For years, some of the most visible landmarks on the west side of Interstate 35 across from Baylor were the Clarion Hotel Waco and the University High School and Sul Ross Elementary School campuses. But that was before they were torn down over the past few years to make room for redevelopment that is turning the area between South Fourth Street and South Eleventh Street along Frontage Road into Waco’s newest Restaurant Row.
Baylor alumni returning to school will soon find Waco’s first In-N-Out Burger alongside new restaurants Freddy’s Steakburgers, Twisted Root Burger Co., and Chick-fil-A already open along the strip. And a lot more are coming.
For some, it’s a second (or third) location in Waco. For others, it’s the result of developers accumulating enough properties to develop on coveted Interstate space or a recognition of Waco’s growing positive visibility between the opening of McLane Stadium and the popularity of HDTV’s Fixer Upper TV series.
“Waco hadn’t embraced I-35 development like other large cities had embraced their interstates,” says Whitney Richter, business development and marketing manager for the Greater Waco Chamber. “McLane Stadium has increased Waco’s visibility, which encouraged developers to look at Waco because Waco was investing in itself.”
“There was a lack of underutilized commercial space, a lack of accessible high-quality retail space. It just wasn’t the highest and best use,” says Scott Rodgers, VP of leasing for Dallas-based DuWest Realty, which is developing the space where the 148-room Clarion Hotel stood with a 16,000 square foot center called Bear Grounds Plaza that will be anchored by the In-N-Out and CVS.
“I live in the Greenville area of Dallas and it has 20 different dining options,” Rodgers said. “You go in and you’re not sure where you’re going, but you have choices. Baylor is important to the equation as is all the development of housing in the area. Walkability is key.”
So Chick-fil-A has opened its new restaurant on the site of the former Sul Ross Elementary School and Twisted Root now occupies the former Texas Playhouse building. And leasing is nearing completion on Bear Grounds Plaza with Chipotle Mexican Grill, Wok Box, Pie Five Pizza, Jersey Mike’s Subs, and Steel City Pops as signed tenants with three more retailers to come.
“The majority of these people have another location and they’ll look elsewhere if they’re successful here,” said Bland Cromwell, a partner at Coldwell Banker Commercial – Jim Stewart Realtors which is bringing in Freddy’s and Panera Bread and working on a new Raising Cane’s for the area.
Cromwell says it’s not just Frontage Road along the Interstate that’s benefiting from the move away from old housing and hospitality.
“That part of I-35 is seeing 110,000 cars per day; the amount of traffic is insane and growing,” he said. “I think everything will be redeveloped from Fourth Street to Eleventh and from the Interstate back to Franklin with commercial, retail, and student housing.”
Josh Carter ’99, who works with Cromwell at Coldwell Banker Commercial, says you’ll see more development as developers assemble the lots and move the residential zoning to commercial. That, he says, takes time.
“You need an anchor to drive more development. There’s the stadium, they’re building an urgent care center next to Twisted Root, and Magnolia Market just opened,” says Carter who moved from Dallas to go to Baylor and stayed after graduation to raise a family. “It can’t be all fast food. You need to backfill the space and you need diversity beyond the restaurants.”
Rodgers predicted that the new In-N-Out and CVS will both be open within the next 30 days or so, and that the rest of Bear Grounds Plaza would be delivered by the second quarter of 2016. And Carter says he expects a “lot of announcements” over the next six to nine months.
“Everyone sees what everyone else is doing and says we have to do something too,” Rodgers said.