The Waco Convention Center celebrates the 50th anniversary of its ribbon cutting this month. This ceremony on Saturday, January 15, 1972, completed a process that actually began in 1956. It also came nearly 11 years after the city’s major convention facility, the Roosevelt Hotel, closed in August 1961 to be converted into a retirement center.
In February 1956, the Waco City Council approved a contract with Harland Bartholomew and Associates to prepares Waco’s first master plan. One of the many suggestions to come from this major undertaking was that the city build a convention center. In May 1959, the Waco Chamber of Commerce Convention Committee appointed a sub-committee to study the needs for a convention center.
Several years passed until Tuesday, March 15, 1966 the Waco City Council approved having the Waco Urban Renewal Agency file an application for a federal grant to plan the city’s 5th project, this one stretching from 12th Street to the Brazos River between Washington and Franklin. At the same time, the agency would also file an application with HUD’s Community Facilities Division for funding to plan a convention center in the area east of 4th street. At the time of this council action the plan envisioned a hotel near the convention center and the construction of future government buildings in the area around the square.
In addition to needing land on which to build the center, money was another challenge. The city decided to fund it using bonds to be included in a $17 million bond proposal to pay for other projects and improvements in the city. On Tuesday, February 21, 1967, Waco voters approved the bond package, $2.25 million of which would be used to fund the construction of a convention center.
On Thursday September 26, 1968, the Waco Convention Center Committee expressed its support for the plans of the proposed convention center, a model of which was displayed at that year’s Heart O’ Texas Fair for the public to see pending Waco City Council approval.
Architectural plans were not the only part of preparing for the construction of the center. The Brazos Urban Renewal Project, part of Waco’s overall Urban Renewal program, had the responsibility of buying the lots on which the facility would be built, lots occupied by other buildings that needed to be demolished. More than 40 parcels of land were obtained, and this process continued well into 1969. Finally, in March 1970, the City of Waco awarded a contract for $2.598 million for the construction of the center.
The convention center hosted its first meeting, the Texas Surgical Society, in October 1971, followed by the official dedication in January.
Since then, an expansion project finished in 1988 enlarged the convention center by 20,000 square feet. Then in May 2007, a majority of Waco voters approved a bond package that included funding for a complete renovation of the center, including changes to the exterior. A formal celebration marking the end of the project was held in August 2012.
As an interesting side note, in August 1972 the Waco City Council approved the sale of land between 3rd and 4th and Washington and Austin to Aminex Development Corp. for the construction of a six-story hotel to serve the convention center. However, it would be nine years before the convention center had a convention hotel when the Hilton opened next to the center in 1981.
Congratulations to the Waco Convention Center for 50 years of hosting events from near and far.
Bibliography and further reading
“Civic center vital as business ‘lure’”. Waco News-Tribune, 14 Feb 1967, p. 1A
Copeland, Mike. “Waco building to grow”. Waco Tribune-Herald, 24 Dec 1986, p. 1A
“Council approves recommendations for land use in convention center”.
Waco News-Tribune, 20 Dec 1967, p. 1A
“Council favors downtown plan”. Waco News-Tribune, 16 Mar 1966, p. 1
Dye, Bob. “Convention center plans advanced; model will be displayed at fair”.
Waco News-Tribune, 27 Sep 1968, p. 1A
“Planning under way for convention center”. Waco News-Tribune, 7 Jun 1967, p. 6
“Ribbon cutting called his proudest by mayor”. Waco Tribune-Herald, 16 Jan 1972, p. 1A
Travis, Marion. “City’s civic center to have eye appeal for visitors”. Waco Tribune-Herald,
3 Jul 1971, p. 1A
“Waco urban plan, funds acted upon”. Waco New-Tribune, 12 Jun 1969, p. 1A
“Ward will head panel to study convention needs”. Waco News-Tribune, 15 May 1959
“With many changes, civic-convention center grew out of 1956 master plan”.
Waco Tribune-Herald, 16 Jan 1972, p. 2H