If downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone grants are often misunderstood, projects attracting TIF board attention last week should clarify matters and even reassure skeptics, including Thursday’s reallocation of some $22,000 to help cover costs of restoring a 78-year-old building on long-neglected Elm Avenue that spirited entrepreneur Nancy Grayson envisions as a unique grocery outpost. It will open in an economically struggling area of Waco that some neighborhood leaders have long faulted as a “food desert,” at least when it comes to convenient access to nutritional food. Not anymore.
Therein lie the benefits behind the TIF board mission, using a portion of taxes collected on central city properties: aiding endeavors to not only revitalize parts of downtown Waco but bring to fruition private and public ventures that TIF officials see as boosting the overall tax base and the community’s quality of life. Certainly Ms. Grayson’s reputation as founder of the Rapoport Academy, a nearby public charter school celebrated for its academics and parental engagement, plus her success opening a lively bakery just down Elm Avenue testify to her commitment to this neighborhood. So does her vow to undertake everything from buying produce from neighborhood gardens to showing movies on the back outside wall come evenings. As she told TIF officials touring the place: “We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Other projects benefiting from TIF attention might not initially excite but these complement exciting assets that bring visitors to our city who patronize local merchants and generate sales taxes. Among these projects: 96 more parking spaces for Cameron Park Zoo (the second biggest attraction in Waco after Magnolia Market at the Silos with an attendance in 2018 of 365,000) plus additional parking at Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum (which executive director Byron Johnson tells us sees attendance of some 160,000 a year and saw only a minor dip during earlier I-35 construction). Cost: $495,087.
These and upcoming TIF discussions about a proposed million-dollar grant for public improvements complementing a $10.4 million expansion of Magnolia Market reflect exciting times, warranting smart improvements to long-ignored infrastructure, ensuring entrepreneurial success, boosting local tax revenue and showcasing a city of dynamic potential.