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Temple Downtown Development aims to bring economic prosperity to city’s Eastside

Temple  downtown building
Hawn  Hotel through the years
Temple street plan.png
Posted at 8:57 AM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 22:53:47-05

TEMPLE, TX — Folks in Temple are looking up these days, to a project from their past that may show the way to the city's future.

You may know about the $18 million plan to renovate one of the city's first skyscrapers downtown but what you may not know is how it figures into the city's survival, it's a plan for growth.

After years of chasing its future to the west, the City of Temple has turned its attention back to Torin Green's neighborhood.

“Like on the east side, I stay on the east side, they built a brand new rec center right across the street from that as a city pool and then it's another little park there so it gave the kids something to do,” he said.

Now city leaders say kids of all ages will benefit from the public-private partnership that will polish three faded gems of the past, to put more spark into East Temple.

“This is a new beginning. This is something we've been working on, something that the council and the public have striven for, and it's happening," said Temple Mayor Tim Davis.

City and business leaders turned the first shovels of dirt recently on an $18 million project to bring back the Hawn Hotel, the Arcadia Theatre and an old Sears store into new apartments, a civic auditorium, business and retail space.

“It's an 18-month project and we're shooting for a grand opening around summer of 2023. So our goal is to be ready for apartment leasing season which is typically early summer,” said Jonathan Garza, of Turner-Behringer Development.

The idea is to bring more people downtown to live and to give them more choices in things to do. All in historic properties restored to their original luster.

The 40,000 square-foot hotel originally featured a restaurant on the first floor. One whole floor was dedicated completely to apartments. The top floor was a 4,000 square foot ballroom.

Plans called for this hotel to offer the kind of luxury usually reserved only for the big cities. What was the impetus behind it? The nearby king's daughter's hospital needed a place for the families of its wealthier patients to stay.

The old hospital got a facelift when Central Counties Services moved in.

City Council approved a plan back in 2018 which got mixed reviews in posts on Facebook with some hopeful and encouraging and others, more skeptical, predicting major changes to the buildings or the wrecking ball.

City leaders made their move after realizing all signs in the future showed that after years of expansion toward Belton Lake, Temple's best path to growth lies in its long-neglected east.

It's why the city has a project to widen and beautify streets connecting Temple's core neighborhoods to downtown and why the long-faded Hawn and the Arcadia will get some long-needed TLC, reconnecting this city to its older neighborhoods and why Torin Green says full steam ahead.

If you're gonna do it, just do it.

Because he says every shovel of dirt turned shows that while Temple talks the talk about spreading the wealth, projects like this prove it.

But now that the hoopla has died down some, you may wonder how these projects pay for themselves or do we pay through taxes and government subsidies.

Look around Central Texas and the message seems clear, everything old is new again or at least it's news.

25 News showed how the old 4-C's College became the newest Tecova's western store, now it's why a central Texas developer has taken on the job of polishing a couple of tarnished gems in Temple.

“There is so much history in I think a lot of towns make the mistake of knocking down the old and bringing in the new and it doesn't take more than a generation or two to forget who you are," said Temple Mayor Tim Davis.

City Council approved a plan to bring back the Hawn Hotel and Arcadia theatre in 2018. It took until now to get the project off the ground.

Leading the project, Waco's Turner-Behringer Company, which is like Waco's most famous couple, has made a reputation for quality fixer-uppers.

"That's the legacy of Turner Behringer that we're really trying to build this is the historic projects we do a lot of other developments, residential developments throughout the Central Texas area. Those are to support the historic projects as well. So for a project like this, people that live in the suburban areas that would live in those neighborhoods would come down to the downtown area," said Jonathan Garza of Turner-Behringer.

The company believes sustainability is an important part of any project. Build homes for people and then build them things to do. This project has both.

It'll turn the old Hawn Hotel, into brand new apartments and for something to do, a renovation of downtown's most popular theatre.

More and more businesses have begun to consider the benefits of renovation and restoration.

"The economics work better on renovating an old building, rather than trying to build new right now in a town like Waco. We have a lot of awesome hidden gems here that we don't want to lose and we want to bring back to life," said Jed Cole, President of Brazos River Capital.

Certainly, the economics have changed and developers have taken notice.

According to an EPA report, when you factor in the cost and effort of tearing down and building new, renovating proves far cheaper.

You'll find further proof in an online tool developed in part by the University of Alabama which helps gauge the benefits and drawbacks of any project against restoration and renovation.

"There's a lot that takes to get these projects off the ground," said Garza.

And to help with start-up costs, there's government money and where does it come from?

"Dealing with the National Park Service for federal tax credits kind of evens the playing field and allows us to take the risk to do a project such as this," said Garza.

That's right, the park service approves roughly 1,200 projects a year for a 20% tax credit because the park service has charge of what makes a building historic.

An article from the Houston Chronicle lists several charity groups and foundations that also contribute.

Turner-Behrenger certainly won't make money off that, but it will off the resulting real estate, brand new apartments, a new theatre, and retail where it might command a rent higher than market rate for the prime location and the renovation.

This is why it all makes business sense now to polish those old gems from the past for a shiny new future, and why one company has become highly sought after for its success and expertise.

"Turner-Behringer has a has a long history of doing quality projects and for them to bring their expertise to Temple to me is it really shows what temple's doing," said Davis.

Giving folks here a reason to look up to a future rooted in the successes of Temple's past.