Welcome... To Historic Downtown Waco

Downtowns across the nation went through a period of abandonment in the 1980s and 1990s, for the most part, as businesses and people fled to other areas. A movement has been ongoing for more than a decade now as community leaders work to revive what some call their heartbeat.

  • Words by John Ingle, Photos by Torin Halsey
Texas is no stranger to tornadoes, especially those that cause tremendous damage. In 1953, a tornado in Waco killed 114 people and destroyed almost 200 businesses and factories.
The aftermath made people wary of setting up shop in downtown Waco, but a movement over the last 10 years has put a new emphasis on reviving the city's heartbeat.

Niche boutique shops, restaurants and loft apartments have become commonplace on Austin Avenue near the McLennan County Courthouse and the Brazos River.

Many businesses in downtown Waco have created visual interest through remodeling the facades of their spaces. Several have restaurants or retail on the ground floor and loft apartments upstairs.

Stimulating architecture and design can create interest in downtown spaces that may be ripe for renovation. This building was purchased by an architect and redesigned into apartments with his vision and style.

G & K's Hotdogs gets ready for a weekday lunch rush while set up on Austin Avenue, one of downtown Waco's busiest streets.

It takes a public/private partnership to redevelop or rediscover a city's downtown, including city leaders and private investors. Megan Henderson, executive director of Waco Downtown Development Crop. & Business Resource Center, said she believes downtown Waco is making a comeback because of the cooperative nature of all involved.

"The city has to be all-in because it has the most at stake. If the city is trying to pay for everything itself, it's failing to leverage this sleeping giant of investment. So it's not about how the city can provide the best quality downtown for us, it's how can the city leverage this massive private-sector potential." - Megan Henderson

Shane Turner (pictured here) and his brother Cody Turner, have taken a specific interest in developing downtown Waco, investing in high-rise buildings for residential spaces. A 2013 article in Focus Magazine named the Baylor University alumni as "two of the most sought-after property developer and construction" guys in Waco.

Their most well-known investment, however, is the historic Waco Hippodrome, built in 1914. The Turners bought the building in December 2011, began restoration work on it in April 2012 and re-opened in 2014.

The Turners tried to keep as much of the Hippodrome's original design and character in-tact during the restoration, but added a few twists, like adding tables and chairs over traditional theater seating, to give the venue flexibility. Guests can order food directly to their seat, and there's even wine and beer on tap available.

"There's still a lot to be done in Waco, but we're happy to see other people doing things here." - Shane Turner

There's an energy in downtown Waco that isn't easily explained, but people want to be a part of it.

Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits, at 508 Austin Ave., is one downtown Waco shop that gives the area a hip vibe.

The gourmet coffee shop by day, specialty cocktail lounge by night has something for everyone, including a roof-top patio for patrons to lounge and enjoy the downtown scenery, Cody Fergusson, chief coffee officer, said.

"When we were looking for a place, downtown was always in the picture. We could feel the energy. We wanted to be a part of it and do our part ... to bringing downtown back to life." - Cody Fergusson

The nearby Brazos River, with its numerous bridges and bronze statues of a cattle drive along the Chisolm Trail, is a draw for residents and tourists alike.

Several bridges over the Brazos River connect both sides of Waco, including the Waco Suspension Bridge (pictured here) and the Washington Avenue Bridge.

The historic Waco Suspension Bridge played an important role in the growth of Waco. It connected the north and south areas of town and served as the Brazos River crossing for the Chisolm Trail.

The Washington Avenue Bridge, built in 1901, was rehabilitated in 2009.

The riverwalk area along the Brazos River in Waco is popular for jogging, fishing, kayaking and just relaxing near the water. Indian Springs Park leads to the riverwalk and is at the north end of downtown Waco.

A larger-than-life bronze sculpture by artist Robert Summers depicts cowboys and cattle on the Chisolm Trail crossing the Brazos at Waco. Public art is an important part of revitalizing a downtown area.

Thank you for visiting Waco! Come back and see us soon.

"There's no doubt in my mind that 20 years from now when we look back on this time, this is going to be the bend in the hockey stick that really kind of turned the battleship and brought us to being much more of the downtown and community that we wanted it to be." - Megan Henderson
Created By
Orlando Flores Jr

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