Downtown officials said limiting or even eliminating on-street parking on Austin Avenue on game day could help create a “block party” atmosphere before and after Baylor games.

Staff photo— Rod Aydelotte

Downtown Waco leaders are continuing to discuss how to attract Baylor game-day traffic without blocking access to businesses, but their latest approach is more carrot than stick.

The Downtown Development Corp. has discarded the idea of creating paid parking zones, which were intended to preserve parking for customers of restaurants, bars and stores along Austin and Franklin avenues.

Instead, the group is focusing on assembling large areas of free parking on public and private lots near the shuttle pickup point at Austin Avenue and South Fifth Street, reducing the temptation for people to park in front of restaurants.

“What we are doing is getting verbal agreements from several property owners to allow game-day parking on private parking lots,” DDC executive director Megan Henderson said. “Our goal is 2,000 to 2,500 free, nonstreet parking spaces.”

Henderson will discuss the idea at a public meeting on downtown parking at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the CAST building, 605 Austin Ave.

Henderson said owners of downtown office buildings have been willing to allow them to be used for weekend games for free as long as someone else, such as the city, assumes liability.

Henderson has been talking with merchants and representatives of the downtown Public Improvement District about how to maximize the potential of having several thousand people downtown on game days.

‘Block party’

She said one possibility now under discussion is limiting or even eliminating on-street parking on Austin Avenue on game day. Closing Austin to vehicular traffic could help merchants create a “block party” atmosphere before and after the game, Henderson said.

Jerry Dyer Jr., whose Austin Avenue ventures include Muddle cocktail bar and the soon-to-open Kuma sushi bar, supports that idea.

“I love it,” he said. “I think we need to do it to create a destination down here. We need to set up vendors on the street. We need to keep businesses open, but shut it down to traffic.”

He said he’s not concerned that people might have to walk a couple of blocks to visit his businesses.

“If you’re creating a product people want, they’re going to find a place to park, and they’re going to do what it takes to get there,” he said.

Henderson estimates that about half the 3,500 vehicles that won’t be able to park on campus will choose to park downtown, but until the new McLane Stadium opens, the real numbers are anybody’s guess.

Waco Transit is planning to run at least six shuttles from the pickup point at Fifth and Austin to the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 35. With roundtrip times of 8 to 10 minutes, the 60-passenger buses should be able to move 2,500 people per hour.

Waco Transit Director John Hendrickson said the transit company will have extra buses and drivers at the ready for the first game Aug. 31 in case they’re needed.

Waco Transit for several years has shuttled people to Floyd Casey Stadium from pickup points downtown and at Vitek’s Barbecue, serving between 1,000 and 3,000 people per game.