WACO, TX — One of the most important people you've never heard of will soon leave Waco for a new job, but not without leaving a mark and a legacy that has changed the city and its future.
"I love food, particularly barbecue," said Nabota Hilliard, who loves what's happened so far to Elm Avenue, the place he used to call his main street. ”This is a strip where growing up we used to party and hang out. So to have a lot of development and growth. I'm all for it."
For most of the last decade, the so-called landlord here, City Center Waco, has promoted and guided growth at the direction of its leader, Megan Henderson.
”I love this job. I love the people that I work with, and there is so much to do. There's just so much to do. There's not time to think about, you know, what might I be doing in another life,” Henderson explained.
Then, from out of nowhere, an opportunity came knocking for Henderson. She'll soon return to her hometown of Hillsboro to guide its future as city manager.
”For my family, if I was going to make a change and make a move, this is kind of the magical time for that. You know, in terms of where my kids are in school and what's going on with us, this would be that time,” she said.
Her work at City Center Waco made her a consensus builder as Waco worked to make huge improvements in collaboration with neighborhoods, a big change for the city that's brought big results.
Henderson believes she'll find fertile ground at Hillsboro to help the city grow, while at the same time maintaining roads, water and sewer lines that make that growth possible.
As they say timing is everything, Henderson believes Hillsboro's time has come.
”It is a great time for Hillsboro. It's an important time for the city that I grew up in,” she said.
What makes Hillsboro so ripe for change and growth?
”Hillsboro has natural beauty, fantastic bones, amazing architecture industry, you know, Hillsboro has got all of the makings of an excellent community," she said.
Henderson says the so-called Waco effect, the spillover of its success, makes a difference.
”Knowing that Waco has become such a bigger deal, you know, it has really leveled up, and that trend is going to continue. The opportunity is there to leverage those successes for the surrounding communities as well,” she explained.
The former Main Street director for Marlin and former Rosebud City Manager recognizes the opportunity, while at the same time seeing the need for consensus.
”I'm not going to Hillsboro with any particular ideas of what needs to happen. I'm going to Hillsboro to learn about Hillsboro first and to learn from the smart people who have been working for Hillsboro all along, and then in collaboration, I think we can come up with some good ideas,” said Henderson.
The folks along Elm Avenue say if Henderson is half as successful in Hillsboro as she's been in Waco, she'll have made an important mark in both cities.
”A couple of years from now, this will be the mainstream outlet for tourists coming in," said Hilliard.
Henderson believes, coming or going, she can get those tourists to stop in Hillsboro for a visit too.
She says she came on board in Waco just as the City pushed to get more community consensus on its growth and development.
”Waco has made a space for what people want from development to be important. That's the innovation. It's not anything that I did or anything that City Center Waco did. It's Waco said it matters to us, not just that we grow but that we grow the right way, that we grow in a way that connects people, that brings people together, that makes us stronger as a community, and yeah, it needs to make money. Projects need to make money, but they need to make community as well,” Henderson said.
As for the major projects overseen by Henderson and City Center Waco, here's where they stand.
The plaza planned for Bridge Avenue will include dining and performance areas and create a gathering space for events both big and small, all the idea of neighbors here. It is expected to be completed by the end of the summer. (for video of this project update look for this story at: Facebook.com/DennisTurnerKXXV )
From the Brazos to the old Paul Quinn Campus, Elm Avenue, East Waco's main street, has begun a makeover with years worth of community and neighborhood input. It is expected to be completed in about two more years.
Action has finally begun as street closures herald the arrival of the long-awaited development of the Brazos Riverfront. Things like mixed-use and residential buildings will be located along University Parks, with more park-like areas along the river, including a return of the farmer's market to a shaded, wooded stretch.
In between? Some restaurants and maybe a hotel could appear.
If all goes well, this project should wrap up in 2022 or 2023.