With tailgating spots surrounding Baylor University facing waiting lists, two downtown organizations have asked McLennan County commissioners to allow a county-owned parking lot to be used for the time-honored football tradition.
The topic came up in discussion at a Monday meeting, so the commissioners could not vote yet on the issue.
The Public Improvement District and the Downtown Development Corp. asked the court to consider allowing the lot across Washington Avenue from the county courthouse to be used for tailgating during Baylor’s six home games. The request also included two other county-owned lots to ensure the availability of 2,500 free, off-street parking spots.
“This is an important opportunity,” said Megan Henderson, executive director of the Downtown Development Corporation. “It’s not the most important opportunity that Waco has ever faced, but what happens with opportunities is they fly by, and you either swing or you don’t.”
The idea of creating a festive atmosphere downtown on game days has bounced between various departments throughout the city and county during the past few months as the school and city prepare for the first home game Aug. 31 at the new 45,000-seat McLane Stadium. The stadium on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has only 2,500 of the estimated 10,500 necessary parking spots.
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said both of the downtown organizations are critical to moving the area forward and he has faith in the groups’ leadership.
“If we can help impact the entertainment value down here when we’re not using those parking lots and start creating a culture of entertainment, I’m all for it,” Felton said.
Brian Ginsburg, chairman of the downtown Public Improvement District, said they expect games to bring 5,000 people downtown. Ginsburg, who has a 108-year-old business downtown, said he has been in the area all his life.
“I’ve seen it thriving in the ’70s and ’60s, and go brain-dead, and I’ve seen it come back the last seven years through a great explosion,” Ginsburg said.
Henderson said both organizations have worked to ensure pedestrian and vehicle demands are met, as well as to create economic opportunity for downtown. She said it’s important that regular patrons of downtown businesses can function even with the influx of people on Baylor game days.
Henderson said the groups’ request to commissioners is born of necessity.
“Existing tailgating (options have) been exhausted,” Henderson said, adding that there is a waiting list for Baylor and privately owned spots.
The addition of downtown tailgating will create a viable game-day alternative that could be come a tradition, according to Henderson.
“We all know demand will remain steady, if not rise,” she said.
The idea is to keep tailgating for the first two games simple, since there’s only a few days between them, Ginsburg said.
The third game is scheduled for five weeks later, allowing for adjustments to ensure a better tailgating experience, he said. There is the possibility of live music before and after the game, an influx of food carts, and children’s activities.
Depending on the way things pan out, the addition of an inflatable screen could be used to show games live, Ginsburg said.
“We’re hoping everyone will be self-sufficient for the first two games,” he said. “There will be a big learning curve.”
Henderson said they have spoken with Extraco Events Center director Wes Allison, who has offered to design the site plan and provide management for the site. He will train a team to handle everything, she said.
Henderson said they would contract with an agency — possible the city or sheriff’s office — for additional security and cleanup.
“We’re doing a lot of speculative planning because we really don’t know how this will work,” Henderson said.
The idea of tailgating downtown will pair nicely with the vision of turning part of Austin Avenue into a festive destination closed to vehicles during the six home games, according to PID and DDC officials.
Ginsburg said they hope to have the commissioners’ decision in the next couple of weeks.
Until then, the groups continue to bounce around ideas to make the most effective use of the space.
The parking lot across the street from the courthouse — which they hope to use half of for tailgating — has 141 spots. If they use half the parking lot for tailgating, they will give each tailgater two spots, allowing for 35 tailgaters. The other half of the lot would be reserved for single-space parking.
“It’s not going to be an RV-type thing where you can spend the weekend,” he said. “Enjoy what we have — food trucks, live music, any activities — and of course we want everyone to walk downtown and enjoy it.”