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Nearly five years ago our community took the first step to develop an ambitious planning process to redevelop Waco’s heart with housing, shops, work places, attractions, visitor amenities, schools, civic facilities, parks and greenbelts, grand boulevards and neighborhood streets. This process kicked off with unprecedented public participation in the summer of 2009.
City and civic leaders invited the community to help envision a safe, healthy, sustainable downtown from Quinn Campus to 18th Street and from Baylor University to Cameron Park.
We were guided through the process by a nationally recognized team of consultants, but the plan was created by you and other interested and affected citizens who provided their vision to shape our future.
To mobilize volunteers to participate in the planning process, the Greater Waco Chamber established an all-volunteer entity called 1000 Friends of Waco. This became public policy advocacy in action at the grass roots level.
We have made spectacular progress in the last five years, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of everyone involved. The work to date has brought clarity to many issues. Many believe we are at a moment when vast change is inevitable─if not already underway.
Much of what we do in the community we do because it’s what we’ve always done. Observers believe that we are at a tipping point that could change our path in a direction we have never gone before. This creates a tremendous opportunity to live in a better place. Research and communication can help us to better understand the dynamics at work in the world and develop strategies to make progress through a focused, educated and sophisticated effort.
This effort, with your help and input, has helped redefine the notion of success for our community. But even though future growth patterns are becoming clear and momentum exists does not mean it’s time to celebrate a job well done. Now is the time to avoid complacency, step on the gas and take advantage of the momentum.
When 1000 Friends of Waco was created, we collectively said “Waco deserves to be a better place.” We still believe that, and the results of your work speak for itself. We are more than 1000 Friends who have a vision for a transformational future; and more than 1000 Friends who were willing to think and act big enough and bold enough to build a better, greater downtown. We are the ones we are waiting for!
Thank you for all you do to make Waco a better place.
The primary goal of 1000 Friends of Waco is to prepare residents to be advocates for a vibrant, successful Greater Downtown Waco. Join us in being a part of the “new normal” for more discussion daily at 1000friendsofwaco.com or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Anyone who has ever been in my office has likely seen a Waco Tribune Herald newspaper clipping posted above my desk dated Monday, August 5, 1974 titled “Officials Convinced Downtown Can Make It: Lake Brazos Corridor Viewed as Ace-in-Hole for Future Development.” It is an interesting article.
The article basically states that Chamber leadership, city staff and other stakeholders were confident in the potential of the downtown area despite the fact it was struggling. The article dismissively describes a prevalence of vacant buildings in the downtown mall, lackluster retail sales that don’t keep pace with the rest of the community and low rents in downtown as distractions from the bigger vision.
The article goes on to discuss the need for hotels and entertainment facilities to attract people into downtown and support the convention center. One city leader talks about plans in the works and blue prints ready to break ground on a hotel and restaurant stating that “downtown Waco has the building blocks for a future, it’s just a matter of arranging them.”
In 1974 the community was selling seven new free public parking lots as a reason to come downtown. We were building for the moment, not a long term sustainable future.
Even in this less hopeful era in downtown Waco’s history, just a few years before one of our then city council members declared downtown Waco “brain dead,” even then we believed in the value of the Brazos River.
I’ve been reminded many times that it takes forever to build a city. Forty years ago leaders were working with the tools available to them to build this city; today we keep working. We’ve come a long way. The understanding of our potential was quite clear 40 years ago but it went unrealized. Today that understanding is no different; we all recognize the importance of a revitalized riverfront destination for the region.
What appeared to be lacking in 1974 was a community united behind a shared long term vision for our community. Today that vision is in place and you see the results. More than 2,500 people involved in 1000 Friends of Waco are playing a big part in developing the consensus that is building unprecedented momentum in Greater Downtown Waco.
This generational vision—not unlike that of the great cathedral builders—is what 1000 Friends of Waco is all about. It takes forever to build a city and we can’t do it without you.
The primary goal of 1000 Friends of Waco is to prepare residents to be advocates for a vibrant successful Greater Downtown Waco. Join us and be a part of the discussion daily on Facebook or Twitter @1000friendswaco.
The super bowl is over but that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect on the score. In 2007 after about six months on the job at the Chamber, we were in the process of setting goals for the next year. Then CEO Jim Vaughan asked me what I thought we could expect in terms of development activity over the next year in Downtown Waco. Based on my limited experience and knowledge of what was happening at the time I responded that I thought a reasonable stretch goal would be $100 million in new development activity over the next year.
Jim is the person who taught me to think big and work to transform, after I said $100 million he look at me and asked, “Do you think we can do a billion?” Thus the “Billion Dollar Decade” was born. The “Billion Dollar Decade is an organizational goal to realize one billion dollars of new development activity over the next ten years. We started tracking in 2007, so now is a good time to reflect back on what this community has accomplished over the past 5 years.
Since 2007 there has been more than an estimated $530 million in new development activity completed or currently underway with an additional $380+ million currently under development.
By use this breaks down to:
- $120,000,000 in mixed use development activity
- $24,000,000 in new or renovated retail development.
- $71,000,000 in office and hospitality space
- $314,000,000 in other (Football stadium, parks, convention center, public facilities)
- 619 new residential units
A few days ago, my wife, Cristi, called and asked if I’d ever been to McDowell’s Café Store onElm Avenue. As she was driving back fromDallas, she and my son, Ollie, stopped in McDowell’s for a scoop of Blue Bell ice cream. A wreck was backing up traffic on I-35, and Ollie was pretty sure he had been strapped into his car seat long enough already.
Being plugged into happenings in Greater Downtown Waco, I was embarrassed to tell her that I had never been there. She really enjoyed “discovering” a quaint place that was new to her. She and Ollie spent a couple of hours having a wonderful time visiting with the regulars and talking about Downtown Waco.
Cristi, like most of us, takes great pride in downtown as a burgeoning center of activity for our community even though she doesn’t live or work downtown. She doesn’t feel this way because she’s supportive of her husband, although she is, she does it because people like to discover new things and be on the frontier. Many of us tend to take ownership of interesting urban spaces. We seem to be drawn to them as anchors of community life.
Along those lines, I was recently invited to attend a membership meeting of the Waco Business League. President Charlie Olson after hearing presentations about exciting things happening in Greater Downtown Waco, remarked about how much progress has been made in recent years. In respect to new businesses and other activity driving people downtown, Mr. Olson said, “Today is the New Normal.”
Olson talked about Saturday mornings at the Farmer’s Market, family members working out at one of the downtown gyms, dining in downtown restaurants and working downtown. Things are good in Downtown Waco, and they are getting better. I agree with Olson, experiencing Greater Downtown Waco is now part of many of our daily routines.
Recent public and private development activity leading the way for a new normal is a sharp contrast to many years ago when Downtown Waco was declared “brain dead” by a former city official.
Ground was broken recently to construct new signature frontage road bridges over I-35 that will serve as a striking gateway for visitors of our city. Plans are emerging rapidly for the construction of a game changing (literally and figuratively) complex that will be home to the Baylor Bears football team and numerous other events bringing the community together and visitors to our city. Almost everyone I talk with is buzzing about new hotels, river development and exciting things for our future.
Taking these transformational steps to improve our downtown neighborhood is leadership in action and also sets the stage for Waco to thrive as a place that can attract future leaders.
Waco City Council representative Toni Herbert once said that Downtown Waco is and should be everybody’s neighborhood so we can all take pride in the fact that the “new normal” for all of us is discovering great new things in and about our Greater Downtown Waco.
The primary goal of 1000 Friends of Waco is to prepare residents to be advocates for a vibrant, successful Greater Downtown Waco. Join us in being a part of the “new normal” for more discussion daily at www.greaterdowntownwaco.com or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Join us, you are invited!
The Urban Gardening Coalition is having the groundbreaking with the Waco Chamber of Commerce of its new Urban Training Farm on July 9th at 10:00am at 312 Chestnut Street Waco, TX 76704. We would love for you to come out and show your support!
The Coalition has received support or pledges of support from the Cooper Foundation, the McLennan County Hunger Coalition, their board of directors, private donors, and a host of other partners to make this project a reality, and are excited it is finally happening.
If you are planning to come, it is next to the old Farmers Market Building in East Waco, and it is best to park on Mann Street. Contact Zac Bryan at 817-909-3608 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the event or how you can become more involved with the program.
Making the Case for a Franklin Avenue Road Diet in Waco
Several weeks ago 1000 Friends of Waco shared an interesting article from the Strong Towns blog that compared property values in auto-oriented and more traditional developments (click here to read the original article) and found that in this instance traditional development patterns provide a greater return on investment than auto-centric developments.
We thought it would be interesting to take a look at a local example.
Franklin Avenue has an opportunity to become a better economic generator by considering a “road diet.” A road diet is when a wide, high-speed road is redesigned to be more narrow, have slower traffic, and more space designated for on-street parking, bicycles, pedestrians and plant material.
The idea of utilizing road diets didn’t originate with 1000 Friends. It was one of the priorities in the Imagine Waco plan, which called for a road diet on several arterial corridors throughout Greater Downtown Waco including Franklin and Washington Avenues. Specifically, the plan states, “The current transportation system is focused on moving traffic through the downtown rather than creating an environment where streets are integral to the urban design of the downtown,” and recommends that Franklin (and Washington) be redesigned to:
- Continue one-way operation
- Re-purpose two through lanes for transit, on-street parking and/or cycle track
- Plan for station locations every ¼ mile
- Sidewalk and landscape improvements
- Colored/textured crosswalks at intersections
Other recommendations include:
- Calm and add pedestrian and parking accommodations to existing streets with bulb-outs, planting areas and slow points
- Inspect and improve sidewalks to accommodate two adults walking side-by-side (six feet)
- Define bike route connections to downtown multimodal streets
- Improve pedestrian lighting
To better understand why these recommendations make for a sensible investment for our community, we must first understand how these corridors function, their impacts on commerce and their value to the community.
The first step involved looking at what impact these improvements may have on travel times relative to roadway capacity. It was also important to determine what, if any, safety impacts may result from the proposed redesign.
An analysis of property values and building density was prepared to determine economic impact. For this analysis, Franklin, as an auto-oriented corridor, was compared to an adjacent, more multi-modal corridor with some of these improvements already in place.
Austin Avenue is immediately parallel to Franklin and more closely resembles the multi-modal corridors recommended in the Imagine Waco plan in that it accommodates pedestrians with adequate sidewalks. Austin Avenue also has dedicated space for on-street parking, which both slows down traffic and provides a buffer for pedestrians to create a greater sense of safety.
Capacity vs. Volume and Safety
The Waco MPO made the following information available on the Franklin and Washington Corridors.
Franklin from Fifth to 11th Streets represents the most heavily traveled segment and sees about 8,500 cars per day but has the capacity to serve close to 24,000, almost three times more capacity than it needs. Similarly, Washington has six times the capacity it needs today.
This thought may not sound ideal to those who speed down Franklin to work in the morning, but theoretically two lanes could be removed without impacting traffic flow or travel times. This should also increase safety considerably by reducing potential conflict points (opportunity areas for crashes).
According to the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP), Franklin Avenue is one of the more dangerous corridors in the region. The crash data on corridors reveals that it has the third highest ratio of crashes per miles traveled with 29.24 crashes per million VMT. This is somewhat concerning because as a one-way street the opportunity for left turn and head-on conflicts are virtually eliminated, Franklin Avenue has considerably fewer conflict points than the two-way streets it is measured against in the MTP. This indicates speeds may be too high on Franklin.
In conventional urban and transportation planning circles it is generally accepted that multi-modal corridors or “complete streets,” as they have come to be known, improve property values, encourage business activity, increase safety and inspire density, all good things for urban economic development. A review of the improvements to Austin Avenue during the past several years will provide an apples-to-apples comparison as it relates to the Franklin redesign proposed in the Imagine Waco plan.
For the purposes of this analysis, property along Franklin Avenue between Fifth and 11th streets was compared with the adjacent property along Austin Avenue from Fifth to 11th streets. All property that fronts the streets or resides wholly within the half block of the street frontage was included in the assessment; any building that has a presence on both Austin and Franklin was eliminated; and analysis started at Fifth Street rather than Fourth Street to eliminate outliers in the Alico and Roosevelt buildings.
Using available 2011 appraisal data, large differentials in values and building density are present along the corridors.
The property adjacent to Franklin had a total of 823,606 square feet of land area covered by a total of 525,455 square feet of improvements resulting in an overall Floor Area Ratio of 0.64. Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is an index used to determine building intensity; it is calculated by dividing improved area by total land area. The Franklin Corridor has 21 vacant parcels or parking lots.
Values along the Franklin Avenue corridor totaled $18,758,133 with a net average price of $22.78 per square foot of land area.
The property adjacent to Austin represents a total land area of 666,538 square feet with improvements totaling 763,191 square feet. The FAR for the Austin corridor is almost double that of Franklin Ave at 1.15. Nineteen vacant parcels and parking lots are situated along Austin.
Values along the Austin Ave.corridor totaled $35,653,166 with an average price of $53.49 per square foot of land area. Values are 135% higher along Austin Avenue.
Given the information on roadway volume, capacity, safety, value and density, these improvements are a good investment for Waco. Imagine Waco offers guiding principles directed toward restoring Greater Downtown’s vitality, increasing livability and walkability and promoting new business growth. Redesigning the Franklin corridor through Greater Downtown will take a significant step toward realizing those principles.
Franklin today is designed as an auto-oriented corridor; not for people. Until safe places are available for individuals to park and walk along the corridor, investment in redevelopment along Franklin Avenue will likely continue to result in lower densities and values.
Based on current conditions, Franklin Avenue is relatively unsafe for pedestrians and motorists. The lack of mobility alternatives provides little opportunity or incentive for business development. This results in less than comparable property values and density development relative to a more complete street scenario as represented by the adjacent Austin Avenue development trends presented in this analysis.
Investment in roadway improvements consistent with the strategies outlined in Imagine Waco would result in improved incentive for business development, increased property values and improved safety. The improvements would theoretically have minimal impact on traffic flow or travel times along the corridor.
The Greater Waco Chamber is committed and actively working to make Greater Waco a magnet for talent. Volumes have been written on the importance of place-making as a talent retention and recruitment strategy.
1000 Friends of Waco believes that implementing Imagine Waco improvements like the proposed Franklin Avenue redesign can have a profound impact on our ability to grow Greater Downtown, which is as important as any other work focused on attracting and retaining talent, growing our workforce and creating the kind of conditions that allow our community to thrive.
Since our community endeavors to evolve, improve and transform, transect based zoning and form based codes are definitely something worth learning more about .
It makes good sense to think about a community as a whole rather than individual separated parts. This holistic approach to community is the fundamental difference between traditional zoning and what has come to be know as “Smart Code.”
As our City’s comprehensive plan is updated in the next few years we think a new approach is worth exploring.
Click the link for a great primer on the urban transect. http://transect.org/transect.html
Bryant Stanton, Friend of Waco and stained glass artist extraordinaire (www.stantonglass.com) copied me on a recap of a recent excursion he had on the Brazos and Bosque Rivers. I wanted to share his brief story and some of his pictures with you.
I finally did it, after 33 years living in Waco I Kayaked the two rivers from MCC to points south towards down town Waco. It was an amazingly beautiful trip to see our town from a totally different vantage point. The rivers were a buzz with so much activity from canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, sail boats and motor boats. The MCC marina was hopping and the river trail from MCC to Cameron park had a steady stream of bikers, hikers and runners. Apparently the fish were biting as well, lots of folks fishing from the banks and from boats. Cameron Park and downtown was very busy with outdoor life on both sides of the river.
After the kayaking Suzanne and I road our mountain bikes from Fort Fisher along the river walk, which we normally do on Sundays, well I rounded a corner and was back in the river. I didn’t realize that portions of the river walk were still under water, muddy mess, yuck.
We made our way down town which was crawling with charter buses and kids everywhere around the convention center, UIL competition? I have no idea.
I have always believed and it is now very much reinforced Waco’s greatest assets are the two rivers running through Waco and the heart of downtown, no other town in Texas beats what we have.
I will be back on the river weather permitting this weekend and have an extra Kayak if anyone is interested.
Keep up with whats happening at Stanton Glass Studios by following their blog www.stantonglass.com/blog
If you have any stories like this to share with 1000 Friends of Waco, please pass them along.
The primary goal of 1000 Friends of Waco is to arm you with everything you need to be advocates for a vibrant, successful greater downtown.
Who do we advocate to? we envision a community united behind a common effort to make greater downtown a cool place where people want to spend time living working and playing.
What do we advocate for? We stand for the implementation of a community based vision developed through the Imagine Waco planning process. We believe that urban development is a key to our future success as a city, as an economic development organization and as citizens.
Why do we advocate for urban development? Here are ten ways Urban Development impacts all of us:
- Money: The farther away we live from our jobs the higher our transportation costs, or the less money we have to save or spend on other things.
- Urban development increases the quality and efficiency of public services. Services such as police and fire, schools, and utilities are more expensive and less efficient because they have to cover more ground without urban development.
- This, in turn raises our taxes, without urban development not only are our public services lacking, they also cost more.
- Physical fitness: Suburban development patterns are entirely auto-oriented, resulting in more time driving and less time walking. Urban development patterns are more human scale and encourage walking and interaction.
- Health: A growing body of evidence links increasing rates of diabetes, cancer, obesity, asthma, depression and several other health problems to community design.
- Downtown tastes better: locally owned restaurants tend to thrive more in urban areas while fast food drive-thrus tend to permeate less urban more auto-centric places.
- Increases public safety: More eyes on the street is a great crime deterrent.
- Saves green space: IfWaco adds its projected population growth over the next 40 years at current density levels we will lose 65-80 square miles of green space in McLennan Co.
- Water Quality: Reducing our urban footprint will minimize impervious cover, less severely impacting water quality in our rivers and lake due to storm water runoff.
- Quality of living: large parking lots take up space that could be used for parks, more vehicle miles traveled directly translates to lower air quality, large roads create noise pollution.
And one to grow on:
- More high fives: It’s physically impossible to be unhappy while either giving or receiving a high five, spending time in an urban environment affords you more opportunity to interact and encounter other people.
Our community has a story and we want you to be prepared to offer context, common values and connecting points that relate our story to our goals and we believe that the information shared among 1000 Friends of Waco helps provide that context.
1000 Friends of Waco is not only a means for us to get information out it’s also perhaps more importantly a place to listen and learn, feedback is critical to our ability to refine our programming, our processes and ultimately our means to success. Community building can’t exist in a vacuum; input and ideas are critical. Greater Downtown Waco will not be successful without you.