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In what Director of Athletics Ian McCaw coined as a "monumental occasion" and "one of the biggest things to happen in the history of Baylor University," the Board of Regents voted Thursday night to move forward with the construction of a $250 million riverfront stadium and community events complex.
Pending a favorable final vote by the Waco City Council on Aug. 7, giving final approval for a $35 million contribution, the 15-story Baylor Stadium project is expected to help stimulate riverfront development, revitalize downtown Waco and bring jobs and economic development to the region.
"The approval of the stadium is one of the biggest things to happen in the history of Baylor University," McCaw said. "It's something we've been working on for quite a while, and it's great to see it finally become a reality. . . . We've had great leadership from the Board, from our top donors, from (Baylor President Ken Starr), from our senior administration and all of Baylor Nation rallying behind this project."
The unanimous vote by the Baylor Regents followed a very favorable discussion and enthusiastic public comment at a meeting of the Waco City Council on Tuesday. At that meeting, the Council voted unanimously in support of the $35 million public contribution endorsed without dissent by the downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board.
"Without the city's contribution, the project wouldn't have moved forward at this point," McCaw said. "So it was vital. And their funding of the infrastructure really put us in a position where we can use the Baylor donor dollars to fund the construction of the stadium itself. It's great to see the synergy between Baylor and Waco, because this is a project where everyone will win as a result of it being approved."
The Baylor Regents' conditional approval hinges on the second of two required votes by the Waco City Council next month, but city officials have said that it's just a formality.
TIF funds would cover a portion of public infrastructure around the stadium, including roads, construction of a pedestrian bridge to provide access across the Brazos River, development of a new arena, the relocation of sewer and electric transmission lines, and water, sewer and drainage facilities to serve the site.
According to a report in Friday's Waco Tribune-Herald, Oncor has already ordered the materials to relocate the high-wire transmission lines and Baylor has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permits to build on a public waterway.
"We are grateful for the unanimous support of the TIF board and Waco City Council," said Baylor Regent Chair Richard Willis, BBA '81, MBA '82. "The Baylor Stadium complex will be a tremendous asset for both Baylor and the greater Waco community. We're proud to be partnering with the city in this remarkable project."
Since March, the University has received three major gifts for the stadium from prominent Baylor alumni Elizabeth and Drayton McLane, Sheridan and John Eddie Williams Jr. and Sheila and Walter Umphrey. These leadership gifts, along with the support from the TIF funds, have given the University a strong start toward the $250 million needed to construct the facility.
"I always say that Drayton McLane got the ball rolling and deserves incredible credit," said John Eddie Williams. "I originally believed that spending $250 million on a facility you use six times a year didn't make sense. But the momentum started, and I converted and have seen that the stadium is going to be an extraordinary asset for Baylor and for Waco and for coach (Art) Briles and the football team. I think it's going to generate a tremendous amount of excitement."
Between the fundraising this spring and summer, the TIF funds and $100 to $120 million in Baylor-issued bonds, the University will be able to begin construction next month with an expected completion date by the 2014 football season opener.
"The momentum that has formed around the football stadium and community events complex is spectacular," said Ken Starr. "We are humbled that our vision for this facility has been embraced so enthusiastically by generous and dedicated Baylor alumni, and our faithful partners in the city.
"The project has captured the imagination of those who can envision the transformative effect that something of this significance can have on our University and on our community. We have every expectation of continued fundraising success and a favorable vote on Aug. 7, given the strong support already demonstrated by our alumni, local leaders and community members."
McCaw said the leadership gift by the McLanes, followed by significant donations from the Williams and Umphreys, "really gave us momentum."
"There are many other gifts in place right now that haven't been announced yet," he said. "But they really created such a wave of momentum that's enabled us to really garner the broad-base support for this project to happen. . . . It's time to pause and celebrate the amount of hard work that's been done so far. But we still have a tremendous amount of fundraising yet to do and a lot of work to do on stadium development and design, and our staff will be working diligently on that over the next two years."
Baylor Stadium is expected to be built on a 93-acre site at the intersection of Interstate 35, one of the nation's busiest highways, and the Brazos River. The stadium will hold 45,000 spectators, with the flexibility to expand to 55,000, and will feature a bridge crossing the Brazos connecting the stadium to campus.
Baylor played its first football game on campus in 1899, but has played in an off-campus stadium since 1936 and in Floyd Casey Stadium since 1950.
"These are exciting times for Baylor University and the Big 12 Conference," new Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "It's hard to imagine when the enthusiasm around Baylor athletics has ever been greater. What a fantastic time to be a part of the Baylor program!"
Briles, who has stressed that two of his remaining goals are to win a Big 12 championship and play in an on-campus stadium, said: "Vision . . . faith . . . hope became reality today. This structure will change the game-day culture and the image of Waco, Central Texas and Baylor for decades."
The stadium will also "serve as a catalyst for driving development in the riverfront area, which will generate strong, positive, long-term economic benefits to down and the city," said Reagan Ramsower, senior vice president for operations and chief financial officer at Baylor.
"We look forward with great excitement and enthusiasm to this extension and expansion of Baylor's proud partnership with our beloved hometown of Waco," he said.
"The impact of this project in terms of city tax revenue, economic impact and jobs is extraordinary," McCaw said. "In many ways, the stadium will do more for Waco and Central Texas than it does for Baylor. But from a Baylor standpoint, we're going to have an incredible landmark on I-35, a state-of-the-art football stadium that will be as high a quality as any facility in the country, and this will give a huge lift to coach Briles and the football program."
John Eddie Williams said the only thing in the state that "would come close" is DKR Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas "having their stadium visible from I-35, but ours will be a lot prettier and newer."
"I can't wait until they start moving some dirt and bringing in some steel and all that," Williams said.
With a balcony off his office at the Simpson Athletics and Academic Center, McCaw will be able to see the stadium built from the ground up.
"It's going to be incredibly exciting to see it as it develops and comes out of the ground over the course of the next two years," he said, "and ultimately culminates in what I believe will be the best football facility in the country. It won't be the biggest, but from a quality standpoint, we believe it will be the best."