Waco recently took a major step towards realizing its ambitious downtown revitalization plan, selecting El Paso-based Hunt Development Group as the project's master developer. This decision sets the stage for what city officials estimate could be billions of dollars of investment in a 60-acre swathe of land stretching from Mary Avenue to Waco Drive.
The project, envisioned as a 20-year journey, seeks to breathe new life into the heart of Waco. Last April, a study by architecture firm Gensler laid out a captivating vision, including new municipal buildings, Brazos River boardwalks, a performing arts center, a minor league baseball stadium, and even a cinema complex. In October, the city opened the door to developers, ultimately narrowing down four finalists to Hunt in January.
City Manager Bradley Ford highlighted Hunt's experience with urban revitalization projects, citing their work on the 2019 Travis County court facilities in Austin as a key factor in their selection. This partnership marks the beginning of a meticulous planning phase, with the first construction anticipated for 2026 at the earliest.
Ford emphasizes the importance of prioritizing elements that attract local residents, such as housing, restaurants, and local activities. "One of the earliest priorities...is to re-engage locals into downtown," he stated. "We want downtown to be the heartbeat of this region, and we want people to say, 'I'm going to downtown because it's fun, and it's exciting.'"
Some residents are naturally worried about increased traffic times and potential safety hazards with all the new developments. The city hears these concerns, acknowledging that construction zones can indeed be disruptive. However, a well-designed downtown can actually lead to less traffic and safer roads in the long run, according to Waco car accident attorneys at Craft Law Firm. By encouraging walking, cycling, and public transit use, this project can not only revitalize the Waco city center but also make it safer for everyone. So, while temporary growing pains are expected, the long-term vision promises a smoother, more vibrant Waco.
District 5 City Council Member Jim Holmes echoed the transformational nature of the project, calling Hunt a "world-class" developer well-equipped to fulfill Waco's aspirations.
Founded in 1947, Hunt boasts a history of developing and design-building multifamily housing and commercial property across the nation. Ford referenced San Antonio's Pearl District as a model, not just for its unified vision but also for its focus on benefiting local residents. "It wasn't built to be the greatest tourist trap in the world," Ford explained, "It was built to be a gift to San Antonio."
Combined with the Riverfront development surrounding Baylor University's new Foster Pavilion, Ford envisions a downtown Waco unrecognizable from today in 20 years. "It's going to be Waco turning its face towards the river, and embracing the river with activities," he declared. "It's one of our best assets we have and we need to turn our face to it...It will be the place that when somebody says 'I'm from Waco,' they get a gleam in their eye."
With Hunt Development Group on board, Waco's downtown revitalization dream takes a significant step toward reality. As the planning unfolds and construction commences in the years to come, one can only imagine the transformative impact this project will have on the city's future.