Waco selects Hunt as master developer for 60 acres around City Hall

Waco on Tuesday selected El Paso-based Hunt Development Group as the master developer for the city’s long-term downtown redevelopment project.

The project is one city officials say could result in billions of dollars of investments in a 60-acre area between Mary Avenue and Waco Drive.

City officials last April received the results of a study from the architecture firm Gensler, which was hired to create a vision of Waco’s downtown of the future, complete with new municipal office buildings, Brazos boardwalks, a new performing arts center, a minor league baseball stadium and a cinema complex.

In October, the city invited firms to compete to be master developer for the 60 acres of mostly public-owned land. By January, the city had narrowed the search to four finalists: Hunt, Trammell Crow Company, Waco Heritage Crossing and Propertize Ventures.

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During Tuesday’s city council meeting, City Manager Bradley Ford said the city will begin negotiating with Hunt to refine the development plan and funding strategies and will present a final plan to the council within nine to 12 months. Ford said Hunt was chosen due to the firm’s experience with urban development projects, such as the 2019 project to develop a new Travis County courthouse in downtown Austin.

Ford said Waco’s downtown development is a 20-year vision that will be completed in several years-long phases, with construction for the first phase expected for 2026 at the earliest. On the construction side, Ford said Waco will first prioritize building elements to engage locals and bring them into the downtown area, such as housing developments, restaurants and local activities.

“One of the earliest priorities from my perspective is to re-engage locals into downtown,” Ford said. “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,’ and they want to be downtown.”

District 5 City Council Member Jim Holmes said during the meeting that the redevelopment project is “transformational” for downtown Waco, and said Hunt is a “world-class” developer well-suited to accomplish Waco’s goals.

Founded in 1947 by brothers Jack and Kelly Hunt, the firm has developed or design-built 119,915 units of multifamily housing and more than 30 million square feet of commercial property, according to its website.

Ford said the Pearl District in San Antonio is a model for the downtown Waco project, not only in the vision for a large unified district with food, housing and offices, but in the spirit that it would be a “gift” to local residents.

“It was a gift to San Antonio residents,” Ford said. “It wasn’t built to be the greatest tourist trap in the world. It was built to be a gift to San Antonio.”

Coupled with the Brazos Riverfront District project around Baylor’s new Foster Pavilion, Ford said downtown Waco in 20 years will be everything that city officials have been planning for years.

“It’s going to be Waco turning its face towards the river, and embracing the river with activities,” Ford said. “It’s one of our best assets we have and we need to turn our face to it. For a long time, we kind of turned our back to it. We’re going to do a kind of course correction and turn our face to it and it’ll be where people want to celebrate special occasions. It will be the place that when somebody says ‘I’m from Waco,’ they get a gleam in their eye.”


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