Walking along Mary Avenue between South Second and South Seventh streets on a humid Friday night, one could encounter dueling Tex-Mex aromas emanating from Ninfa’s and Hecho En Waco. Cigarette smoke, electric guitar sounds and patrons in swings, not to be confused with swinging patrons, would greet those passing by Twisted Sisters Patio Bar.
These pale blue scooters were everywhere, the busier ones, one parked. A seemingly homeless man lay along a slab of brick pavers, his prone body surrounded by bedding and snacks. A small gray cat seemed to be considering her options of rolling on the parched grass, watching tourists stroll between the Union Pacific lanes, or diving into the dumpster.
A few blocks from Sixth Street, Crews are making remarkable progress on a new AC Hotel by Marriot.
But something was missing from the itinerary, in fact, two things: a proposed 110-room Hyatt Place between Third and Fourth Streets and Mary Avenue, where the kitty prowled; and a multi-story Embassy Suites advertised between Second and Third Streets and Mary Avenue. They were announced in a similar time frame to the AC Hotel down the street.
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Nothing on these grounds now, except crickets and question marks.
Waco native Birju Patel, reached by phone, said his BH Hospitality Management had scaled back plans to place Embassy Suites almost directly behind the River Square Center, but had not abandoned the venture. Once a company priced between $33 million and $35 million, its price has fallen to around $20 million to $24 million, Patel said in April.
BH Hospitality plans to make another run on the Waco Tax Increase Funding Zone board to secure more TIF money for its Embassy Suites. The council awarded $7.4 million in 2018, which the Waco City Council approved. The money would be used to build the hotel with 175 rooms and a parking lot next door.
Patel missed the December 31, 2021 deadline for building the project, and the TIF board withdrew its pledge. Patel said funding for accommodation development froze during the pandemic, but eased earlier this year. He said on Friday that he had not received a new TIF commitment.
The proposed $19 million Hyatt Place across from the embassy site also received a TIF commitment but was expected to be completed by the end of 2020. It was to include a parking garage, 7,000 square feet of space retail, swimming pool, exercise area, meeting rooms and restaurants. Given its location, it would provide guests with easy access to dining, entertainment, and events. This would be a short walk to the Magnolia Market at the Silos, the Backyard Bar Stage and Grill, the Dr Pepper Museum, and the Pivovar Restaurant and Brewery.
Waco RL Hospitality LLC, whose official leaders in 2019 were from Texas and California, has not made public its plans for the future.
No mystery exists at Sixth Street and Mary Avenue. Heavy equipment, hard hats and barricades bear witness to the work in progress. Crews are ascending with a 182-key AC Hotel Waco, which would have a large conference center and other event spaces, commercial and retail spaces, and a parking lot partially open to the public.
Rogers-O’Brien Construction is acting as the general contractor for the project, which is expected to be completed next year. The city approved the project for an $8.7 million TIF grant and an additional $4.5 million in hotel occupancy tax relief over eight years.
Elsewhere near downtown and Elm Avenue, a Temple-based company, KB Hotels, is overseeing work on three hotels: a 132-room Cambria Suites, a 128-room EVEN Hotel and a 101-room Holiday Inn Express. . Construction on every property along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, either on Bridge Street or Taylor Avenue, appeared to slow during the pandemic. Work also continues on a major infrastructure project in the town of Waco on Elm.
At Washington Avenue and Seventh Street, signs of construction abound on the former Grand Karem Shrine building. A partnership between Magnolia and Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners is converting the building into a boutique hotel, restaurant and event space called Hotel 128.
Carla Pendegraft, who markets the Waco Convention Center, provided a list of hotels “actively under construction” on Friday. The list includes Element Hotel, Cambria Suites, EVEN Hotel, AC Hotel by Marriott, Holiday Inn Express, Hotel 128 and an Element Hotel near the roundabout, which is another project of the Temple company building the three hotels on Martin Luther King . Jr. Boulevard.
When completed, they will pump another 681 rooms into the market. If they were to emerge, Embassy Suites and Hyatt Place Downtown would add 280 to that number. Meanwhile, Pendegraft said 10 new hotels with a total of 992 rooms were completed between 2018 and 2022 in Greater Waco.
So far, Waco is holding steady in terms of hotel occupancy, hitting 72.2% versus 66.8% for the state in June, according to the latest available numbers, Pendegraft said.