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Opening Day

July 29, 2014

openingday

Opening Day

Led by five touchdowns from Robert Griffin III, Baylor upset 14th-ranked TCU in a nationally televised season opener that turned all eyes to Waco. That was Sept. 2, 2011.

Amidst worries over the Big 12 Conference’s stability and Baylor’s place in major college athletics, RGIII, Art Briles and the Bears started us dreaming.

Two months later, at Homecoming 2011, Baylor Regents unveiled the first renderings of a potential on-campus stadium. Five weeks after that, Griffin would be named the winner of the Heisman Trophy, followed in March of 2012 by a lead stadium gift from the family of Drayton McLane, BBA ’58.

Fast forward from those first watercolor dreams to now, the Baylor family stepped up to return Baylor football to campus, building a scenic new $260 million home along the banks of the Brazos River.

For a community to come together and make such a landmark a reality is impressive on any time frame, but for all this to have happened—to have gone from wild dream to completed reality—in little more than two years is astounding. If Baylor didn’t already have a “Miracle on the Brazos,” this might be it.

Now, it’s here. After two years of dreaming, planning and building, the bricks and concrete are set, the turf is installed, and seats are waiting to welcome fans for the first time.

On a nice day, the Bears’ new home can be seen from up to three miles away as you approach Waco, whether you’re coming down Interstate 35 from Dallas, up the freeway from Austin, or along Highway 6 from Houston.

And as McLane Stadium gives a profound new look to both Baylor and Waco, the move from Floyd Casey Stadium back onto the Baylor campus—after almost 80 years away—provides a commanding new landscape to the entire Baylor football experience, from tailgating through the last notes of “That Good Old Baylor Line.”


What to Expect

Parking

Fans will notice the first big difference before they turn off their cars. With the re-emergence of a championship team and the new on-campus, riverfront setting, at first glance parking at McLane Stadium might not seem as easily accessible as at Floyd Casey. That challenge meant that parking logistics had to be a top priority for Baylor administrators—and it has been.

Baylor contracted industry leader Parsons Brinckerhoff two years ago—about the same time the first shovel went into the ground—to work out a plan that ensures there are enough spots to go around. Fans will have to plan ahead; thus, the first key to a great fan experience is to know where you’re going to park before you leave for the stadium.

“With Floyd Casey, be it the grass lots that we had on site or down the road, you could be uncertain where you were going to park and figure it out,” says Todd Patulski, deputy athletics director and Baylor Athletics’ primary point person for the stadium project. “In this on-campus environment, you just have to be thinking ahead when it comes to ‘Where am I going to park?’ and ‘What’s the best route to get there?’”

Fans who have attended games at other major college football programs—particularly those with on-campus stadiums—will know that Floyd Casey’s acres of parking were extremely unusual.

“At Floyd Casey, I could leave my house an hour and 20 minutes before kickoff, drive in, pay $10, park out on the grass lots toward the back, and be in my seat before the team ran out,” says Brian Nicholson, Baylor’s vice president for operations and facilities management and a key leader in planning for the stadium since its initial design phases. “That’s unusual for college football; if you’ve been to other venues—college or professional—you know that’s not the norm.”

At McLane Stadium, parking will generally fall into four categories: season-long parking passes for reserved on-campus lots, on-campus parking in non-reserved lots 4 hours or more before gametime, finding a spot downtown, or paying a third party for parking in East Waco.

Premium seat holders and season-long tailgaters will have assigned spots on the stadium side of the Brazos River. Baylor Athletics also has sold prepaid parking spots for alumni and other fans in nearby locations: parking spaces at the law school and Ferrell Center, and in two campus garages (Dutton Avenue Parking Facility, across University Parks Drive from the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, and Speight Plaza, next to the Hankamer School of Business). These 7,000 or so passes sold out before the season began.

“The benefit of prepaid lots is that you don’t end up with a lot of people wandering around in their cars trying to find a spot, a scenario that ultimately ends up creating more traffic,” Patulski explains.

Students with on-campus parking decals who usually park in those two garages will be asked to move their cars the night before a game to another spot on campus; the East Campus Parking Facility (at Daughtrey Avenue and 2nd Street, from which fans catch shuttles to Ferrell for basketball) will be reserved for those students and others who live on campus.

Other than East Garage and the reserved spots listed above, the Baylor campus will be open to visitor traffic and parking until four hours before kickoff. At that point, cars can remain parked in their spots, but most roads into campus will be closed; only students with an on-campus resident parking sticker will be allowed in. That plan, says Nicholson, is designed to minimize traffic jams while still allowing access to campus earlier in the day.

Fans with handicapped parking permits will be able to park in a paid lot at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (north of campus, near the intersection of I-35 and Highway 77) and ride a wheelchair-friendly shuttle right up to the stadium.

Alumni and fans without a prepaid parking pass can seek parking on campus (other than a designated prepaid site) before the four-hour mark or find a spot downtown or in East Waco.

Waco leaders aim to offer 2,500 free, off-street parking spaces downtown, centered around the intersection of 5th Street and Austin Avenue. From that location, shuttles will run every five minutes to a spot near the stadium.

Plans call for Austin Avenue to be closed between 5th and 8th streets on gamedays to create a block party atmosphere, complete with music and food.

“Downtown has grown and developed quite a bit,” says Megan Henderson, executive director of the Waco Downtown Development Corporation. “Whether our areas are where you park for gameday or not, we invite football fans to come downtown. I think people who spent an important part of their lives in Waco at Baylor will really be proud of what they see. Even the shuttle route is pretty—you pull into downtown, get to see how much is going well, then cross the river. Just like the pedestrian bridge is going to add to the gameday experience for those who walk, I think the shuttle route is going to add to our visitors’ experience downtown on gameday.”

In the Olive Heights area of East Waco, adjacent to McLane Stadium, smaller lots will offer a variety of options within walking distance of the stadium—much like the parking options fans enjoyed in the neighborhood around Floyd Casey.

“There will be kind of a coalition trying to make sure things are a little more organized, to help eliminate any vehicle crowding, to let people know where to park, and to help individual property owners who don’t want parking on their property,” says Wannika Muhammad, an East Waco resident and business owner. “There will also be food carts and other vending available, and even some activities. We hope to make it a pleasant experience for patrons coming to the game.”

Street parking will likely not be allowed in the neighborhood, but area residents will be able to charge for on-site parking at individual homes. Some third parties and individuals already have plans in place for lots of various sizes near McLane Stadium.

Once fans know where they are parking, the next key is to know how they’re going to get to their parking spot. With campus roads closed (including University Parks Drive from the Law School to Bagby Avenue), fans will have to find alternate routes around the University. For instance, fans coming from Dallas with a Ferrell Center parking pass might find the best route involves exiting north of campus at Highway 77 and driving east to LaSalle Avenue.

With the construction of new I-35 access roads bridging the Brazos River, exits off the highway around campus are also changing, and some will close near campus to accommodate both automobile and pedestrian gameday traffic.

Fans are encouraged to visit BaylorBears.com/parking for detailed information regarding road closures around campus, the best routes to specific lots and other related information.

stadium_site


Headed to Stadium

Whether on campus or off, fans are encouraged to walk from their parking spot to the stadium—either from downtown, taking advantage of the riverwalk that runs from Cameron Park all the way to the Ferrell Center, or from across campus, enjoying the stroll down memory lane on the way to the game.

“If you’re downtown, there’ll be Baylor banners there,” says Nicholson. “The plan is to make the entire downtown area part of the atmosphere, so you know it’s a game weekend. You know you’re in the midst of the festivities when you see green and gold everywhere.

“If you walk from the Ferrell Center, you’re also going to see Baylor banners all up and down the river,” he continues. “For people who want to walk their friends and family through campus, it’s about a 20-minute walk, and will be a part of the overall experience.”

Shuttles will also run from the Ferrell Center and the Speight garage to a drop-off location along University Parks Drive near the Mayborn Museum Complex. Shuttles from downtown will deliver passengers to the intersection of I-35 and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, near the stadium.


Tailgating

Tailgating at Baylor has grown into a favorite tradition during the past decade, and the new stadium’s location offers more opportunities for it to grow. Fans will gather at reserved tailgating spots near the stadium like they did at Floyd Casey, but also at locations across the river (both near the bridge and around campus), as well as along the river and in downtown Waco.

McLane Stadium offers about 350 season-long tailgate spots for fans on-site and just across the river; the entire offering sold out months before the first kickoff.

The bulk of the reserved tailgate sites for alumni are across the lagoon from McLane Stadium, connected to the stadium via the basin bridge, a pedestrian walkway over the lagoon’s entrance. Most sites have cable and electric hookups. Additional reserved spots are located near the Law School and along the I Believe Walkway, a series of sidewalks and benches through the grassy mall on the campus side of the river that connects from University Parks Drive to the Umphrey Pedestrian Bridge across the Brazos.

“The I Believe Walkway is really the entry from campus that leads you into the stadium, and right in the middle is where you’ll find the Grant Teaff statue that welcomed fans for many years at Floyd Casey, along with a new area that continues to tell the story of Coach Teaff and the impact he’s had on Baylor football and on Baylor University,” says Patulski. “That area will resonate with Baylor alumni and should really resonate with all football fans, honoring a man who I think transcends Baylor and is recognized as a leader in college football.”

“The University has bent over backwards to make sure that there was something from [Floyd Casey Stadium] that could bring across all the traditions of Baylor football,” says Teaff, who coached the Bears from 1972-92 and still holds the program record for career wins. “They chose to bring the plaza over, and they actually asked me where I would like to have it placed. After much thought and prayer, it became very clear in my mind that it should be on the walkway. … It’s a great opportunity to have an era of Baylor football recognized that attained a lot of success. I’m so grateful and so deeply appreciative of the way the University has asked our teams and the previous teams to be a part of this fantastic new stadium on the Brazos.”

The 45 tailgate spots adjacent to the walkway will add to the atmosphere.

“You’ll see a lot of green and gold tents there, so it should be a festive environment as people are coming across—students coming through, general fans coming from those drop-off points,” says John Garrison, BBA ’96, associate athletics director for marketing. “The walkway is a great location, right across the bridge from the stadium.”

Student tailgating will be focused in an area just off the walkway, near the football practice fields and the Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village. With an area for the Baylor Line and other students and spots for student organizations, the students will “really have ownership in that space, a social environment of their own,” says Patulski.

At Floyd Casey Stadium, a family entertainment area known as Touchdown Alley grew up near what used to be the team’s practice fields. Touchdown Alley will make the move to McLane Stadium, in the heart of the tailgating area, bringing with it the actual field turf on which the Bears clinched the 2013 Big 12 title in the final game at Floyd Casey. That turf will make for a play area for kids of all ages, along with the inflatables, big-screen TVs and other attractions for which Touchdown Alley is known. The area opens 3 hours before game time.

Taking advantage of the stadium’s riverfront access, Baylor will be among the few schools in the country to offer “sailgating” as part of the gameday experience, with boats in the nearby lagoon and as many as 16 boat slips in year one where fans can dock and tailgate right on the water. (The leasing process for those slips was ongoing as this issue went to press.)

“Anytime you have water, people just want to be around it,” says Patulski. “There should be some tailgating on the water, so we’re excited about that. We anticipate that to be a point of emphasis in future years. We may have only 16 or 20 boats in there year one, but as it takes off, we should have as many as 70 to 80 boats creating that environment.”

In addition to the reserved spots, fans will be free to set up small gatherings near their cars in various parking lots, or to set up camp along the riverwalk (as long as they aren’t blocking other parking or pedestrians).

“We won’t allow open flames in garages, for obvious reasons,” adds Nicholson. “But if people want to pull chairs and coolers out to have a picnic, then great. Or if somebody wants to drag their stuff to a spot along the river and pop up a tent, then great. We welcome our fans to campus and to our community. We want this to be a great day for everyone.”


On to the game

When fans are ready to head on to the stadium, they’ll cross the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Pedestrian Bridge over the Brazos River, exiting onto the South Plaza near a statue honoring Robert Griffin III, Baylor’s former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

The 9.5-foot-tall bronze statue was created by artist Tom White and made possible by support from former First Baptist Waco pastor John Wood, BA ’53, and his wife, Pat Alexander Wood, BA ’54. It will be unveiled before the Bears’ first game on Aug. 31.

In the plaza and along the walkway leading to the basin bridge, visitors will see the beginning of the 7,200-plus bricks contributed by (and engraved with messages from) Baylor fans worldwide; those continue on the other side of the bridge into the tailgating area. (Read more about the Stadium Bricks Campaign here.)

The Bear Walk (a new version of the March of the Bears) will begin in the heart of the tailgating area, next to Touchdown Alley and the Baylor Alumni Network tent. The team will walk across the basin bridge, over the brick pavers, and on to the stadium three hours before kickoff.

About 45 minutes before the game, the Baylor University Golden Wave Band will begin its procession to the stadium. Starting from the Allison Indoor Practice Facility (where the BUGWB can practice and prepare in air-conditioned comfort), the band will march through the student tailgating area, across the Umphrey Bridge and into McLane Stadium.

“The Baylor Line and other students will fall in behind the band as they march, and we’ll have a last convoy of fans coming into the stadium for game time,” says Garrison.

Fans milling around outside the stadium will find a team store, Bruiser’s Locker Room, that will be open not only on game days but year round. The larger store will offer far more variety and selection than the small space at Floyd Casey allowed. Four satellite store locations—the 1845 Shop, BU T-Shirt Express, BU Sideline Shop and Goal Line Shop—will also offer Baylor gear at various spots on the stadium’s concourses. Another four mobile locations in the tailgating areas will offer yet more options for BU fans in need of gear.

Four main stadium gates will usher fans into the stadium; additional smaller gates offer entrance to premium seat holders, media, gameday staff and recruits.


INSIDE

Inside the stadium, the differences between Floyd Casey Stadium and McLane Stadium will be obvious. For starters, instead of one sloping grandstand, McLane Stadium offers three levels of seating, keeping fans closer to the action.

“People may think we’re just providing lip service, but truly, there is not a bad seat in the stadium,” says Nicholson. “Every seat is closer to the field here than at Floyd Casey.”

“And with a canopy over the top, it’s going to contain a lot of the sound within the stadium,” Patulski adds. “Populous, the architect, believes that with 45,000 fans in the stadium, it’s going to feel and sound like 65,000 because of the noise level from the three tiers and the canopy holding in the sound.”

The open concourses on both the 100 and 200 levels are significantly wider than those at Floyd Casey, and they will remind many fans of those they see at Major League Baseball stadiums like Minute Maid Park in Houston (which, not coincidentally, also was designed by Populous).

“We chose to build the stadium under the premise that we don’t want people to feel disconnected when they leave their seats,” says Patulski. “The concourses are right there, so you’re always connected to the game. You’re not underneath in a cave trying to figure out what happened; you can see the field and hear the sound as the crowd roars.”

That connection to the game should allow more fans to visit concession stands or restrooms during the game, instead of waiting until breaks between quarters, which in turn will mean less time waiting in lines. And those waits will be further diminished by the increased numbers of vendors and restrooms.

McLane Stadium will have five times as many concession stands as Floyd Casey Stadium, plus more than 80 portable concessions booths, spread out over both concourses. Concessions will be operated for the first time by a group called SAVOR, which also handles food service for teams such as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Iowa State Cyclones.


IN YOUR SEAT

Baylor football tickets will be much harder to come by than at Floyd Casey Stadium. Add up the numbers—a sold-out allotment of 28,000 season tickets, plus Big 12 Conference rules require 3,800 seats be offered to visiting fans, plus the seats reserved for Baylor’s student body, band, recruits, etc.—and McLane Stadium is essentially sold out for the entire season.

The bulk of the seats available through Baylor this fall will be unsold tickets returned by visiting teams. Available single-game tickets go on sale Aug. 6. For each game, a small number of general admission seats will be available for the grass berm under the scoreboard; those tickets will be sold week-of-game only.

McLane Stadium includes a variety of different seating options: premium suites (which sold out more than a year before the first game), chairback seats, benches with backs, and benches without backs.

The Golden Wave Band will have new seats this fall, located in a special section of the north end zone where they can easily walk right down onto the field (named John Eddie Williams Field in honor of one of the stadium’s Founders).

The rest of the student body will continue to get some of the best seats in the house, with the Baylor Line filling the first 13 rows—all gold benches—behind the visitor’s bench, from goal line to goal line. The remainder of the lower tier on the east side of the stadium features green benches and will be reserved for student seating. Alumni and other fans will fill the second and third tiers on the east side and all levels across the rest of the stadium.

“I was in a meeting several months ago with student leaders, who thanked us for giving them such great seats,” recalls Patulski. “My response to them was, ‘Don’t thank us, because this is really a responsibility for you—to create an environment.’ Television cameras are on the other side, so what people will see at a Baylor football game is Baylor students, and it will be the students’ responsibility to create an exciting gameday environment for our team and for our fans. We’ve just given them the seats that will allow them to do that.”

The Line will take their seats after running onto the field during pregame and forming a tunnel through which the team will take the field, carrying over another Baylor tradition from Floyd Casey.

“The Baylor Line will queue behind the scoreboard, then will come down in the tunnel and line up, similar to what they’ve done in the past,” explains Garrison. “The Line will make their run down the ramp, around the field, and line up in the northeast corner, so the team can come through.

“Probably the biggest difference with the Line is that they no longer will enter their seating area directly from the field,” Garrison continues. “We had issues with students bunching on the east side at Floyd Casey, trying to be the first ones into the stands. At McLane Stadium, they’ll go through the tunnel—the same ones the players just ran out of—and form two lines, heading up onto the service level of the stadium and then coming down into their seats, filling the section from the top down. It was designed that way so that there’s really no advantage to being on one side or the other as the players run in.”

The tighter stadium construction, coupled with the canopy, will provide shade for approximately half the stadium at any time of day.

“We know from a Populous study that fan comfort, first and foremost, is based on shade,” says Patulski. “We spent almost $20 million to create this huge canopy structure that goes over the stadium to help create shade, with a 125-foot-wide span of canopy on the east side and the press box providing shade on the west side. We probably have triple the amount of shaded areas now.”

“Part of that goes to the idea that at Floyd Casey, we’ve had this thought of ‘What’s the home side? What’s the visitors’ side?’” says Garrison, noting that people crowded into the “home side” for the shade. “At McLane Stadium, that’s not even a question that people can ask. It’s McLane Stadium; it’s all Baylor, and so the canopy’s shade helps mitigate the concern on the east side.”

Further supporting the home-field mindset—that this is our house—is a new approach to the actual visitors’ section. While Big 12 Conference rules require home teams to offer a certain number of tickets to visiting schools, they don’t require those seats to be all together in one big block. Instead, visiting fans at McLane Stadium will be seated in several different sections, all in corners of the stadium. Coupled with the increased demand for tickets from Baylor fans, the change will mean that the stadium gives the Bears a far greater home field advantage.

Fans will be blown away by the new videoboard, located in the south end of the stadium. At 5,018 square feet, the new board is seven times larger than the Floyd Casey videoboard—large enough to provide spectacular video, but not so large that it blocks the amazing view of campus across the river.

Additional ribbon boards will line the façade of the second tier all the way around the horseshoe, adding to the impact of board prompts like “third down” and “that’s another Baylor (first down)!” A new sound system, designed for ideal dispersion of sound, will further enhance the audio-video experience.

The entire stadium will have free, high density Wi-Fi—“something that is unique in collegiate stadiums,” notes Patulski—and an improved antenna system to better support cell phone use for calls and data.

That level of mobile Internet access led Baylor to become the first university to partner with a company called YinzCam, which produces an app for many NFL, NBA and NHL stadiums and arenas. The McLane Stadium app will provide live stats and real-time video replays, where fans can choose from multiple angles to watch plays over and over. Download the app at BaylorBears.com/stadiumapp.

“You get to watch replays at home, but it’s based on whatever they want to show you,” says Patulski. “If you like replays, this is a reason why you don’t stay home. You would come to our venue, because we have more replays than television.”


CONCLUSION

If there’s a takeaway for Baylor fans getting ready for their first game at McLane Stadium, it’s this: Come early, be prepared, and stay flexible.

“We’ve spent the last 18 months or more trying to figure out every detail of what the experience is going to be like—how to create proper wayfinding signage, what the traffic patterns will be, etc. It’s been an all-hands-on-deck approach,” says Patulski. “We’ve got a good plan, and a lot of people giving us good advice.

“But no matter what you do, you can’t predict it all, so I would encourage people, especially the first couple of games, to come early. If you need to search for the right place and how to get there and how to get to your seat and everything else, don’t cut it so close that you have a disappointing experience. Get there early and take it all in.”

“Be ready to be loud in there,” adds Garrison. “It’s going to be such a fun, loud environment that I think people will be shocked by it. The atmosphere has built and improved so much, and it’s really perfect timing to move into McLane Stadium to support our Big 12 champs.

“It’s hard to put into words how truly inspiring the experience is going to be for everyone,” says Nicholson. “We’ve gone around and looked at a lot of football stadiums, and we’re all absolutely convinced that this will be the finest college football stadium in the nation.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Baylor family continues to remember Jose Dario Suarez, the construction worker who died Jan. 28 in a tragic accident while working on the Umphrey Pedestrian Bridge. A memorial plaque on the bridge will commemorate his life and honor him.

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