10 Baylor alumni leading Downtown Waco’s revitalization
If you’ve visited Downtown Waco recently, chances are you’ve seen a new business or building and thought, “That wasn’t here last time,” or “A lot has changed downtown since I was a student!” That even happens with those of us who live here.
Downtown Waco is hot right now, and countless Baylor alums are at the forefront of growing it into a vibrant spot for locals and destination for visitors. Chip (BBA ’98) and Joanna (BA ’01) Gaines aren’t the only ones leading the renaissance (although they’re certainly a driving force behind Waco’s nearly 2 million visitors last year). Even before Magnolia Market opened in 2015, Downtown Waco was on the rise thanks in large part to the many Baylor graduates who chose to stay in Waco (or return) after graduation to change the way people think about our Baylor’s hometown.
Baylor Magazine examined the impact of “Downtown Bears” in their spring issue; here are just some of the Baylor alumni and faculty they found who are working to shape the future of Waco’s downtown:
- Fiona Bond, a Baylor MBA candidate and executive director of Creative Waco. Creative Waco successfully led the drive to earn the city a Texas Cultural District designation, which will provide funding and marketing for Downtown Waco as a cultural destination in the future.
- Peter and Summer Ellis (BA ’05 and BA ’04, respectively), downtown business and property owners. Summer founded First Friday Waco, a monthly event for downtown businesses that attracts an extra thousand visitors on the first Friday of each month.
- Nancy Grayson (MSED ’92), owner and chief baker at one of Waco’s most popular bakeries, Lula Jane’s. Before her current venture, she also started one of the state’s most successful charter schools, Rapoport Academy; both efforts are located in (and launched out of) her love for East Waco.
- Dillon Meek (BA ’07, JD ’10), a city councilman who is working to encourage Baylor alums to stay in Waco after graduation. He says Waco is partnering with Baylor and other local organizations on entrepreneurship initiatives to support local business and create high-quality jobs.
- Youngdae Moon (BA ’06), owner of Club Sandwich, a Korean and Asian fusion food truck. The food truck launched just three years ago, but Moon has lived in Downtown Waco for 18 years; such experience has given him a strong appreciation for the Downtown Waco community.
- Kevin Renois (BBA ’16), a native Haitian who chose Waco over possibilities in cities like Washington, D.C. He has since started an effort known as City Venture to support local entrepreneurs and business development, and was also one of the forces behind 1 Million Cups Waco — weekly meetings downtown where entrepreneurs gather to learn from each other.
- Marshall Stewman (MBA ’13), a Waco native who returned to his hometown from Dallas after recognizing the potential of downtown. Stewman and his partners, including Baylor graduate Cameron Goss (BA ’04), are currently renovating a warehouse at Mary and Sixth streets into “Mary Avenue Market,” which will feature restaurants and retail stores.
- Shane and Cody Turner (BA ’02 and BBA ’03, respectively), brothers and property developers whose numerous projects have added more than 400 residential units to encourage downtown living. Their most visible development was the renovation of the historic Hippodrome theater, with another noteworthy project coming soon — the development of a large restaurant, hotel, retail and office space coming along 11th Street and I-35.
A common thread for all of them is a desire to build something lasting downtown, that will attract residents who choose to make downtown their home and inspire Baylor graduates to pursue their calling in Waco when they’re done with school.
“Even from the time that I started at Baylor to now, there is a shifting perspective,” Renois says. “We can make it cool to be a young adult in Waco, and more and more talented people are sticking around. Whether we’re in Waco for the rest of our lives or for a short time, I think all of us want to make something incredible happen while we’re here, to give back to the city that’s become a second home or building the city for ourselves in a way that we feel is necessary.”
Sic ’em, Downtown Bears!