It’s official: The city’s Fourth on the Brazos fireworks show is moving downstream to the McLane Stadium grounds and moving up an hour.
The Independence Day celebration will move from its decades-old home at Indian Spring Park to the Touchdown Alley area at the Baylor University complex.
City leaders said Indian Spring had become too crowded and difficult to police, requiring about 100 officers for a crowd of about 15,000.
The stadium site offers an extensive landscaped riverfront with controlled entry points and allows the city to deploy about half as many police officers, city events specialist Jonathan Cook said.
“The amazing thing is how much more space we’re going to have,” he said. “When you’re looking at fireworks, you’ll see them directly over the river.”
The event will start with bands, food vendors and children’s activities about 7 p.m., though some visitors are expected to show up to picnic by 5:30 p.m. or so.
The fireworks show will start about 9:20 p.m., almost an hour earlier than usual, to accommodate families with young children and to make the event easier to police, Cook said.
Police and the stadium operator, SMG International, will set up checkpoints to do bag searches to ensure that no one brings in fireworks or other illegal items. Coolers with food and beverages will be allowed.
The fireworks will be deployed on the west bank of the Brazos River near the Baylor soccer fields.
The stadium itself will be closed, but crowds can get a good view from Touchdown Alley on the stadium’s downstream side, where a stage will be set up. Other good viewing spots include the entire riverfront at the stadium site, the Umphrey Pedestrian Bridge, the stadium boat basin and amphitheater and the Ferrell Center parking lot, Cook said.
“I was there yesterday, and I think the best viewing spot could be the Ferrell Center parking lot,” Cook said. “It’s easy in, easy out.”
The city will run a free shuttle to the stadium from the Ferrell Center and from Heritage Square downtown, starting at 5:30 p.m. and running until 10:30 p.m.
The public can park for free at the 2,000-space McLane parking lot, the Ferrell Center, the Baylor Law School and other Baylor parking lots. In addition, the city is negotiating with the private Brazos Parking complex on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to offer parking at no cost to the public.
Boats also are welcome. Last year, some 150 boats gathered on the Brazos to watch the show, and Cook said boating could become even more of a tradition at the new site.
But he said he is not sure whether the city’s public boat ramps at Brazos Park East, now closed because of high water, will reopen by July 4.
Cook said the stadium site was created for big events, and an extensive traffic control plan has been shown to work well during games and other events. He said the city expects to save money both on security and traffic control, though cost estimates have not been finalized.
The city also will contract with SMG to do traffic control and trash service, but the city does not have to pay for use of the stadium site.
Giving a tour of the stadium site Wednesday morning, Cook said the event will be a chance to introduce many Wacoans to a great public space.
“I think a lot of our crowd hasn’t been down here,” he said. “They’re going to come down here and have a wow factor. It’s hard to walk up on the stadium and be right down on the river and not be impressed. It’s a good opportunity.”
Cook said he knows people are attached to the old Indian Spring Park site, but he thinks new traditions will take hold at the stadium site. And since the fireworks will be visible from the Suspension Bridge, he expects some people will go to the old site anyway.
Darlene Robert, general manager of Ninfa’s in RiverSquare Center, said Fourth on the Brazos is typically a busy night for her restaurant. But she said the venue change won’t have a big net effect on business.
“People who wouldn’t come down before due to traffic, now they’ll come,” she said. “We’ll be sad not to be able to see the fireworks from the balcony. Traditionally, a lot of people sit on the balcony and have dinner and stick around for the fireworks.”
But she said she thinks some people will eat at the restaurant and then take the shuttle to the stadium, as they do on Baylor gamedays.
“We’ll definitely get people coming before to catch dinner,” she said. “I don’t see it as a bad thing. We might lose some people, but we’ll pick up some others.”