Published with permission from the Waco Tribune-Herald.
By John Werner
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Saturday November 5, 2011
Baylor University officials hope a new on-campus football stadium on the banks of the Brazos River will become a reality in the near future.
And they are banking on fans being on board with it.
The school's board of regents on Friday approved a fan survey and feasibility study to gauge interest in a state-of-the-art riverfront stadium that could cost $250 million.
The survey will be sent to Baylor season ticket holders and Baylor Bear Foundation members, and will be conducted by Conventions, Sports and Leisure. The feasibility study is expected to be completed in December, Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said.
"An on-campus riverfront stadium would transform our football program, university and Waco community," McCaw said. "It will offer one of the most unique and desirable fan experiences in all of intercollegiate athletics.
"Moreover, this facility could lead to many exciting future development options for the downtown-Brazos River corridor that would dramatically impact all of Central Texas."
The proposed football stadium would sit east of Interstate 35 on the north bank of the Brazos River across from the Baylor Law School.
It likely would seat 45,000 to 50,000 fans and offer sweeping views of the Baylor campus and downtown Waco.
The vision is something that would change the image of Baylor for the next 100 years," Baylor football coach Art Briles said. "The beauty of Baylor is that it has the river and I-35, and this stadium would allow us to showcase the university on both fronts. It would also be a quantum leap in tying together the Baylor campus as a whole."
Baylor has played at 50,000-seat Floyd Casey Stadium since 1950 and is the only Big 12 Conference school that doesn't have an on-campus stadium. It certainly would be a boon to Baylor's recruiting, Briles noted.
"A facility like this would give you an equal hand in the arms race because it would be as good as anybody's in America," he said.
Populous, a leader in sports stadium architecture, is developing the stadium's master plan. Formerly known as HOK Sport, Populous has designed such stadiums as the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park, the Houston Texans' Reliant Stadium, the new Yankee Stadium, the St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Stadium and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Heinz Field.
Baylor President Ken Starr and a group that included regent emeritus Drayton McLane met with Populous architects in Kansas City during the summer to begin developing the stadium design.
"I've encouraged them for a number of years to consider this," McLane said. "A group of us, with Ken Starr, went up to Kansas City three months ago and had an initial presentation with Populous. But they certainly didn't have anything like what was presented yesterday."
Funding the stadium
McLane said that if regents approve stadium construction, he would "make some sort of donation, but I can't say at what level. It's preliminary. We've still got to see how, economically, it can move forward.
McLane, who owns the Astros, has been waiting since May for Major League Baseball to approve his reported $680 million sale of the team to a group headed by Jim Crane. McLane said he expects the sale to be approved at the upcoming owners meetings in Milwaukee on Nov. 15-16.
Because the prospect of an on-campus stadium is still in the preliminary stages, McCaw said potential donors haven't yet committed to financing the project. If Baylor approves construction, the stadium likely would take 18 to 24 months to build.
The stadium would feature a red brick facade that matches Baylor's campus architecture. A horseshoe roof would cover the seats and the south end zone would look out on the Brazos River.
Not only would the stadium feature ample parking on both sides of the river, there would be a foot bridge crossing the river and boat access to the stadium.
McCaw said the results of the fan survey and feasibility study will help the school decide issues such as naming rights, stadium revenues, seating capacity, number of suites and other stadium features.
Jim Vaughan, president of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said an on-campus stadium would rival renowned college stadiums like the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium that sits on the banks of the Tennessee River in Knoxville and the University of Washington's Husky Stadium that overlooks Lake Washington in Seattle.
It would be a great source of pride and help Baylor attract athletes and fans," Vaughan said. "Certainly, the view of the stadium from the interstate would be positive and it would bring that side of the river and connect it to the other side of Baylor.
"I see nothing but positives."
Baylor students also were excited Friday when asked about the prospects of an on-campus stadium.
"I think it's a really cool idea," senior Venee Hummel said. "The Big 12 is changing, so it's cool to change the stadium, too."
Former Baylor coach Grant Teaff, who coached from 1972 to 1992 at Floyd Casey Stadium, would love to see the on-campus stadium come to fruition.
"I'm for anything that's positive for Baylor University," Teaff said. "You can't put a price tag on it because you don't know why youngsters come to a program. But you try to eliminate reasons for them not coming to your program. This could be very positive for recruiting."
Michael W. Shapiro, Tommy Witherspoon and Leigh Ann Henry contributed to this report.