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Local economy survives Davidian image

March 28, 2003

By Brandi Dean

Although the 'Wacko Waco' reputation the city developed 10 years ago during the Branch Davidian siege still lingers, city officials say Waco came through the media frenzy relatively unharmed economically.

Larry Holze was a city councilman in 1993 during the siege and is now the public information officer for the city of Waco. He said that, at the time, the council discussed what actions they should take to reverse the negative image Waco was getting. Their decision was to do nothing, and instead let what he considered the 'real Waco' do their work for them.

'We've surfaced as the good, quality people and stable economy that we are,' Holze said. 'We don't feel like there has been any real major impact, negatively, on Waco. All the downtown development that you see has occurred over the past 10 years.'

In other words, businesses haven't avoided locating in Waco because of negative associations with the area. Neither have businesses backed off from holding their conventions in Waco, according to Carla Lowe, the director of sales at the Waco Convention Center. Lowe said that, especially within Texas, people knew Waco had a history that started before 1993, and there was more to the city than that single tragedy.

In fact, she said, convention business has increased every year.

'In our business, people are looking for good hotels, for a nice convention center, things like that,' Lowe said. 'If people paid attention to [things like the Branch Davidian siege], Austin would never get any business because of the clock tower incident. Dallas wouldn't get any business because of JFK. That's just not what people in this business look at.'

Jack Stewart, the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said he thought the economic effects had been minimized, in part, by the way representatives of Waco presented the city to the media.

'[Reporters] would ask very direct and difficult questions,' Stewart said. 'They'd put the microphone in your face and say 'How is your community dealing with the embarrassment of this affiliation,' and 'Aren't your people just distraught?' The answer to that was no. Waco realizes that we are still who we are. We're a good family-oriented community with positive people - a progressive community. We're suffering with the rest of the country because of this human tragedy that is taking place, but it's not something that we caused or something that we're responsible for.'

That doesn't mean the situation doesn't still affect Waco in some ways. Many of those who travel say their answer to 'Where are you from?' still evokes comments and odd looks.

'When you travel either worldwide or across the nation, when you tell someone where you're from, people will still remember the Branch Davidians,' President Robert B. Sloan Jr said.