Imagine an ideal night out on the town. For some, that would include an elegant dinner and a movie, followed by enjoying some live music. For others, perhaps a trip to an art gallery and watching a play would suit them. Until recently, enjoying these forms of entertainment would require a trip to Austin or Dallas. But now, thanks to a community wide effort to change the environment and perception of Waco's downtown area, Waco can offer an ideal night out without having to trek up and down Interstate 35.
Waco businesses and officials are working to bring various forms of entertainment downtown as part of comprehensive remodeling efforts. In addition to the new infrastructure, downtown Waco is receiving a new cultural identity.
"We want to change the perception of downtown Waco," Jonathan Garza of Heritage Events Waco said. "It doesn't have a lot of foot traffic. We want people to realize downtown Waco is a fun and safe place to be."
Heritage Events Waco is a local group that sponsors and promotes unique forms of downtown entertainment. It teamed with the Waco Chamber of Commerce this past summer to start "Movies in the Square," where family-friendly outdoor movies such as "Shrek" and "Happy Feet" were projected on a 16-by-20 foot inflatable screen in Heritage Square at 330 Austin Ave. for the community to enjoy free of charge. The summer series attracted more than 2,500 people downtown. The fall movie series, which included "Talladega Nights," saw similar success while catering more to Baylor students and young professionals.
Heritage Events also holds "Gridiron Grills" after Baylor home football games in Heritage Square. The outdoor event caters to football fans, with four big-screen TVs and inflatable screen broadcasting additional games and ESPN analysis. They also have food and drinks available and have been named the official Baylor post-game destination. The next "Gridiron Grill" after the Nov. 15 game against Texas A&M University will feature a concert by country music star Mark McKinney.
"When I was at Baylor, the furthest downtown I ever came was for Ninfas. Now we hope these events, the new restaurants and the Hippodrome can change that," Garza said.
"Three years ago, the biggest complaint heard about downtown Waco was there was nothing to do," Garza said. "Now the biggest complaint is that there won't be enough parking. That's quite a shift."