Waco Tribune-Herald: EDITORIAL: $35 million TIF grant to Baylor Stadium project is right for downtown redevelopment

July 11, 2012

Reprinted by permission of the Waco Tribune-Herald

If taxpayers' hearts skipped a beat at the idea of the downtown Tax Increment Financing board granting $35 million to Baylor University for its proposed, state-of-the-art stadium, it's a testament to this community's conservative temperament. That said, we've seldom seen a venture of the magnitude, appeal and promise that the Baylor Stadium offers Waco and its economy.

As City Manager Larry Groth told the Trib, the grant -- if approved by the TIF board today and Waco City Council on Tuesday -- would be the biggest economic development incentive in local history. It would complement private donations and cover public infrastructure at and around the stadium, covering about 14 percent of the project's $250 million cost. (TIF bylaws as a rule preclude covering more than 15 percent of any project.)

Yes, some residents will see this as a dubious use of taxpayer money. Their sentiments are understandable, given that many other needs remain unmet during a post-recessionary period seemingly without end. However, TIF money is raised through public entities downtown and on the riverfront with the intent of improving the downtown's economic landscape. The TIF area extends to the riverfront spot where Baylor hopes to raise its 45,000-seat stadium by fall 2014.

We urge neighbors and friends to keep open minds and remember Baylor is no longer an insular institution operating in a "bubble" unto itself, if in fact it ever did. It has become an increasingly ready partner in helping our city meet its goals, whether that involves walkways lining the Brazos River or battling chronic poverty. Baylor and city officials understand that, now more than ever, the two must work in concert if either is to attain its considerable goals.

Baylor officials clearly view this project as a regional endeavor, evident in the stadium's description in plans as a "community events center" open to various activities besides football. It would even highlight the image passers-by have of Waco, being readily visible from busy Interstate 35 -- something that will be enhanced when the $43 million extension of frontage roads over the Brazos is completed in two years, including walkways leading to the river trails below. Plus the stadium should be a positive dynamic in the struggling East Waco neighborhood nearby.

Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr., one of the city council's brightest and most conservative members, gets the rationale behind all this: "I think we'll see more residential, restaurants and retail development. It's hard to decide whether (the proposed stadium) is more important as economic development on the river or as a community event center."

One thing's sure: The proposed Baylor Stadium is far more than just a football arena, especially as it figures into downtown redevelopment and community pride. We remind readers again that nothing of consequence happens without lots of time and thought invested. That goes for public resources, too -- and we can't think of a better investment by the TIF board than this project, especially if Baylor and Waco are to flourish in the daunting decades ahead.