Waco City Council race in 2000 to represent District 1, which includes East Waco. In 2004, Jackson became Waco’s first popularly elected black mayor. She died unexpectedly on Feb. 11, 2005, with less than half her two-year term served.
“She was a force, wasn’t she?” Barefield said. “Whether you loved or hated her, you respected her. I tell my sons, I hope you have a fraction of that. . . . It doesn’t matter if everybody likes you, as long as you’re doing what you can to the best of your ability. My goal here is to make the downtown district the best I can make it.”
Barefield grew up in Chalk Bluff and graduated from Connally High School in 1994, but she knew downtown and East Waco well. She lived here briefly in 2000 after graduating from Sam Houston State University with a public relations degree, then headed to Houston.
There she worked as marketing and events director for the Ensemble Theater and later founded her own nonprofit performing arts studio focused on young people. She also has worked in continuing education at a Houston community college.
She and her husband, now a coach and teacher at Indian Spring Middle School, moved back to Waco this summer with their children and live near Cameron Park, in the former home of Mae and Howard Jackson.
Barefield said she continues to be amazed at the redevelopment of downtown Waco, but Elm Avenue’s progress has been frustratingly slow. She said she wants to help residents and business owners to find their voice in advocating for improvements along the once-thriving corridor.
“The good news is that downtown doesn’t end at the bridge,” she said. “Our goal and intention is that there’s going to be so many businesses across the river, you’re going to walk on over and see what’s hopping on Elm.”
Marilyn Banks, who has owned Marilyn’s Gift Gallery on Elm Avenue for 26 years, said she hopes Barefield can make a change in the area.
“I think she can be the voice for Elm Avenue,” she said. “She has a great sense of community.”
Banks said she has seen plans for Elm come and go, but she is frustrated with the lack of progress.
“I don’t get overly excited about anything anymore, but I try to stay positive. . . . I have faith in (Barefield) and I think she’ll try to get in there and take it to the next level.”