A year ago this month Chip and Joanna Gaines announced they would buy the former Tribune-Herald building at Ninth Street and Franklin Avenue and make it company headquarters for the evolving Magnolia brand.
Construction fencing has appeared, and work trucks dot the parking lot. Progress appears underway to transform 70,000 square feet to offices, meeting rooms, a test kitchen and warehouse space. The Gaineses also reportedly will produce cable content there for Magnolia Network.
The Gaineses have said they will spend $21 million completing the task, with $4.48 million coming from the city, McLennan County and the state, the largest slice being $2.6 million recommended by the Tax Increment Financing Zone board a year ago after reviewing the Gaines’ proposal.
But the Waco City Council has not yet approved the $2.6 million outlay, though city Economic Development Manager Kent George said he hopes soon to place an item for council consideration on a meeting agenda.
He said talks between the city and Magnolia have continued the past year, and both parties are awaiting a “head nod” to move into the next phase. He said the TIF board expects completion by Dec. 31 this year. He said he knows of no changes to Magnolia’s plans for the building, but said he is aware Magnolia Network will move under the HBO umbrella when Magnolia parent Discovery completes its ballyhooed merger with WarnerMedia.
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The company announced Friday evening the $43 billion megadeal had been consummated and that the new entity would be called Warner Bros. Discovery. HBO Max and Discovery+ later are expected to become a single streaming service.
Magnolia Network President Allison Page will report directly to Casey Bloys, who oversees both HBO and HBO Max, the entertainment trade magazine Variety reported Thursday.
George said he does not know if this maneuvering would require changes to the proposed TIF agreement between the city and the Gaineses.
Magnolia spokesperson John Marsicano said, “One has nothing to do with the other. Those plans remain intact,” when asked about renovations to the Tribune-Herald building in the wake of the HBO announcement.
“The project continues to progress on schedule, and we look forward to sharing more details in the weeks to come,” he said by email.
The Magnolia Network launched on cable television in January after spending a year on the streaming service Discovery+. It represented a return to cable TV for the Gaineses, who got their start on HGTV’s home renovation series “Fixer Upper” in 2013. The Tribune-Herald in January reported the network would offer channels featuring cooking, home repair, home decorating and design, motivational stories and entrepreneurs’ real-world experiences.
The network originally was scheduled to debut in October 2020, but disruptions caused by COVID-19 delayed its appearance.
With Magnolia’s purchase of the longtime Tribune-Herald home, the newspaper relocated to River Square Center’s third floor, above Spice Village. The newspaper’s current owner, Lee Enterprises, traded 110,000 square feet for 6,500 square feet spread over two locations. The move was made possible as fewer newspaper functions were carried out locally. The staff was shrinking, and the printing press that made its last run in 2009 had been removed from the premises years earlier.
George said Magnolia will give the old newspaper building “an enhanced facade,” and will install several charging stations for electric vehicles. He said the rear of the building facing Mary Avenue “is not necessarily a showpiece,” and requires attention. George said the avenue could become downtown’s “festival street,” where events and community gatherings unfold.
Besides $2.6 million in TIF money, the project was approved for $1.25 million from the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp. and $625,000 due to its participation in the Texas Enterprise Zone Program. Enterprise projects are eligible for $2,500 for each job retained or created, up to certain thresholds, and the Tribune-Herald reported last November Magnolia plans to seek benefits for 240 retained jobs and to make at least 10 new hires the next three years. The company had 457 full-time employees as of Oct. 1.
Magnolia-branded operations include Magnolia Market at the Silos, Magnolia Home, the Magnolia Table restaurant, Silos Baking Co., Magnolia Realty, Magnolia Press, and Magnolia’s commercial kitchen. Magnolia, in a partnership with Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners, also will transform the Grand Karem Shrine building at Washington Avenue and Seventh Street to a boutique hotel with a full-service restaurant and event space.
George said the TIF board was sold on the idea of Magnolia making the old newspaper building its corporate nerve center, saying it represents “an awesome opportunity to increase daytime employment downtown.”
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