Guest Blog: Author Steve Berg Revisits McLane Stadium’s Impact 6 Months After Opening

Author Steve Berg is an accomplished commentator on urban design, transportation and metropolitan affairs. An former editorial writer for the Minneapolis Tribune, he spent 31 years covering politics, five years as the newspaper’s National Correspondent and was integral in covering the politics, design and impact of Target Field. His book, Target Field: The New Home for the Minnesota Twins, explores the team’s journey to their new ballpark. Steve contributes his thoughts on his recent visit to McLane Stadium in October.

Baylor University’s handsome new football stadium lies at the intersection of Interstate 35 and the Brazos River just outside downtown Waco, Texas. But, perhaps in a more meaningful way, it lies at the convergence of two aspirations.

Baylor (with Notre Dame as a model) wanted to use football as a way to boost its fundraising, its national profile and, eventually, its academic ranking. And Waco, seemingly lost between two more energetic neighbors (Dallas and Austin) wanted a higher profile, too, and a better reputation.

McLane Stadium helped to unite those dreams and move Baylor and Waco forward together. In a span of three years – from 2011, when the new on-campus project was launched, until 2014, when the stadium opened — Baylor rose to become a national football power and, in the process, tripled its academic and athletic fundraising while lifting its national visibility. And Waco, by investing in the stadium project and making it a big part of the city’s identity, discovered what it wanted to be: an active and spirited college town and technology hub.

As a piece of architecture, McLane offers a modernist twist on Baylor’s classic Georgian look. But what sets the stadium apart is its remarkable setting beside the Brazos River – and the way it interacts with the campus, the city and the future.

  • McLane Stadium is a highly visible emblem for Baylor and Waco. For the 50 million travelers passing every year along the main highway between Dallas and Austin, McLane Stadium is impossible to miss. Its graceful canopy rises on columns 150 feet above the banks of the Brazos; and, especially when lit at night, appears to float above the structure itself. The effect gives the building a majesty that belies its relatively modest size and seating capacity (45,000).
  • McLane Stadium turned the Brazos River into a university/community asset. By locating the stadium across the river from campus, designers were able to accentuate water as the project’s primary – and most astonishing — feature. The possibility of arriving by boat is not something you expect in parched central Texas. But a series of upriver dams keeps the Brazos consistently full as it flows through Waco, and keeps the riverbanks surprisingly lush. Only three other major college stadiums — at the universities of Washington, Tennessee and Pittsburgh — have their own waterfronts.
  • Limiting the number of on-site parking spaces. Texans are accustomed to big parking lots around their stadiums. So Populous’ proposal of just 2,200 parking spots for the stadium’s 45,000 seats was met with more than a little skepticism. But the university came to recognize that limiting on-site parking on the 93-acre site was the key to creating an exceptional game-day experience for fans and “making a place” for community events year round.
  • McLane Stadium encourages a festive pedestrian experience with multiple connections to campus and Waco. The experience of attending a Baylor game at the old off-campus stadium consisted of two destinations — game and home — with a car trip in between. The new stadium offers additional choices that strengthen the link between campus and city. Visitors can stroll through campus on their way to the game, or take a shuttle from their downtown hotels, or walk along the river, or arrive by boat from one of the restaurants or parks along is banks. Once at the stadium, a network of footbridges and landscaped walkways take you past a small boat harbor and an array of tailgating spots that deliver the scent of barbecue, the throb of music and a sense of anticipation that make for lasting memories. But the stadium’s grounds and approaches are not just for game day; they’re for every day. They form a new part of the campus, and they’re available for Waco’s community festivals and other events.
  • McLane Stadium generates future development.  City leaders expect McLane Stadium to accelerate Waco’s revival – downtown, along the river, and in Waco’s long-neglected neighborhoods to the north and east. Of special importance is BRIC, the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative, located in a former factory north of the stadium. Opened in 2013, BRIC aims to merge the research power of a prestigious university, the entrepreneurial energy of private business and the potential of a trained labor force to produce commercial high-tech products and services. BRIC’s ultimate aim is to attract thousands of high-paying jobs to the region. Waco City Manager Dale Fisseler puts it this way: “The stadium is the symbol of the high-quality development we intend to attract; BRIC is our future.”

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