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3 hotels slated for MLK Blvd. after TIF Zone board boost


By Phillip Ericksen

The downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board on Wednesday unanimously approved more than $3.2 million for public improvements associated with three, four-story hotels slated for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in East Waco.

The trio of hotels would add major development on the east side of the Brazos River to the tune of 361 rooms, a shared courtyard area, event space and a bar and restaurant in two of the properties. The total cost of the project will be about $21.7 million.

The TIF fund, which collects a portion of tax revenue from downtown properties to fund development, is overseen by appointees from each Waco city council district and one representative each from McLennan County, McLennan Community College and Waco Independent School District.

“We feel that the occupancy is there,” said Kenny Bhakta, the developer who also owns Hotel Indigo. “There’s a need of additional rooms in the Waco downtown area, so we’re just delivering it in different brands. Our brands can sell themselves, and we can do real well with it as well. The combination of the brand delivery, the downtown activity, the university — we really feel good about Waco, particularly right here in this area.”

The L-shaped Cambria Hotel between Bridge Street and Taylor Street would include 132 guest rooms, a bar and restaurant, fitness center, 5,400 square feet of event space and a shared courtyard with the adjacent Even Hotel. Even would include 128 rooms, a bar and restaurant, workout space and fitness equipment in each room and 1,900 square feet of meeting space. The restaurant at Even would be called “Cork and Kale” and feature juice and coffee bars.

On the other side of Taylor Street, a 101-room Holiday Inn Express would include a fitness room, pool and a board room with flexible space.

Developers hope to break ground on the project early next year and complete the entire project by 2022. City Economic Development Director Melett Harrison said the project will create 105 jobs and more than $3 million in payroll with development of the hotels. A study of Waco’s downtown found that a hotel would benefit the area, especially in light of the city’s high occupancy rate.

“It’s very suitable and desirable for our convention clients as well as our traveling public,” Harrison said.

Designs show developers would renovate Bridge Street into a walkway with a fountain and structural art pieces. Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, said the development would be a departure from the historical elements of the Elm Avenue area. She still indicated strong support from the Imagine Waco plan for East Waco.

The money board members approved will fund new sidewalks, landscaping, streetscapes and about 2,300 linear feet of parking lot, city staff said.

“We want to be a part of the culture in East Waco,” said Jacquelyn Baumann, director of sales for Hotel Indigo. “It’s part of the reason we want to bring in jazz music and things like that. We want to highlight the best parts of our community in East Waco as well. It’s not coming in and trying to gentrify anything, it’s coming in and trying to enhance what’s already there. It’s a beautiful location, it’s right on the river. Bridge Street has always traditionally been a part of the community, and we want to bring that back.”

Bhakta said he is planning another hotel off of Waco’s famous traffic circle off La Salle Avenue. Hotel Element, he said, will also break ground early next year.

Developer Kenny Bhakta discusses the hotels slated to be built on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

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