Staff Photo-Jerry Larson City officials said Waco’s designation as a “Texas Main Street City” could help save historic buildings on Elm Avenue. Staff photo — Jerry Larson

The Texas Historical Commission on Wednesday recognized downtown Waco’s architectural heritage by naming the city a “Texas Main Street City,” qualifying it for professional historic preservation assistance.

Officials with the city of Waco and Downtown Development Corp. said the designation could boost downtown revitalization efforts and help save historic buildings on Elm Avenue.

“It brings some real valuable planning assistance,” Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said. “I think it’s tremendously beneficial.”

Along with midsized cities such as Tyler, Beaumont and Laredo, Waco will be one of the largest of the 87 cities across the state with the designation.

“We’re very excited to have Waco in the program because it has such a significant downtown,” said Debra Drescher, state coordinator for the Texas Main Street program. “Waco rose to the top pretty quickly because it’s a compact downtown that still has a lot of historic buildings left in a small area.”

While smaller towns often use the program as a springboard for creating a revitalization agency, Waco already has a Downtown Development Corp. that promotes revitalization.

DDC executive director Megan Henderson pursued the Main Street designation because of the state resources it could bring to Waco.

Though no money comes with the designation, it entitles Waco to free consulting services from the historical commission’s Main Street consulting team.

That includes offering architectural renderings, or exterior drawings of buildings.

Those renderings, which can cost thousands of dollars, are required in applications for incentives from the Tax Increment Financing District.

Henderson, who once served as Main Street coordinator for Marlin, said the state program has been successful in the past 32 years in helping downtowns reinvent themselves. She cited Georgetown’s revitalized town square as an example.

“A lot of downtowns have destroyed their architectural character in the name of development,” she said. “You don’t grow stronger as a downtown by trying to look like a strip center. You grow stronger by being unique. Once key buildings are gone, you don’t have that.”

The designated area for the Main Street program extends west of the river to 11th Street and east to Quinn Campus in East Waco.

Much of the west side of downtown was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, but state historic preservation officials declined to include the Elm Avenue corridor in the district because so many of its buildings are gone.

The focus of the Main Street application was saving the remaining buildings on Elm Avenue, city officials said.

Henderson said the Main Street designation could also make it easier to get grants and attract private investment.

But, she said: “It’s not all just about money. It’s about identifying this as a national treasure. It’s a credential, and like any credential, it’s not worth anything on its own. It’s what you do with it.”

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