City Center Waco is considering buying an East Waco building with some twists and turns in its recent history.
The building sits at 713 Elm Ave. and currently houses Train Waco, a CrossFit gym. The gym’s purchase of the building from the Eastern Waco Development Corp. last year triggered a lawsuit that was recently dismissed, and the gym recently announced plans to relocate to a larger space. City Center Waco Director Megan Henderson said if the city-aligned nonprofit buys the building, it would lease the space to businesses that meet the area’s needs.
“We would buy the building and be the property owner so that each time a decision is made, that decision is made in a way that has community input,” Henderson said.
She said the area has sorely lacked banks, laundromats, grocery stores, pharmacies, child care and other basic community needs for years, something that has been well-documented through public forums.
“We have work groups that meet four times a month, we’ve had two big public meetings and we’ll have another big community meeting in September,” Henderson said. “But frankly, the question of ‘what do you want to have happen?’ is one we hear the community say they’re pretty tired of answering.”
The building is under contract and City Center Waco will make its final decision after a feasibility period, during which officials will consider what businesses they could bring in and propose financing and lease rates.
“We’re in the process of trying to put a solid proposal together,” Henderson said. “That’s all got to be identified and put into place.”
She also said City Center Waco is prioritizing projects that retain historic architecture in existing buildings and emphasize arts and culture, and more broadly speaking, the community has expressed a desire to see more minority-owned businesses.
“It’s not that everything about this is racial, but the diversity of this business district, and this being a place where people of different backgrounds can not only shop, but prosper, can be business owners, that’s an important part of this district’s history,” Henderson said.
The building is about 13,000 square feet, the majority of which is not heated or air conditioned. Office space and dressing rooms take up 35% to 40% of the building, and the largest part of the building is open workout space.
“At this point it looks like the building would be some number of different tenant spaces,” Henderson said. “It’s really hard to talk about finish-out until we’re talking about a potential tenant.”
She said City Center Waco has purchased property in the area before, including at 209 and 211 Elm Ave. and behind the East Waco Library, but this property holds special significance to the community.
“It is different from anything else that we are doing,” Henderson said. “We would not even be trying to figure out whether we should try to buy the building or not if it was not so significant to the community.”
The building started as Safeway grocery store and was given to the Eastern Waco Development Corp. by Waco businessman Tom Salome in 1998.
Thelma Evans, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that challenged Eastern Waco Development Corp.’s sale of the building to Train Waco, said the building served a variety of community needs for years before its sale last year, which was facilitated by City Center Waco.
It served as an incubator for start-up businesses, hosted fraternity meetings, birthday celebrations and church services, she said. It even housed a boutique and a walk-in wedding chapel, she said.
Before last year’s sale and remodel for Train Waco, the building was primarily office space, Evans said.