No one really knows what Austin Avenue will look like a week from now on the day of Baylor’s first football game in the new McLane Stadium.
Because the first home game is on a Sunday, downtown business owners have a variety of opinions on whether the first attempt to create excitement downtown will be a success. Several venues are typically closed on Sundays and owners said they don’t plan on opening despite the date of Baylor’s season-opening game.
But preparations have continued in transforming downtown Waco to be a part of the home-game activities. Roads have been repaved, new signs added, live music is scheduled, and vendors are prepared to line Austin Avenue.
Some business owners have no doubt this is what Waco has needed all along.
Klassy Glass Wine Bar owner Valerie Ficke said her business at 723 Austin Ave. plans on having specials and will stay open until 10 or 11 p.m., depending on the crowds.
“We’ll be open for every game. I don’t care when it is,” she said. “We’ve been here for four years and this is what we’ve been waiting for.”
Earlier this month, several blocks of Austin Avenue were repaved in preparation for the crowds expected during Baylor football game-day parties. The Bears face Southern Methodist University at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 31 in the $266 million McLane Stadium.
Traffic along Austin Avenue will be blocked off from Fourth to Eighth streets and at the cross streets from Fifth to Eighth streets three hours before the game.
“We don’t really know what to expect for the first game; that’s kind of what our motto is: be as prepared as possible,” said Drew Vincent, with Waco Downtown Development Corp.
Eleven vendors — offering food, popcorn and artisan-based items — have been confirmed to line along Austin Avenue or to set up in the parking lot across from Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits in the 500 block, Vincent said. Vendors will begin setting up about 1 p.m. and will stay downtown until about 7 p.m.
A seating area also will be provided in that parking lot, he said. A band, The Dirty Echoes, is scheduled to play that night, and Omar and the Howlers is already scheduled for the second home game on Sept. 6.
“We’re really hoping the local businesses — as this develops — they get a boost by offering air conditioning and the good food they are going to offer,” he said. “That’s going to be a big thing, I think. Hopefully we get some of those individuals coming back after they had a good time.”
Vincent said Baylor University is expecting about 10,000 vehicles for the game. About 7,000 can be accommodated at the new stadium and on the Baylor campus, he said, and the hope is that the remaining 3,000 park downtown.
About 1,900 free parking spaces are confirmed for downtown, with hopefully more to come, Vincent said, adding there should be enough paid parking to handle the influx of vehicles.
From there, the hope is that people come early before the game and enjoy what already exists downtown as well as the additions that will be provided, he said. The Business Resource Center has five tailgating spots downtown for sale, he noted.
The first two home games are only six days apart, leaving little room to make adjustments for downtown events. But organizers plan on learning from those first two games to make any changes for the third home game on Oct. 11.
Waco Transit will have a free shuttle pickup location at Fifth Street and Austin Avenue. But for those wanting to park downtown and enjoy the scenic view, Vincent said, it’s about a 15-minute walk to get fans to the riverwalk and then the stadium.
Some of the food trucks usually found downtown won’t be there on gameday.
Tim Quiroz, owner of Dave’s Burger Barn, said his mobile food truck will be catering a private tailgating party on campus that day. Quiroz said the money with the private party is better than staying downtown, and five of the six games in Waco he also has private catering jobs lined up.
Sergio’s food truck plans to be near the university that day instead of its usual Austin Avenue location near Dichotomy.
Youngdae Moon, owner of the Club Sandwich food truck, said he would like to be near the university, but the cost to find a location there is too expensive. For the first few games, he said, he plans on parking downtown in front of Dichotomy selling his Asian-influenced sandwiches and tacos.
Moon said he liked the idea of downtown festivities though, but wasn’t sure what to expect during home games.
“Even just from a fan perspective, I’d love to see it become a block party, strangers high-fiving and Baylor kids and locals all hanging out together,” he said.
Michael Suttle, Dichotomy manager, said the coffee and wine bar plans to do something special that day, but hadn’t decided what. Suttle said the more people downtown the better and there are still many people who haven’t realized how much the area has grown.
Bloomingals owner Kim Seesing said she has watched downtown transform dramatically in the 12 years her shop has been located on Austin. Every week, she said, she receives at least one customer visiting downtown for the first time in years, and they are amazed at the progress.
Seesing said her store, which is normally closed on Sundays, will probably be open just to feel out what the crowds are like. She said she knows that people aren’t going to be interested in buying flowers before heading to a football game, but she has considering other options, like selling cookies with the Baylor logo on them.
Portofino’s Italian Restaurant, which is normally closed on Sundays, plans to open its doors that night. But scheduling and timing has prevented other businesses from opening that Sunday.
Sironia owner Martha Heard said her restaurant and shop at 1509 Austin Ave., won’t be open.
Jake Black, owner of Jake’s Texas Tea House, said his eatery on Austin Avenue is normally closed on Sundays and will be closed for the first home game.
But he expects a lot of visitors for the Oct. 11 game against TCU.
“You’re going to have a lot of people looking for things to do,” Black said. “That will be the biggest one, in my opinion.”
Kuma Night Club, in the former Treff’s Bar & Grill location at 520 Austin Ave., had originally planned to be open that last day in August to join the downtown crowd, but its opening has been pushed back to mid-September.
Creative Art Studio and Theater director Beth Richards said members plan on being in “full tailgating mode” at its 605 Austin Ave. spot.
“We’re going to have lots of fun and games, lots of booths, activities, live music . . . we’re going to have a big party,” Richards said.
Richards said it will open at least three hours before the game starts, and if the crowd continues to dominate downtown, “we’ll stay as long as we need to.”
“We figure as soon as the game is over everyone will be looking for the bars and restaurants and we’ll probably join them,” she said.