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Another possible downtown Waco upgrade

  • From today's Waco Trib

    Developers to buy, expand Waco Hippodrome for downtown entertainment hub
    By J.B. SMITH

    Thursday December 13, 2012 Email Print
    At a glance

    What: Tax Increment Financing Zone board meeting

    Where and when: noon Friday, third-floor conference room of Waco City Hall, 300 Austin Ave.

    On the agenda: Funding recommendations for Hippodrome project, two new downtown apartments, Indian Spring Middle School athletic improvements and other downtown projects.

    Private developers are looking to buy and expand the Waco Hippodrome Theater, reinventing the shuttered Austin Avenue landmark as an entertainment complex open for business daily.

    Brothers Shane and Cody Turner are proposing to spend $2.1 million renovating the 99-year-old structure that once was Waco’s leading movie palace.

    They would build a three-story annex that would house a full kitchen, restaurant and outdoor event area. The downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board Friday will consider contributing $315,990 to the project.

    Joe Montes walks past the front awning of the Waco Hippodrome Theatre to apartments he is working on next door.
    Rod Aydelotte / Waco Tribune-Herald“Our interest in the property is that it will draw more people downtown,” said Shane Turner, who with his brother has renovated 10 buildings for lofts and businesses.

    “The theater holds around 750, and when you have a good show going on, that’s 750 people walking the streets of downtown. You can only imagine all the restaurants and retail that will benefit. I think it will give people a different view of downtown.”

    The Turners have the building under contract with Waco Performing Arts Co., the nonprofit group that operated it as a theater venue from the 1980s until its closure for financial reasons in 2010.

    Under a proposed agreement, the nonprofit group would lease the theater at least 12 days a year and book events such as touring theatrical shows.

    Dean Riley, WPAC board member and spokesman, said the sale frees the nonprofit group from having to manage an old building and allows it to resume its work of bringing productions to Waco.

    The new arrangement also gives WPAC freedom to book larger productions, such as Broadway shows, at other venues that have more stage space.

    “If we needed to fly in a helicopter from ‘Miss Saigon,’ we would not be doing that at the Hippodrome,” he said. “But that is a wonderful, wonderful theater that could be bringing in acts appropriate for its size.”

    Meanwhile, the Turners’ firm, Waco Hippodrome Inc., would book other events throughout the year, possibly including touring music acts. It also would show second-run and cult classic movies throughout the year.

    The second-floor balcony would be converted into table seating, where people could get a burger and a beer while watching a movie or performance, Turner said.

    The new, three-story annex also would offer a second lounge area for people who want a drink or a meal without buying a movie ticket.

    The Turners have been working with the Texas Historical Commission to ensure that the design is appropriate for the Hippodrome building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

    The work would include extensive repair to the outer brick walls, which have been leaking, and demolishing restrooms and office space to create more room for the lobby and lounge.

    New restrooms, an elevator and a full commercial kitchen would be housed in the annex, which would extend into what is now a garden patio on the South Eighth Street side. The building would leave room for outdoor tables and a stage, plus an outdoor movie screen and seating.

    Turner said that if the project gets TIF funding and historical commission approval, work could begin as early as January, with a possible opening late next year.

    “There are a lot of moving parts to put something like this together,” Turner said. “Between financing, a business model, working with the city and the historic commission — this is a unique deal, but we think it’s vitally important to downtown, and I believe we share a common vision with the Waco Performing Arts Co. in trying to make it a reality.”

    The Waco Performing Arts Co. operated the Hippodrome as a theater venue from the 1980s until its closure for financial reasons in 2010.
    Rod Aydelotte / Waco Tribune-Herald, fileThe city of Waco staff is recommending $315,990 in TIF funding, or 15 percent of the project’s cost. But the Turners are asking for $424,000, arguing that more public money is needed to offset the historic preservation cost.

    Melett Harrison, an economic development administrator for the city of Waco, said the TIF board could recommend either amount to the city council.

    The TIF zone provides incentives and infrastructure in Waco’s core using a portion of property tax from within the zone’s boundaries.

    Harrison said the Turners have been diligent about trying to preserve the historic significance of the building, and she thinks they will be successful.

    “This is too important of a building to mess up,” she said. “I know that the community will run you out of town if you mess up the Hippodrome.”

    Megan Henderson, head of the Downtown Development Corp., said the project is exciting because it not only restores the entertainment venue that downtown lost in 2010 but greatly expands it.

    “It’s a symbol of what we’re trying to do downtown,” she said. “It’s a reminder of what downtown used to be, a place of cultural significance, a place where people gathered to share experiences.

    “But it’s not going backwards, it’s reaching beyond where we’ve been,” she said.

    This post was edited by Old300Bear 19 months ago

  • Anytime Waco wants to invest in the arts/entertainment, that's good with me. Pretty big gap/void in the arts.

  • This is/was the missing piece. The Turners have had an amazing impact on the downtown area and deserve a pat on the back (and the profits they've generated). If Waco Theater gets going again,, there will truly be a reason for folks seeking entertainment to look for at least some of it downtown.

  • What a cool-sounding project. Dare I say that Waco is becoming cool?

  • The damn Turners are good people.

    Hooker: SAVED

  • It will be good to have the Broadway shows back. A lot of good quality ones came through the Hippodrome with the WPAC, but the seat economics just weren't there with the overhead they had. I hope this new business model is viable.

  • Article didn't say this but not owning the Hippodrome probably freed the WPAC to place the bigger Broadway shows either at Waco Hall or the Shriner Auditorium. Easier to make it pay that way.

  • They always had that freedom, but they had to pay rent at those venues, and the incremental cost of putting it on at the other venues was a factor, as was scheduling. Waco Hall is very difficult to get. There's also a content issue with Waco Hall. A fair number of popular modern shows would likely not be allowed at Baylor. It's still probably going to be more expensive and/or difficult to schedule at these other venues.