Season 4 - Episode 424
It’s a “summer of hope” in Waco, with events returning and businesses moving towards more traditional experiences. What can residents and visitors anticipate this summer? Jeremy Vickers, associate vice president for external affairs, explains on this Baylor Connections. From major summer events to new business and dining opportunities, discover ways to make the most of Summer 2021 in Waco.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith. And today we are talking summer 2021 in Waco with Jeremy Vickers. Jeremy Vickers serves as Associate Vice President for External Affairs at Baylor. Baylor's Office of External Affairs builds community engagement throughout Baylor's hometown of Waco through leadership, engagement, support and partnerships for the betterment of the community. A Baylor graduate, he returned to his alma mater in 2018 to lead the university's external affairs efforts. He's with us today here on Baylor Connections. Jeremy, always great to visit with you and great to visit with you here on Baylor Connections. Thanks so much for joining us.
Jeremy Vickers:Thank you, Derek. I'm excited to be here. Excited to talk about summertime in Waco.
Derek Smith:Summer 2021 is here. And I know you and I are just talking as we were getting this set up, it's moving into a season that I think a lot of people have been looking forward to as we make some transitions into a new phase after a COVID-19's impact last year. Summer 2021 just feels a little bit different than it did a year ago. I know some of that is self-evident, but I'm curious as you talk to people in Waco, business leaders, families, really anyone, what is the sense you're getting from the community about what's different and hopes for the weeks ahead?
Jeremy Vickers:Well, I think you actually just said the word I wanted to use, when you said hopes, it's a summer of hope. People are excited. They're hopeful. They're able, I think, for the first time to have a fair amount of confidence and overall general excitement about getting back out and reengaging in the community. I spent this morning at a Chamber of Commerce event with 25 folks and people were smiling, they were jovial, they were telling jokes and shaking hands and taking pictures. It just felt almost normal in... While a normal is a bit of a charged word for us here today, people are hopeful and that just really gets people excited. So, in the business community, in the nonprofit and civic community, we're seeing that. But I think from an overall community standpoint, I know we're going to talk a lot about this today, there is an excitement in the air. Folks are kind of like the animals come out in spring. I feel like the community is coming out in the summer. They're opening their doors and dusting off their outdoor gear and just really excited to go plug in to the beautiful river and Cameron Park trails and all the other great assets we have here in the community.
Derek Smith:Yeah. Maybe able to engage in some things that were traditions in past years, but we couldn't do last year as easily, but maybe doing so again. Well, let's dive into that, as you said, we'll talk about some outdoor activities. We'll talk about new businesses coming to Waco. But let's start with big events. So, what's ahead in Waco? And are there some things that people should maybe pencil in on their calendar in Waco in the summer months?
Jeremy Vickers:That's right. There are really three that I want to highlight specifically, but to be honest, I think there's going to be a lot that we need to keep our eyes open for, because the community's opening back up quickly, but also with a fair amount of caution and safety, because we are still edging out of this pandemic. I think we'll see things that will come together at the last minute. So, I will recommend that everyone does keep their eyes and ears open. New things will come, I promise you that. But there are three and I want to hit one in June, one in July and one in August, because I think that will help everybody plan out how their summer's going to come together. So, on Friday, June 18th, and Saturday, June 19th, the community comes to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday. On June the 18th, at Baylor University's Waco Hall, there will be the Annual Juneteenth Pageant, which is a scholarship banquet for African-American students here in Waco. It's a really special event. We're excited to host it on our campus. But what really happens that the community can all get involved in is on Saturday morning, June 19th. There will be a parade that will start in downtown, cross the bridge and go over in East Waco and it will end there and it will be a wonderful celebration. We're going to all be involved in it. I will be in it as well. We'll have students, we'll have balloons that we use in our homecoming parade, we're actually going to ask our Baylor University Champion of Change recognized honorees to walk with us. It may have a couple of head athletics coaches, I won't name names, but keep an eye out for a couple of them. And of course our first lady and first gent, President Livingstone and Brad Livingstone, will be in the parade with us as well. So, come enjoy some really great floats, great music and food and vendors and things up and down the streets there on Saturday, June 19th. So, that's the first one. The second, it's not summer without the 4th of July. And everyone's going to be barbecuing and picnicking and playing horseshoe with their friends. But good news, the city of Waco, at McLane Stadium, is bringing back the 4th of July Brazos Firework show and event. So, check the city website for that, there's a lot of great information on parks and rec website to learn more. But this 4th of July, we will have fireworks. Everyone get excited about that. Then, at the end of the summer, on the classic culmination weekend of Labor Day, we, the Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Waco Chamber is hosting something called the Stars & Stripes Music Fest at McLane Stadium. I got a flyer on this, this morning. This is brand new, hot off the press information.
Derek Smith:Breaking news.
Jeremy Vickers:Check... Yeah, that's right. Breaking news on Baylor Connections today. And you can learn more at the Waco Chamber website. So, feel free to search there. But we're going to have... I saw the names. I won't announce them, but there are three live country music acts playing on the 50 yard line at McLane Stadium. There'll be food and all kinds of fun entertainment, hundreds of people, I guess thousands of people will be there and you can buy tickets through the Chamber's website. They're also hoping to have some fireworks at the end of that show. It starts at 6:00 PM on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. So, those are the big three that I hope you will all just keep an eye out for and look for more to come.
Derek Smith:That's great. So, something yeah, really each month in the summer, as you said, and then people can look at what the Waco Chamber and Waco downtown and other places, as you said, as things pop up social media-wise, or just places you can keep your eyes open for other events that pop up a little more quickly as people move forward. As we visit with Jeremy Vickers, Baylor's Associate Vice President for External Affairs at Baylor. And you mentioned Jeremy, it wouldn't be summer without the 4th of July. I think this year might be all the more memorable. What does it mean for the community just to have this again, just for it to be a part of the summer plans?
Jeremy Vickers:Oh, that's such a great question. 4th of July is a special holiday, special holiday for Americans, but it's a really special holiday for families and friends. People get together, they cook out, they eat. And I think when people eat, there's community, there's fellowship that happens, and that's special. Over the last 15 months during this very difficult time, families and friends have not been able to connect at the level that they would like to. So, I think we're going to see people get to spend the time with friends, with family, to reconnect, to open back up, to get back into the kind of community that we, as Christians, so value and seek in our lives. So, we're going to see some really great opportunities to do that, to share bread, break bread, as they say, and visit people's homes and go visit places perhaps we haven't been to in quite a while. So, I think that opportunity to share and connect through community is going to make this particular 4th of July one for the record books.
Derek Smith:Jeremy, your job often entails getting to break bread and spend time with a lot of great people in the community, community leaders, community volunteers. And as we move into this phase, where we see more of these events, what stood out to you about just the dedication of the people in the community, whether it's a big event, like the 4th of July, whether it's holding events at a business to welcome people in, what stood out to you as you've just seen people in the community be ready for this step and try to welcome their neighbors to different events?
Jeremy Vickers:That's a great question. And I have been accused of eating for a living. So, I empathize.
Derek Smith:That's a good job to have.
Jeremy Vickers:Yeah. I do resemble that comment, I guess, would be the better way to say that. But what we've seen during this time, in particular the last few months, as the occasional in-person event has been able to come together, I mentioned it earlier, is that hopefulness, that desire to reconnect has been bubbling for quite a while. Our community leaders, our community partners, and those that are organizing these events and these gatherings, they put so much intentionality into it. I mean, the Chamber is a good example, but the city, a lot of the nonprofits we work with and even Baylor University's Institutional Events team, as they are rearing and raring to go at our commencement, just a few weeks ago, they put so much time, so much effort into making these things seamless. They quite literally carry the weight of these events on their shoulders. The experience that we all get to have, that I get to have quite a bit, it means a lot. For these organizations, their role, their objective is to connect emotionally and physically with people. That's how they are able to accomplish a lot of their good work. Our city is able to accomplish its good work because of the citizens' engagement in the city. And the same with a lot of our organizations, such as some of the smaller nonprofits. If those in the community aren't able to go and see and hear the stories of impact that they're making, they're not able to do their job, because they can't fundraise, they can't bring in partners, volunteers, whatever that may be. So, during that time, a lot of our nonprofits struggled, they struggled with the ability to gather and bring people in. They used amazing tool, they use virtual tools, they changed their methods. A lot of them went back to good old snail mail to communicate, which many of us have not used for a lot of our primary communication in a while. And they found creative video tools and others, and now they are so excited to get back together. The excitement and joy when they bring people together is so special. I think we'll all going to really enjoy that this summer.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Great thoughts as we visit with Jeremy Vickers here on Baylor Connections. Jeremy, let's shift gears a little bit, a lot of growth in Waco, even continuing through the pandemic and new businesses continue to come, there's lots of construction. Broad question, but could you give us a little bit of an overview of the growth that's taking place we might expect to see over the summer with new businesses or perhaps some recent openings?
Jeremy Vickers:Well, that's a great question. Our business community is thriving. It has continued to grow. Our unemployment rate has outpaced the state. And that's been a real blessing, to be honest, it does not mean there are not difficult times. We all know that. We know that some businesses have shuttered. That is the unfortunate truth. But what we've seen as a community, in a citizenry that has stepped up and said, "We want to support our business community. We want to shop local. We want to buy local. We want to eat local." That has kept some organizations in a very strong position. Some of our new and our younger small businesses have been able to sustain because of, I think, our overall desire as a community to support them. So, what we're seeing is that some large companies are coming in. If you drive up and down Highway 6, you may or may not see the Amazon facility is looking beautiful. There will be a thousand jobs over the subsequent two or three years that are all above living wage jobs that'll be coming into our community. That is, honestly, that creates an economic benefit that is almost unmeasurable frankly. A job is worth not only what it pays, but what that family gives to the community that it moves into. It buys a house, it buys cars. It sends its kids to school. It eats and it shops and so forth and so on. And when you add a thousand of those into a community, the impact has a ripple effect. So, there will be a long tail to that. And what I mean by that is we will see ripples over the subsequent three to five years of small businesses and retail and other that will benefit from it. But if we talk about a couple of things that are happening, that are opening soon in the next couple of months, I'll pick three that I'm excited about personally. Two of them will tell you a lot about my eating habits, because they're both cookie places. One is a location called Crumbl Cookies, which is going to be really delicious. And we're really excited to see them open up in the downtown area. A second, which is right next to Milo, if you spent much time over at Milo All Day, is another cookie location that's opening up. So, keep an eye out for that. They're called Milk Bottle Cookies. And Derek, I know you've had those, because we sat next to each other and ate one a couple of weeks ago.
Derek Smith:Yes we did.
Jeremy Vickers:And if you eat one, you will likely not eat dinner. They are very large cookies and they will make you feel good. Now the third is something that every Texan loves and appreciates, and it's a good pair of cowboy boots. And in downtown, there's an Austin-based boot company called Tecovas that is opening up in this summer. I believe it's on Washington Avenue. So keep an eye out and go stop by, check out and get a nice handmade pair of Tecovas and go enjoy them.
Derek Smith:Well. So, three great, couple of food options, some boots options as well. So a lot of exciting things, diverse options, moving into to Waco. As we visit with Jeremy Vickers, Jeremy serves as Associate Vice President for External Affairs at Baylor. And Jeremy, another new business in town. Now, it's already open recently is Topgolf, just off of a new road behind Central Texas Marketplace, used to be something you have to drive to DFW or Austin to enjoy, but now it's here. Before we talk about the experience and Baylor's partnership, I want to ask you, what does it communicate about Waco's growth and what organizations like Topgolf see? Because Topgolf isn't a business that puts multiple locations in every city. It's not like a fast food restaurant or a drug store. It's something completely different. So, what does it say about Waco that Topgolf saw this as a place to expand?
Jeremy Vickers:That is a great question, and it really is an honor to have an organization like Topgolf identify Waco as not only an emerging market, but a market that's worth investing the multimillion dollars they did into this community. When there are multiple Topgolfs in Austin, multiple Topgolfs in DFW, which are both very large metropolitan areas, they don't have to worry about whether there's quite the market. But in Waco, they had to go in and analyze. Not only did they see Waco as a really strong opportunity, they anchored a development for us. That says even more, in my opinion. There's of course a [inaudible] that's going in and then perhaps one or two other anchors, but they settled first. They said, "We're going to be here. We want to be in Waco." And not only did they do that, they piloted a new concept, a concept that they also piloted in Augusta, Georgia, if I remember correctly. That concept is a really, and I was just there last week, so I'll speak to it more from a personal level, is a really unique concept, it's a backyard field. I've been to probably three or four Topgolfs, lived in Dallas for a decade, we had one pretty close to us. It was one of those three-tiered ones, where you just hit golf balls off, and it's a lot of fun. It's competitive and that's all you did. But in the Waco one, it's so much more, it's immersive. You walk in and you're in the lobby and you can go out to the bays and the bays are really well spread out. There's lots of space for families and friends to come together. Or you turn right, and there's all these picnic tables and lawn games. They have fire pits out there and a miniature golf course, all kinds of really fun activities for families. If you've got young kids like I do, I need a place I can let loose, let them go, hope they don't attack any wild animals or get attacked by wild animals or hurt anyone and get hit by a golf ball or a golf club and still have a really good time. That's exactly what Topgolf is going to do. But it's also got really good food. We enjoyed their food there last week when we went in and great menu, great appetizers and a really, really fun gamification of a sport that is something that not everyone has had a chance to play. So, it's very inviting, it's inclusive and a lot of folks are going to enjoy going out and swinging some clubs.
Derek Smith:Looking forward to checking that out. As obviously a Baylor employee, Baylor fan, excited to see the fruits of a partnership, a pretty innovative partnership between Baylor and Topgolf. What will people see and what's the story behind that?
Jeremy Vickers:Oh, that's great. We saw an opportunity with Topgolf. Topgolf is a brand in Baylor is a brand. And we're so much more than that, of course, we both know that. But when you talk about brand, brand alignment is a unique challenge and opportunity, particularly for a Christian research university, we have a very specific brand and our brand matters a lot. And we're very careful about how we position it. We saw an opportunity with Topgolf coming into Waco, Topgolf saw Waco as a brand they wanted to be involved with too. We said, "Okay, let's see what kind of creative partnership we can do." Our Chief Marketing Officer, VP for Marketing Communications, Jason Cook, led this partnership, which is essentially called a reverse sponsorship, where instead of asking Topgolf to come and do things on Baylor's campus. We went to their home and we said, "Can we partner? Can we brand a room of your house like Baylor University?" So, when I was there, we've got about six bays that have targeted Baylor University branding. They have immersive ads that are occurring throughout. When you're inside of the game, when you're swinging your club and you're watching your ball go, not only on the field, but on the screen, you're able to see some integrated branding with Baylor University inside of the digital environment. It's a first of its kind partnership. Now that's not all, that's just the brand component. In the partnership itself, what we've also established is a model where we are going to invite folks who come into our community to visit our 60,000+ visitors who come to campus each year to consider sending their kids to Baylor University, to go and enjoy Waco in a lot of different ways, but stop by Topgolf, go see how we work together as a community, go experience some of the fun things that there are to do in our community. We'll maybe offer you a voucher or some other discount to make it worth your time. And it's another way to keep families and prospective students, and of course our students, once they're back from the summer around Waco, spending their time and dollars in our local community.
Derek Smith:So, people can save a little money because of that partnership. And I know us saving money, the Baylor family is able to do that through some unique partnerships with the Office of External Affairs as well. Where can people go if they'd like to learn more about some of those ways that they can save as they support local businesses?
Jeremy Vickers:No, I'm glad you asked that. We launched a program about two years ago called Go Gold! Discounts. And we identified local partners that we think our family, the Baylor faculty, staff, and students would really enjoy getting a little bit of a discount in exchange that those businesses would then be able to promote that discount in a way that would incentivize our faculty, staff and students to go spend their money locally. So, we targeted about 100 organizations, retail and restaurants, those sorts of things. And we set up a website, it's under a baylor.edu/waco, which is pretty easy to remember, baylor.edu/waco under the Go Gold! Discount button. We have, I think, upwards of just shy of 100 now organizations and you can look through all of them, or you can categorize them by dining or entertainment or shopping, or a few other categories that we have. There's some great restaurants. There's some local ones that you're all going to be familiar with, that offer discounts in the 5% or 10% or even 15% off, just show your Baylor University identification card and make sure to ask for the Go Gold! Discount.
Derek Smith:Talking with Jeremy Vickers and Jeremy turning our sights on downtown a little bit more closely. Magnolia has expanded in downtown Waco, a large chapel that's a part of the skyline now, new shops extending to 8th Street. But what can you tell us about that and what that expansion adds for visitors coming downtown?
Jeremy Vickers:That is a really unique part of our downtown experience that's continuing to expand. For what's going on now four years, five years, the 8th Street corridor, for lack of a better term, is continuing to develop. Of course, Magnolia has been a hub and as they've opened up now those three or four additional assets in the last two years, what's happened is there's this additional centralization of activity. We're seeing small businesses, retailers and others that were in other parts of Waco are now considering moving into the adjacent spaces. There's a boutique that was on Austin Avenue that's moving over closer to Magnolia, because they want to be in a place where those who are like-minded might also stop by their shop. But more than that's happening, there is a really interesting concept called Pivovar, it's a Czech inspired restaurant, bakery in Boutique Hotel, that's going to be opening up any day now this summer. Really encourage you all to look there. And on the outside edge of that area is the Union Hall. And I know we've all been to Union Hall, there's 20+ eateries and dessert places, and all kinds of great things to try there. But on the other side of this section, closer to the campus side of that corridor, The Art Center of Waco, which is a local nonprofit I'm on the board of, is opening a multi-million dollar art facility that will have camps and classrooms and all kinds of neat exhibits that's going to be opening up at the end of summer as well. So yet another cultural asset to continue to draw the community in, to get people to do more than just stop at one or two shops, but to really engage and learn and play in Waco when they come to visit or when they're here for the weekends.
Derek Smith:That's great. you mentioned Art Center Waco, and they have stuff for all ages, but certainly when we talk about camps or different things, they do a lot for children there, that children can be involved in. And I want to ask you this, as we wind down, you have four children in between the ages of two and eight, and I'm guessing that we have some listeners in that same boat, give or take a few years. And I'm just curious, as you look ahead to the summer, are there any activities that are high on the list for you guys as a family that other people might want to check out?
Jeremy Vickers:Yeah, that's a great question. Anybody here who's got young kids knows that summer is a beautiful time, but you've got to keep them busy or they'll drive you nuts. They're a blessing, we love them. And my wife, I think, spends half of her days finding fun activities for the kiddos to do. Cameron Park is such an asset. I think, in some ways, it doesn't get talked about enough. In other ways, it's talked about so much that people maybe they don't think about it, because it's just this known asset. But the trails of Cameron Park, hiking those trails are so much fun. We'll be there this weekend, I think, with our church group, having a picnic and enjoying pecan bottoms, because that little area is so well covered with shade. There's a little splash pad and there's a great little outdoor playground right there. It's so big and wide open. It's such a wonderful asset for our community. But of course that's not all. The favorite thing to do is to hook up a sprinkler and put it under the old trampoline. And anything that draws the kids out in the summer. Camps are not happening at the same rate that we had hoped. A lot of organizations are trying to figure that out. But the city of Waco, some of the sports organizations, YMCA, Boys Club, Art Center, and others, keep an eye out. There are quite a few organizations that are doing camps. Of course, so many of our wonderful churches are doing vacation Bible schools and that's been really neat to see. I think they all missed doing those last year and I've noticed our church, where we attend and some of the others are able to do some daytime or some evening ones. So, check out some local churches. The VBSs are so fun. It's a great way to enrich our children's lives and to speak Christ into their lives as well.
Derek Smith:Certainly, that's great. Well, as we wind down, Jeremy, I want to ask you as we... Talk about your team, obviously, I know them, but you've got a great team behind you in the External Affairs that does a lot of different things in the community. What would you like people to know about the team that you get to be a part of?
Jeremy Vickers:Well, The first thing is that they do all of the important stuff. I talk and take credit, of course, naturally, that's one of my many skills is taking credit for that. No, they're wonderful. As anybody knows, an effort, a program, an organization's only as good as the people. And I want to start off by talking about Krista Brinser. Krista is our Assistant Director for Community Relations, City Growth. And City Growth is this term that people sometimes don't really understand. But when you talk about loving your city and you talk about art and culture, entertainment, talent attraction, that's what she focuses on each and every day. She's the one who tells these beautiful stories for us. She's the one who designs these amazing guides. She's the one who's out there working with the arts community. And if you ever see these chalk art festivals that have Baylor's signs on them or up and down Austin, these beautiful chalk art murals, she led all of that and many other things. So, she is an advocate for downtown Waco and urban development in our community, and really helps bridge and divide the Baylor Waco families, bridge the divide I should say. The second is Cuevas Peacock. Cuevas is our Assistant Director for Community Relations, Cultural Wealth, and Cuevas does two things, if I could ever boil down anyone to two things. The first is that he is an advocate for celebrating, honoring and engaging our communities of color. So, that Baylor and the Waco neighborhoods and citizens feel respected, loved, honored, and celebrated. He's the one that's leading our engagement with the Juneteenth pageant and parade and rallying dozens of our leaders to come and engage in that. He is such a strong advocate for the connections that happen there. The second thing is that he provides a lens into all of our work. I work in economic development quite a bit, and whether it's health or education or others, and he always brings this lens of, is it good for the city? Yes. Is it good for everyone in the city? Right. So, if we do something that's good for Waco, is this arts initiative good for everyone? Is this economic development initiative, is this good for everyone? Does everyone benefit? And there's so many small ways that that plays out that don't always get seen. Then of course, Holly Burchett is our Director of Community Relations and she engages deeply with our health and education. There's not enough words to say about the great work that she does. She also leads Krista and Cuevas. So, she's deeply involved in their work, but she's the one working to pull off some of these really cool education summits, behavioral health summit that we held not long ago. And of course, with the pandemic, she's been so involved with supporting and engaging communities work around COVID-19 response.
Derek Smith:Well, you've got a great team and obviously a lot of teamwork taking place, not just with your group, but throughout the Waco community. It's exciting to see the fruits of that, excited to have you share a lot of these with us. I wish we had even a little bit of more time, but I think people are intrigued by what they heard, baylor.edu/waco, easiest place for them to go and learn more.
Jeremy Vickers:That's right. Thank you so much, Derek. I appreciate it.
Derek Smith:Well, Jeremy, thank you. It's really great to have you on the program today. Jeremy Vickers, Associate Vice President for External Affairs, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith, a reminder that you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Enjoy summer 2021 in Waco and thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.