Baylor University is making a $9 million investment in downtown Waco with the purchase of a three-building office complex it has leased for the last decade in the 800 block of Washington Avenue.
University regents voted this week to buy the properties from a business entity associated with Waco businessman Gordon Robinson. The buildings house the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, the psychology and neuroscience department, the doctor of physical therapy program and the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty.
They include a 10-story former bank building at 801 Washington Ave. known at the “Baylor Tower,” along with an adjacent three-story building at 811 Washington Ave. and a one-story building, for a total of 119,305 square feet.
The purchase also includes the four-level, 236-space parking garage behind the office tower and a 55-spot parking lot nearby.
Baylor had the right of first refusal when Robinson’s company, Washington Partners Ltd., decided to sell the buildings. Another 13 tenants, many of them long-term renters, also lease space there.
McLennan County Appraisal District in 2020 valued 801 Washington Ave. and 811 Washington Ave., both built in 1955, at $4.25 million.
Gordon Robinson and his father, Clifton, are major landlords in downtown and longtime benefactors to Baylor.
Clifton Robinson, chairman of Southern Financial Group and former owner of the Waco Tribune-Herald, donated $3 million in 1994 to help the university purchase Clifton Robinson Tower, located on South University Parks Drive. In 2003, he donated $1 million to help start Friends of Baylor, and in 2007 he and his wife created a $5 million endowed scholarship for honors students. He completed his service on the Baylor Board of Regents in May.
Regents met virtually Monday to approve the purchase, Baylor spokesman Jason Cook said.
“This was a special called meeting to consider the purchase,” Cook said. “The timeline was expedited given the parameters of Baylor’s lease agreement having the right of first refusal.”
Cook said space is always at a premium for the university, which he said leases about 70% of the space in the buildings at present, but there are no solid plans to move specific programs into the buildings yet.
“Baylor was not looking to purchase the properties, so the acquisition process has occurred very quickly,” Cook said. “Once the purchase is complete, we will have an opportunity to step back and look at the facilities from a more strategic standpoint.”
The current leaseholders will remain once the acquisition closes, as these lease payments will assist with the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the buildings. Cook said the university will conduct inspections on the buildings, and will likely close on the buildings by the end of the year.
In a press release about the Board of Regents’ decision, Board Chair Mark Rountree said the board decided the building would serve Baylor’s long-term needs for space.
“For nearly a decade, Baylor has strategically positioned itself in downtown Waco by leasing space in these buildings,” Roundtree said. “By owning these properties instead of leasing we improve our financial position, and we continue to invest in and strengthen our relationship with the City of Waco.”
Baylor President Linda Livingstone said the purchase would further the university’s long-term academic goals, outlined in their strategic plan, Illuminate.
“One of the four pillars of Illuminate is ‘Research and Scholarship Marked by Quality, Impact and Visibility,’” she said in a statement. “We believe the purchase of these properties in downtown Waco provides integral academic space to help increase our teaching and research capabilities. In terms of visibility, we will house Baylor academic programs, initiatives and support services in these buildings that help define the Waco skyline.”
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