NeighborWorks plans to build duplexes on former baseball and soccer practice fields at the old University High School property.
The nonprofit group received the 4 1/2-acre tract of land as a donation from the Dallas-based developer Leon Capital Group, which purchased the full 18-acre University High School from Waco Independent School District.
A 51,896-square-foot Gander Mountain store is being built on the main high school campus, along with a 107-room Homes2 Suites by Hilton extended-stay hotel.
Waco real estate agent Chris Gutierrez, who represented the Leon Capital Group in the land purchase, said the developer did not have plans for the practice field land and an adjacent parking lot, which are separated from the main site by Bagby Avenue.
“One thing about retail developers is everything they do is very focused, and even though this property was right across the street from the primary tract they bought from WISD, just being detached by a single street makes a big difference because that put it outside the target development,” Gutierrez said.
The fields do not sit on a perfect rectangle of land. The site is bordered by Bagby and Speight avenues and a part of 24th Street, but homes and businesses take up five lots alongside the property on 24th Street.
Waco ISD stipulated that Leon Capital Group would have to acquire all of the University High land for the sale to be completed. The company originally planned to sell the field space, but Gutierrez, a member of NeighborWorks’ board of directors, suggested that the group instead consider donating the land to NeighborWorks.
Gutierrez said past clients also have donated land to the group as part of a property sale. A similar arrangement allowed NeighborWorks to acquire land at Dallas and Mill streets in East Waco to create the Pecan Valley Estates subdivision.
The parking lot, which takes up an acre of land on Bagby Avenue and 26th Street, was donated to neighboring Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Gutierrez said that move was suggested by Waco City Councilwoman Alice Rodriguez.
NeighborWorks CEO Roy Nash said the organization is exploring building duplexes on the site or new homes for lease or purchase.
The board has long expressed an interest in developing multifamily residential options to accommodate Waco’s large rental market.
Nash said about 57 percent of the city’s residents are renters. NeighborWorks already has 84 single-family rental homes, all of which are occupied.
“Waco is a renter’s town, if you will,” Nash said. “Providing quality, affordable rental properties is important for the community, so that’s why we’re looking at some kind of multifamily development because it’s an important aspect of Waco’s living environment.”
Nash said NeighborWorks has been in negotiations to purchase land on Mary Avenue near its downtown headquarters to build a duplex, but the deal has not been finalized.
Developing the University High property will allow NeighborWorks to expand housing options in South Waco, one of the agency’s priority areas.
The organization purchased 9 acres of land on Belmont Drive near the H-E-B on South Valley Mills Drive three years ago with intentions to build duplexes.
But development plans were put on hold because the site will need new streets, adding to construction costs.
“We like to work in areas that are a little lower-income and areas that need our help more than others, and areas that may be somewhat what you’d call underserved,” Nash said. “To me, that means areas that have been neglected for development in recent years.”
Nash said NeighborWorks expects to break ground on the University High land later this fall or by early 2015. He said the group likely will seek low-interest loans to cover the development costs, which he expect to top $1 million and may be split into two phases of construction.
The agency wants the site to keep some of the green space in the practice fields as a park for eventual tenants. This past spring, NeighborWorks allowed the Southern Little League to use the property for practices.
Nash said NeighborWorks still is focusing on efforts to boost homeownership. It is starting site development on Legacy Estates, a subdivision planned on the 500 block of Turner Street in East Waco that eventually will feature 12 single-family homes.
All of the agency’s rental properties can be purchased by tenants. Residents will have a rent-to-own option on the eventual duplexes or homes built on the University High property.
“This is probably the most construction we’ve had going on at one time since (the housing bubble burst),” Nash said. “Before then, we may build 24 houses in one year.
“It’s gotten better, but even two years ago, we’d be lucky if we did two.”