For more than 75 years, the Baylor Bears have played their football games off campus.
From 1936-49, the team took the field at Municipal Stadium off Dutton Avenue, then moved over to Baylor Stadium — or what we know now as Floyd Casey — in 1950.
In 2014, Baylor football will finally return home to campus. Yet instead of inflating air into the so-called “Baylor Bubble,” such a move should only strengthen ties between the university and the Central Texas community.
Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? (Sorry, didn’t mean to go all Alanis Morissette on you there. I’ll get back to football, lest I lose my man card).
The new stadium will belong to Baylor and carry its name, but in truth it will be a boon to all of Waco and Central Texas. That includes folks who wouldn’t know how to cheer for the Bears if you spotted them the “sic” and the “em.”
Imagine the river commerce that the new Baylor Stadium will foster. For decades, Waco’s city leaders have spoken so longingly of wanting to bring businesses and foot traffic to the banks of the Brazos that you might think they just run the same city council meeting on a continuous video loop.
Baylor Stadium will lead that charge in a way city officials could have never dreamed.
In fact, I envision new businesses sprouting up not just on the edge of the river, but plunging right into the water itself. Two years from now, tailgating at Baylor games will stretch from the parking lot tents and tailgates all the way to the motorboats and paddleboats that will undoubtedly surround the new riverfront football venue. (Boat vendors, you might want to start setting up shop now).
Baylor vice president Reagan Ramsower said this week that the stadium, which will be located just off Interstate 35, will serve as Waco’s “front porch,”
greeting visitors as they venture into town. It’s true that a glistening, new sports venue can attract major tourism. Their curiosities piqued, out-of-towners who haven’t attended Baylor games since the Grant Teaff Era could flock to Waco, just to take a gander at the new digs.
And who will benefit from the arrival of those visitors? Well, Baylor, sure. But also the cluster of restaurants, stores and hotels downtown, or the fast-food Calorie Gallery off Sixth Street. When people come to town, they don’t just sit in their cars and let the engines idle. They get out and spend money, and the Waco economy will benefit.
Perhaps football isn’t your thing. Odd that you’d choose to live in pigskin-impassioned Texas, but whatever. Chances are you’ll still make use of Baylor Stadium at some point or another. In my 14 years in Waco, I’ve attended a variety of events at The Case besides football games — balloon glows, concerts, youth sports camps, even a Sept. 11 candlelight service, just a few days after the tragedy.
Plus, Baylor Stadium, like Floyd Casey, should continue to host its share of high school football playoff games. Every helmet-wearing teenager in the state is going to want to say he played at the big horseshoe on the Brazos.
Windfall for Baylor
Without question, the stadium will profit Baylor immensely. It figures to be more of a draw to fans than the outdated Case, so the turnstiles should whirl like helicopter blades. It’ll be a shot in the arm to recruiting, since every top blue-chipper in the state typically seeks three things above all from his college choice — one, to play, two, to play on TV, and three, to play on TV while simultaneously playing before big crowds at a state-of-the-art facility.
The football stadium’s arrival should also build a more harmonious athletic atmosphere on campus, with a confluence of major sports venues dotting the river banks.
But as I’ve suggested, Baylor is far from the only winner here. Everyone in Central Texas wins.
Building a football stadium requires truckloads of money; this one’s price tag comes in at $250 million. Even with the gifts that have already been donated and the $35 million hole-clearing block delivered by the TIF board this week, that’s a lot of cash for any university to compile.
But if you ask me, the place will end up paying for itself.
And then some.
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