After years of planning and construction, a multi-million dollar expansion of the Waco Convention Center is complete.
Inside the newly renovated facility lays 144,000 square-feet of meeting space in the heart of downtown.
"This signifies our commitment and our investment to the riverfront and to all of downtown,” Waco’s Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said. “We're not going anywhere. We're getting stronger in downtown."
The voter-approved, $17.5-million upgrade added more than 20,000 square feet and technological updates.
"We were at a point in the convention center's life where we either need to be in business or get out, and for us to stay we needed to make a drastic improvement," Waco City Manager Larry Groth said.
Outside the center is the new home to the city's historic Freedom Fountain—a monument to 12 Wacoans who tried to negotiate with the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.
"On one hand, we had a lot of people out protesting the war and on the other hand, we had the class president going to Paris, negotiating terms of treatment for prisoners of war," Mayor Duncan Jr. said.
The fountain now features 12 water jets, one for each member of the group.
"We really owe a debt of gratitude to the spirit of these people and their commitment to freedom and our way of life," Waco’s mayor said.
Cullen Smith is one of 3 surviving members of the Waco 12. He says the fountain symbolizes the efforts of the entire community.
"We came back and tried to involve the entire community with petitions, and letters and I believe we ended up with over 50,000 signatures," Cullen said.
“As taxpayers it also brings a lot of tourism dollars,” Dennis Havranek with the Greater Waco Hotel and Lodging Association said. “With what we have now, the building we have, the bricks and mortar, and the staff we have now Waco should be unstoppable."
Voters approved the bond for the project in 2008.
The Freedom Fountain was relocated to the site from its original location in Indian Springs Park.