The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Waco Wrapped

Updates to Our City in 2023

6 months ago

By Avery Ballmann

2023 was a busy season for Waco developers. Over this past year, Waco has been preparing to welcome new hotels, restaurants, parks, animal exhibits and even a new multi-purpose arena. In case you missed these new additions coming to Waco — and those recently opened — we have the latest information on each development.

Progress on Parks

Cameron Park Zoo has broken ground on the new Penguin Shores exhibit which will house endangered African black-footed penguins. This exhibit will be a rehabilitation space for the species as well as promoting breeding to help its dwindling population. The approximately $30 million project is expected to be completed just in time for summer 2024. Penguins aren’t the only renovations the zoo is working on; they are also expanding their education center and vet hospital. So while the zoo may be a bit dusty with all of this construction, it will be well worth a visit when all is said and done. The final addition to Cameron Park Zoo is their new Director, Brendan Wiley, effective this past November 27.

Wacoans said their official goodbyes to the beloved Lion’s Park Kiddieland as its final structures were torn down earlier this year. Kiddieland was not only home to mini-golf, go-karts and a train but also home to so many memories for Wacoans. I had my first date at this park and was sad to see it go. However, the park received a $2 million budget to rebuild and renew the vision of the park. Over the past several months Waco Parks and Recreation has held town hall meetings to get Wacoan’s opinions on the future of the park. On November 9, they completed their final public meeting and now we will wait to see how Lion’s Park will be renovated. According to the Waco Lion’s Park website, the planning process will take place during the next 18 months and anything is possible for the revitalization project.

With the closing of one park, another one opens! Jaycee Park, located at 6300 Tennyson Drive, is now home to Waco’s first park-dedicated pickleball court. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight.

For the Woodway Hewitt residences, as of October, construction for the City of Waco’s Highway 84 Wastewater Project will affect trail usage along a portion of the Cotton Belt Trail until the summer of 2024. For updates on this project, visit their website.

UnionBrands Extends its Mission to Woodway

You’re probably familiar with Union Hall, an eatery featuring a myriad of local businesses located in the heart of downtown. Now the people of Woodway have their own and it’s called Union Grove. Opened November 15 Union Grove, 8100 Woodway Dr., has an extensive list of vendors, including some familiar faces who have expanded alongside UnionBrands as well as new vendors: Pop’s Lemonade, Curry Up and Wok This Way, Health Camp, Huaco Eatery, King’s Chicken Wings, Pho My, S.O.S. Cotton Candy, Southern Charm Creamery, Sam’s Bar, The Village Pizzeria and Gelato Bar, Wacool Tacos & Tamales and Zuke’s Tea Bar. Union Hall and Union Grove are owned by the same company, UnionBrands Eateries Texas whose vision is to highlight local businesses. Union Grove is a great place to bring the family thanks to the variety of food options and the outside and inside turf area for kids and games. Union Grove is also implementing live music weekly, with their first performer being Michael Saldana. For hours of operation and more information visit UnionBrand’s website.

Hotels Make Waco Their New Home

Chip and Joanna Gaines of Magnolia gave the old Karem Shrine Building, located at 701 Washington Ave., a facelift and is now renamed Hotel 1928. This boutique hotel features 33 guest rooms, a ballroom, a cafe that serves coffee and pastries, The Brasserie — a southern classic-inspired restaurant — and Bertie’s on the Rooftop — a restaurant overlooking downtown that serves brunch and dinner. Want a closer look at the project? Read our article for an insider look at Hotel 1928.

Speaking of Magnolia, a new hotel has sprouted just one block away from the Silos. AC Marriott is located at 600 Mary Ave. and plans to open at the end of this year. This hotel includes 182 guestrooms, a 15,000-square-foot event space, an onsite restaurant and plenty of amenities for guests. Traveling with a large crowd? Book a Bear Den, complete with a private suite of eight rooms.

Located across the river in East Waco is the newly built Cambria Hotel. Located at 110 South Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, this 135-room property puts guests close to downtown with the hopes of them exploring our local businesses. An aspect that not only benefits guests but Wacoans as well is BLVD Steakhouse, an upscale dining experience with a full bar open for breakfast and dinner. With limited upscale dining options, this addition will be great for those special occasions for residents of Waco.

Exterior of Cambria Hotel Waco Univeristy Riverfront.

Remember the red, yellow, orange and green containery located at 4th Street and Mary Avenue? Unfortunately, The Containery never took off due to the pandemic and structural issues and it was bought out by Lucky Find Hospitality and is being rebranded as Hotel Herringbone. Giving ode to the original containers, the hotel has incorporated them into their design as well as adding a rooftop bar and community courtyard. The 21-room boutique hotel plans to open in February of 2024.

Slam Dunk for Baylor & Basketball Fans

Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion, the new home to Baylor Basketball, is finally wrapping up construction and plans to host its first games in the beginning of January. This $212.6 million arena is located next to the riverwalk overlooking the Brazos. Seating 7,000 fans, Baylor said this will give the team a ‘home-court-advantage’ with its raised elevation architecture, allowing fans to be closer to the action. Not only will this arena host basketball games but also concerts, performances and community events. The first game at Foster Pavilion for the Men’s team is on January 2 at 7 p.m. against Cornell and the Women’s team is on January 3 at 7 p.m. against TCU. Both the men’s and women’s teams are undefeated at 8-0 with their last game at the Ferrell Center for the Lady Bears on December 14 at 11 a.m. and for the men’s, on December 22 at 6 p.m.

Looking Forward 

As we wrap up this year let’s celebrate our city by visiting and supporting these establishments. Pack the seats at the first games in Foster Pavilion, have lunch at Union Grove, refer visiting family or friends to a luxury hotel or unique boutique hotel or go outside and support our local zoo and parks! As Waco continues to grow you can follow along by joining our newsletter and reading the stories of Wacoans.