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City planners talk to community about downtown Waco revitalization

July 28, 2009

That fact is why the city of Waco and city planner John Fregonese are making big plans to includes hundreds to thousands of Wacoans in the plans to eventually grow downtown and develop the riverfront. Fregonese is the president of Fregonese Associates, an organization that has worked with numerous cities to turn undeveloped or blighted properties into areas where people live, work, and play. He believes that the city has the ingredients to make it work.

But last night wasn't about ideas for restaurants, water taxis, or new buildings. It was about the ingredients necessary to start the ball rolling, a subject on which Mayor Virginia DuPuy says Fregnese brings a great deal of expertise.

Fregnese spent a great deal of time talking about demographics and the future of American cities. Luring people downtown is certainly not a "build it and they will come" proposition. It involves understanding who lives downtowns--primarily households without children, both young and eldery--and ensuring that there are not only entertainment options, but sufficient jobs to lure them to the region itself. John Fregnese said that recognition that demand for labor will increase is vital.

It helps that Waco has a large population under 30. Baylor, MCC, and TSTC play a big role in that. Keeping many of these students in town after graduation would fit hand-in-hand with the attempt to lure residents downtown.

Fregnese and his associates noted that cities will be in greater competition for talent and labor in the future, and a vibrant downtown could start a cycle that lures more talented workers and keeps downtown and the region growing.

It could be 2 years or more before we start seeing signs of progress, but the city of Waco is encouraging residents to join in the effort. Planners will hold workshops and meetings where people can actively participate in designing their vision, discussing what they think redevelopment should look like, and what makes this area unique that they'd like to see reflected in that redevelopment.. City manager Larry Groth says it's those individuals who can shape the area they live.

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