WACO, TX — It's no secret that the city of Waco has been growing and taking on major economic development projects. One of those is the Elm Avenue Streetscape Project in East Waco.
Marilyn Banks, owner of Marilyn's Gift Gallery on Elm Avenue, says the last 30 years have been rough in that part of town, but she never lost hope that it would someday change.
"When we opened in 1989, we just had a vision that this community could come back and be great like it once was before. You know, when I was growing up, you saw people out and walking and with new things coming in. I hope to see that again," said Banks.
Born and raised in East Waco, 71-year-old Banks has lived through many phases of Elm Avenue.
"This used to be Landers Variety Store and as a child, I used to come in here and buy toys," she remembered.
As a preteen, Banks experienced days when Elm Avenue was full of life and prosperity. In her teens, she watched the community turn gray, and that was more than 50 years ago.
"It bothered me during that time because I knew what it was during the time when I was a little bitty 9-year-old girl," said Banks.
In 1989, she and her husband opened Marilyn's Gift Gallery and for 30 years, she saw things happen through the window of her business that she will never unsee.
"I would look out the window and you would see things that were not good to see. You saw open prostitution, you saw drug deals," Banks recalled.
Year after year, she stood strong and held on to faith that one day the vibrant community she saw as a child would re-flourish.
"There were so many years we hoped for better, and it was a slow progress but it is finally here now," she said.
Now when people drive by Elm Avenue, they will notice many construction signs and road blocks as the new road comes along. All of Elm Avenue from Garrison Street to MLK will be renovated.
"Banners, better lighting, better sidewalks and all of that, and those are things we have asked for for a long time in this community and it is finally taking place," said Banks.
Banks says the energy on Elm Avenue already feels lifted and hopes it only continues getting brighter as the years pass.
Phase two of the construction is expected to begin in January 2021.