Two developers with Waco connections submitted proposals Wednesday to develop the city’s vacant block at the doorstep of City Hall.
The offers came at the deadline for a city “request for proposal” process to find a more beneficial use for the parking lot between Austin and Washington avenues at Third Street, surrounding Heritage Square.
Ed Kinkeade, a Dallas federal judge and Baylor University alumnus who has developed housing in downtown Waco, said he is proposing a mixed-use development with retail, offices and a grocery store on the 2.3-acre block.
Meanwhile, a partnership called The Civic Center, formed by Dallas commercial developer Phillip Williams and Waco urban planning consultant Chris McGowan, is proposing a large office development with some ground-level retail and onsite structured parking.
The bids, which have not yet been made public, will be reviewed by a team of city staff, who will make a recommendation to Waco City Council late this summer for a development agreement and long-term ground lease in which the city of Waco would continue to own the land. The request for proposal document considers a wide range of uses as appropriate for the site but says the city favors projects that create jobs, tourism opportunities or hotel rooms.
The block has been vacant since urban renewal cleared the tornado-damaged town square nearly 50 years ago. The city has made several attempts to redevelop it, including a request for proposal process in 2015 that got no takers. City Manager Dale Fisseler said the response this time signals that downtown has gained momentum since last time.
“I think the word is out,” Fisseler said. “I think it’s a combination of the riverfront project and people starting to see investment in downtown. People are willing to invest where there’s already investment.”
Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, said she doesn’t know what the proposals are this time, but the interest is encouraging.
“It’s exciting that there are a couple of proposals received and that both proposing teams are familiar with Waco and bring their different types of expertise to the opportunity,” Henderson said.
Henderson said she hopes to see a dense, multistory development on the site, with uses including office space to bring more jobs into downtown.
“This is a really significant spot that’s going to go toe-to-toe with the ALICO Building,” she said. “This is not the place to lowball.”
‘Hub’ for downtown
McGowan, a former downtown official for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said the site is a “hub” for downtown Waco and has high value as a center for professional jobs.
“For the last few years, I’ve been bullish on downtown Waco, and I think there’s great opportunity there,” McGowan said. “For me, that area has always represented the center of downtown. I’ve always lamented the fact that there’s a parking lot there with nothing around it.”
He said the project could include ground-floor retail with high-quality office space above that could bring more professional jobs and tax base to downtown.
“Generally speaking, there is not enough office space in Waco,” he said. “Occupancy is high, and there is nothing I would call modern, Class A office space in the marketplace.”
Kris Collins, the chamber’s senior vice president for economic development, said the lack of Class A office space is an issue for recruiting professional firms to Waco, and she’s glad to see interest in developing more of it.
“If we had a single, large tenant or a large office space user that needed 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 square feet, it would be really difficult to find space for them. You’d be hard-pressed to find an existing building and retrofit it to meet their needs,” Collins said. “Our goal is to continue to drive development into downtown, and we want it to be diversified.”
McGowan’s partner, Williams, has been developing office and mixed-use property in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for nearly 20 years. Recently, Williams has partnered with the city of Allen to develop an upscale mixed-use urban center known as Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm, with 415,000 square feet of retail, restaurants, offices and apartments.
“It’s a good time to be doing this,” McGowan said. “I think we have a great concept and an absolutely top-notch team. I hope whoever else submitted has a great concept, too.”
Kinkeade said he’s not ready to discuss many details of his proposal, but it would include a grocery store, retail and office space, possibly with some condominiums.
“It’s hard not to see good opportunities with all the things going on in Waco,” he said. “The city has made a lot of effort in trying to encourage quality development.”
In the past few years, Kinkeade has developed two apartment complexes in downtown at 222 Clay Ave. and 300 Clay Ave. He also comes to Waco regularly to teach part time at Baylor Law School.
Fisseler said he hasn’t had time to review the proposals, so he doesn’t yet know what incentives, if any, the developers are requesting. He said the proposers were also asked to address parking in their applications. The parking lot is used during large conventions and is also the site for numerous civic events, including Waco Wonderland and the Texas Food Truck Showdown.
“One of the challenges is that it is an event space,” Fisseler said. “We’re going to need to find event spaces in other places downtown.”