Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Waco Convention Center has been open on a limited basis even before the new capacity limits take effect.
Locals are getting a spring in their step, calling Waco parks director Jonathan Cook about holding Easter egg hunts, car shows and baseball tournaments on public or city-controlled properties.
Word is getting out that Waco is opening up, that restrictions related to COVID-19 are easing. Cook said beautiful weather is giving people spring fever, and his department stands ready to serve the public.
“But we will continue to be very cautious,” Cook said. “We’re not jumping into this head-first.”
The city will require anyone seeking permission to use community centers, ballfields and pavilions to submit a safety plan.
Meanwhile, some events at McLennan County’s Extraco Events Center have continued. The county’s new $32 million facility there, The Base, will host the MidTex Farm, Ranch & Garden Show on April 9 and 10. It will be among the first, if not the first attraction to be held in the 80,000-square-foot facility built to add options for sporting events, conventions and trade shows on the Extraco Events Center grounds, off Bosque Boulevard between Lake Air Drive and 42nd Street and known to many as the Heart O’ Texas fairgrounds.
The Carden Circus, a ticketed event, is scheduled April 30 through May 2 at the Extraco Coliseum, located adjacent to The Base.
Waco on Friday moved into Phase One of its staggered reopening of more facilities it controls.
“City-operated museums and venues will continue operating with restrictions, and conventions and meetings can occur at 75% occupancy (up from 50%) with restrictions,” according to a city press release. “Outdoor events on city properties will be permitted with restrictions and precautions in place.”
The Waco Convention Center has been open at 50%, hosting small conventions and meetings as well as public vaccination clinics.
Carla Pendergraft, who markets the facility to event planners, said expanding capacity will make a big difference in bookings.
“Going to 75% will be high enough to take care of the needs of most conventions on our books,” Pendergraft said, referencing meetings that historically have convened in Waco. “It will allow us to book new ones as well. We are receiving many inquiries. Every day, we receive phone calls, and emails from our website asking about dates.”
All the while, new hotels continue to rise around the community.
“I think the new Staybridge Suites in Woodway should open in the next 30 to 60 days,” Pendergraft said by email.
She said several large conventions are considering Waco for 2022.
“I can’t share names yet, because they haven’t contracted,” she said.
Magnolia Market at the Silos, teeming with spring-break visitors and fresh from a $10.4 million expansion, has scheduled several warm-weather events in and near the Magnolia complex at Sixth Street and Webster Avenue.
Magnolia Press Patio will host live music April 1, 15 and 29, and on May 13 and May 27; Magnolia and the Humane Society of Central Texas will make adoptable pets available at Katy Ball Park on April 20 and May 18; and Magnolia will host vendors from Waco Downtown Farmers Market on April 21 and May 12, spokesperson John Marsicano said.
Cameron Park Zoo will host a Disney Scavenger Hunt on April 10. Teams pay $20 to enter, and winners receive prizes. A bar will serve alcohol and sodas. Registration is available at www.cameronparkzoo.com.
The Kid Zoobilee will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 1. Entertainment will include train rides, a rock climbing wall, mechanical bull, Euro Bungee, zip line, karaoke, a stilt walker and costumed characters. Zeke, the baby giraffe and latest Cameron Park arrival, is special guest.
Tickets are $20 apiece, and kids younger than 2 get in free. Those who purchase their tickets before April 19 are guaranteed a T-shirt in their size.
On a more serious note, the McLennan County Courthouse and other county facilities have remained open, though jury trials have been suspended about a year. Administrative Judge Vicki Menard has mandated that face coverings be worn by visitors and employees at the courthouse until further notice, County Administrator Dustin Chapman said.
In non-judicial county facilities, those where trials, legal proceedings and jury selections are not held, “face coverings are not required but face coverings and social distancing are strongly encouraged,” Chapman said.
County commissioners will continue to hold meetings via Zoom, Chapman said. The legal posting for a meeting Tuesday states “no physical meeting open to the public,” and Chapman said the April 6 agenda posting likely will include the same restrictions on attendance.
Waco’s transition from Phase One to future phases for its facilities “will depend on increased vaccination rates within McLennan County and keeping the rate of new COVID-19 cases in McLennan County low along with low COVID-19 hospitalization rates within our region, Trauma Service Area M,” the city press release states.
Phase Two would further reduce restrictions, and Phase Three would be a full reopening, though the city manager has the authority to change the restrictions.