A public meeting Tuesday about the city’s planned $8.2 million redevelopment of Cotton Palace Park included conceptual art of walkways, a playground and an outdoor stage, but the staff and board of Waco Child Development Center were perturbed by what was not pictured: their facility on Ross Avenue.
The 17-acre park site is bordered by Waco Creek, Clay Avenue, Dutton Avenue and Cesar Chavez Middle School, and includes the subsidized child care center, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in April. The center’s board and leadership have been weighing whether to expand their center or move to a new location to meet growing child care needs, and waiting on plans for the park before making a decision. City officials at the meeting Tuesday said the master plan for the park remains purely conceptual.
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“What I don’t want is to get the train rolling and then we’re trying to solve a problem,” said Mack Hardin, who serves on the center’s board of directors.
District 2 Waco City Council Member Alice Rodriguez, who was at the meeting, said her children attended the child care center when they were young.
“We’re not saying you’re out and we’re not saying you’re in, but let’s talk about it,” Rodriguez said to the child care employees who attended. “That’s what this is for. This is a planning meeting.”
Director Debbie Miller said the center is part of the South Waco community, and she wants it to stay where it is.
Conceptual drawings from RBDR, a firm working with the city’s lead consultant, Walker Partners, show an entrance at Clay Avenue and 13th Street leading to a new fountain and an outdoor stage with shaded picnic tables surrounding it. The rendering also includes a covered pavilion that aesthetically recalls the old exhibition hall for the 1894 Cotton Palace exhibition that gives the park its name. The pavilion, as depicted, would double as a basketball court and a gathering space. It is pictured roughly in the spot where the Waco Child Development Center now stands.
A pair of baseball diamonds and related facilities next to the middle school’s stadium would round out the layout, along with parking near Dutton Avenue.
“When you think of historic parks in Waco, you think of Cameron Park,” Parks and Recreation Director Jonathan Cook said. “But Cotton Palace Park actually predates Cameron Park.”
Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Tom Balk said the park’s history dates back to 1894 when Waco residents inspired by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago raised $40,000 to build an exhibition hall and hosted a monthlong exhibition known as the Texas Cotton Palace.
After a fire the next year put a halt to the event, the structure was rebuilt and the exhibition resumed in 1910, and the site was expanded to include a car racetrack, an indoor roller coaster, an outdoor roller coaster, and other attractions throughout its life until it closed in 1931. Cesar Chavez Middle School takes up about half of the original site.
“It’s hard to imagine all this happening here in Waco,” Balk said.
Balk said all of those uses and several others throughout the years have left a “disjointed combination of land,” and the park has been in need of redevelopment for years.
Walker Partners Vice President Jacob Bell said the design could also include a new fountain near the entrance, at the site of a fountain original to the exhibition hall.
“At this point, we don’t know if we can bring (the original fountain) back to life, it’s so dilapidated,” Bell said. “But it is an icon.”
Cook said the park will be for the community, and the parks department and Walker Partners will be gathering more public input before bringing any proposals to the Waco City Council.
Bell said the park is only about 5% or 10% through planning stages and no design work has started yet.
Russell Rhodes, who serves on the Waco Parks and Recreation Commission, said the renderings look “OK,” but the name “Cotton Palace Park” carries connotations he is not comfortable with as a Black Wacoan.
“ ‘Cotton’ doesn’t mean anything positive in my community,” Rhodes said.