If Texas beats Baylor this year to win the Big 12 championship, where will the party happen in Austin? Answer: Sixth Street.
If Oklahoma beats Baylor to win the Big 12, where will the party happen in Norman? Answer: Campus Corner.
If Baylor wins both of those games, where will the party happen in Waco? Answer: Uh, not sure. George’s will do well that night. So will Vitek’s, a few watering holes along the interstate and a club or two here and there.
But the party? Right now, that hoped-for, would-be party doesn’t have a home.
There is no place for all Baylor football fans to gather when the stadium isn’t open for business. There are tons of very cool places to hang out, but they’re scattered all over town.
A mash-up of business owners, community leaders and elected officials are trying to change that in Waco. The city council in May approved closing down a three-block stretch of Austin Avenue on game days to pedestrian traffic only. They hope to kick-start a new tradition of drawing Baylor football fans — both home and visiting — into the downtown area before and after games.
The working title for this would-be weekend festival is GameDay Downtown. Read more about this in the August issue of Waco Today magazine, available July 31 in your Tribune-Herald.
The potential is limitless.
It’s a fledgling effort, more speculation than planning so far. That’s because the sea change brought about by McLane Stadium’s location must be absorbed by the community before long-range plans can be realized.
First, Bear fans must adjust to walking to the game. And we all need time to adapt to new traffic patterns starting Aug. 31.
McLane offers downtown a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The shuttle pick-up location at Fifth and Austin is exactly one mile from the stadium. The two primary routes between downtown and the stadium — Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and University Parks — figure prominently into Baylor University’s well-designed parking plan. Unlike Floyd Casey Stadium, where the primary goal was to direct cars to I-35 as efficiently as possible, MLK and University Parks make it easy to drive downtown after a game. With the shuttle already dropping off 3,500 people there, a built-in customer base is just waiting to be captured.
GameDay Downtown will obviously start small, and that’s OK. Managing expectations of GameDay Downtown is very important, especially early on.
Some in McLennan County still think downtown Waco is a dangerous place and won’t set foot there after dark. It’s going to take time to convince them they’re living in the past. (A home win over Texas in 2015 should do the trick.)
People go where there’s something to do. A good number of fans will visit downtown if something like GameDay Downtown is happening there.
Several venues in Big 12 cities such as Kansas State’s Aggieland have evolved from pub crawls into full-blown entertainment destinations with live music, specialty and upscale retailers.
Downtown Waco is already evolving into a bustling area at night and on weekends. GameDay Downtown could take that evolution to a new level and be a major shot in the arm for the community.
Alcohol is a touchy subject, not only with Baylor but with all universities. While some flirt with the idea of selling beer at games, most Big 12 schools don’t allow it. In fact, most universities restrict alcohol on campus, period.
As a result, off-campus hot spots become the spiritual homes for football fans and major money-makers for the local economy. The city needs to craft a policy for alcohol that reflects the conservative values of its residents, while allowing for a traditional game-day atmosphere. No easy task, but a fundamental part of any game-day event.
Try to envision something like this: Freshman sensation RG4 throws for four TDs to beat Texas in Art Briles’ final regular season game as coach of the Bears. After the game, 25,000 people flood into downtown to celebrate. Spirits are high and wallets open as Waco celebrates another Big 12 title.
It’s a long way from here to there, but every journey starts with a first step.
Steve Boggs is editor of the Tribune-Herald. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.