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Downtown Waco student loft project will mix new, historic architecture

Staff photo— Jerry Larson

Hayes Modular officials Warren Hayes and his wife, Kristina, look over plans for the West Campus Lofts project at South Eighth Street and Cleveland Avenue, a development that will use stacked modular units.

By J.B. SMITH jbsmith@wacotrib.com

A major student housing project underway in downtown Waco will blend historic architecture with 21st-century building techniques.

An Austin developer is doing groundwork for 36 “modular” apartments on the former campus of Waco Independent School District’s Alternative School, 805 S. Eighth St. Those units are expected to open in 2015 as the first phase of the 2.6-acre “West Campus Lofts” project just across Interstate 35 from Baylor University.

The second phase of the project will be to build as many as 50 loft units at the school itself, which was built in 1922 and long served as South Waco Junior High School. That phase could open in 2016.

The developer, Warren Hayes of Hayes Modular Group, said the new construction will have a more modern style than the historic school but will complement it with brick color and detailing.

The rectangular modular units, complete with interior drywall, flooring, sinks and granite countertops, are built in a factory then assembled onsite. Once complete, the building should look like conventional onsite construction, Hayes said.

“Modular is just a function of how it’s built, not a function of design,” he said.

The modular units were originally intended for a 444-unit student apartment complex at University Parks Drive and Garden Drive called Legacy Lofts. Site work was underway when the project was abandoned in early 2011 because of financing problems. By then, Trendsetter Homes in Belton had already constructed many of the modular units. Since then, the units have been stored in a Belton warehouse.

‘Amazing opportunity’

Hayes, who has built modular barracks, commercial buildings and hotels around the country, bought the units with the idea of assembling them in Waco.

“Once I found out the modular units were available for purchase, it seemed natural to look at Waco first, because that’s where they were designed for initially,” he said. “Once we got to Waco and saw the redevelopment opportunities with Baylor, we felt like it was a really good place. When the school became available, I saw what an amazing opportunity we had to use the technology I work with and blend it into one cool project.”

The second phase hasn’t yet been designed, but Hayes’ group intends to preserve the historic facade of the building and refurbish a basketball gym for residents’ use. Plans also call for replacing surface parking with a parking deck.

The developer is seeking incentives from the Tax Increment Financing Zone, which collects a portion of downtown property tax to assist downtown developments.

The TIF board Wednesday will consider a request of $724,000 for a first phase that will cost an estimated $4.8 million to build. About $185,000 of that incentive would go to replace an obsolete clay sewer line that runs through the neighborhood and under the school itself.

The Waco Downtown Development Corp. board of directors last week reviewed the TIF request and scored it according to the criteria of the Imagine Waco Plan for Greater Downtown. The TIF board uses the scoring to help decide how much money to give to projects.

The DDC gave the modular phase a relatively low score of 4 out of 15 possible points, but the second phase won 11 points.

“There were different levels of excitement about phases one and two,” DDC executive director Megan Henderson said. “They felt phase two has a lot of extra components that advance the Imagine Waco plan, in particular the historical preservation residential project and the addition of structured parking.”

West Campus Lofts is part of a rapidly redeveloping section of downtown that borders Interstate 35 near Baylor. It’s across Eighth Street from the Tinsley Place townhouse project, which will have more than 200 units. Across Cleveland between Eighth and Ninth streets, Gore Creek Partners of Houston is planning up to 75 units of “upscale” student housing.

Gore Creek partner Mark Seger, a 2002 Baylor graduate, said he thinks the blocks between Baylor and downtown will continue to be a growth hotspot.

“It’s nice to see what’s going on at Baylor, and it’s a good opportunity for our project,” he said. “We like the fact that it’s close to campus, and students have amenities next door with all the fast food restaurants and quick access to downtown.”

Henderson said the new developments are helping achieve the goal of the Imagine Waco plan to bring urban density to the core of Waco.

“As we see new residences coming in, we’re going to see more services, more food and entertainment,” she said.

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