TIF approves funding for downtown Waco projects

One of the projects awarded is the 714 Lofts on Austin Avenue. A current photo is above with a rendering below showing the expected look when the renovation is completed.

A flurry of downtown Waco projects worth $7.8 million won public incentives from the Tax Increment Finance Zone board Wednesday, signaling strong investor interest in the area.

The TIF board recommended awarding a total of $945,238 for five projects, including two Austin Avenue loft-retail renovations; a modern-style apartment complex; a Waco Independent School District administration building remodel; and a three-level entertainment complex in a University Parks Drive warehouse.

The TIF board oversees a downtown development fund that comes from a portion of city, county and school taxes collected on properties from the zone. It recommends improvements and incentives to Waco City Council.

“The synergy of what’s happening in the zone is picking up,” TIF board chairman Mike Harder said. “This is the most projects we’ve had at one time. It’s impressive.”

Area investors and developers are behind the approved projects.

Dale Knight, owner of the Cafe Cappuccino restaurants on Bosque Boulevard and downtown, is involved in two of the projects. He said he lives downtown and believes in its future.

“It’s growing all the time,” he said.

Knight recently bought the long-vacant Cinderella building at 711 Austin Ave. and plans to renovate it at a cost of $1.4 million, while preserving its historical architecture.

The TIF board recommended $235,479 in incentives.

“City Lofts” would feature four two-bedroom loft apartments and retail downstairs, including a gelato shop that Knight would own.

The project would join several other new loft and retail ventures in the same block.

Knight also plans to open a three-level entertainment business in a warehouse at 215 S. University Parks Drive, with a bar and grill, pool hall and rooftop dining area.

He is working with building owner Trent Weaver to renovate the old warehouse, which also includes Bangkok Royal and a boutique.

The TIF board approved an incentive of $127,500 toward the $850,000 project, which will include new entrances, elevators and rooftop decking.

Knight said he’s aiming for broad appeal with the business.

“It’s for a beer-drinking crowd,” he said. “Waco enjoys simple. Waco is simple. And it works.”

City planning director Bill Falco said the warehouse project is a “focal point” for downtown and he is working with the developers on the design.

Other projects the TIF approved Wednesday include:

*  714 Lofts, 714 Austin Ave.: Grant Dudley of RBDR Architects plans $965,500 in renovations to create eight residential units next to the Hippodrome Theater. The TIF board recommended $144,825 in incentives.

Dudley said the building will include solar panels and other “green” touches.

*  The Belmont, 625 S. Fifth St.: Investor Leo DeGeest is working with developer Steve Sorrells to build a three-story, 24-unit urban-style apartment complex across South Fifth Street from the downtown post office. The TIF board recommended up to $279,165 in incentives for the $1.9 million project.

A two-bedroom, two-bath unit would rent for $1,195 a month.

Sorrells also is developing the Cameron Park Heights condo project on South Fourth Street. The two projects will share management.

*  Waco ISD Administration Building, 501 Franklin Ave.: The school district is planning a $2.7 million renovation of its headquarters. The $158,269 in TIF funds would help remodel the board room and reconfigure its seating. The money also would pay for a large sign on the building’s roof.

WISD is a partner in the TIF Zone, forfeiting a portion of its downtown property tax revenue to the development fund.

WISD Superintendent Bonny Cain abstained from the vote, but urged others to approve the funding to WISD.

In all, the new projects will bring 36 more housing units to downtown and several new leisure-oriented businesses.

Chris McGowan, urban development director for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said the projects help advance the new Imagine Waco plan for the redevelopment of “Greater Downtown.”

“Downtown has proven itself as a viable business opportunity for residential and retail,” he said. “We’ve seen incredible interest since the beginning of this year.”

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