By Rebecca Flannery
Downtown Waco has never seen a Baylor game day like the one on Sunday.
The block party that started around 2 p.m. on Austin Avenue supplemented the game day experience, offering free parking, transportation and entertainment.
Megan Henderson, executive director of the Waco Downtown development Corp., said opportunities provided downtown are not meant to take away from the event that is Baylor football, but rather they are an extension of the game.
“What’s happening downtown is not an event itself,” Henderson said. “It’s a part of Baylor’s event.”
Street vendors, food trucks and shops on Austin Avenue were ready for fans to come flooding down the street with.
Drew Vincent, project manager of the Waco Downtown Development Corp., said 15 vendors bought spaces downtown.
“We wanted to provide a welcoming environment to those attending the game today,” Vincent said. “We want everyone to have a good time downtown and get people more involved in where they live and work.”
Caleb Duty worked the booth for Poppa Rollo’s Pizza, one of the local businesses that bought a vendor space downtown. He said it’s about time downtown Waco has come into the spotlight.
“Waco is finally doing something fun,” Duty said. “We’re bringing Baylor into the current century; it feels more like a college town now.”
People parked downtown around 2 p.m. and walked up and down Austin Avenue to see what street vendors and restaurants had to offer.
Gloria Blair, a Baylor fan, said she was taking it all in.
“I wanted to see what all the excitement was about,” Blair said. “It’s living up to my expectations.”
The Dirty Echoes, local Waco rock band comprised of Chris Ermoian, Jeremy Gautier, Wes Wells and Casey Pittman played from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in a lot between vendors for the passer-by.
“Nobody really knows how it’s all going to go these first two weeks,” Ermoian said. “But we’re excited to see.”
The roads downtown were blocked off from Fourth to Fifth Street and from Fifth to Eighth Street, leaving a lane on Fifth for buses to shuttle people back and forth to the stadium. There were 1,700 free parking spaces in 11 parking lots downtown, Vincent said.
The shuttle service, which started at 4:30 p.m., provided downtown with six buses from the Waco Transit System, with the potential of adding six more buses if there was a need.
Restaurants and food services such as Dichotomy, Klassy Glass and Portofino said they plan on extending their Sunday hours for crowds coming back from the game.
Nick Colaku, father of the owner of the new Portofino Italian restaurant downtown, said they bought their storefront at the right time.
“We’re excited to see how this effects business,” Colaku said.
Vendors at the block party included food trucks like Club Sandwich, Pop Walton’s BBQ and local shops like Just Like You from Spice Village.
Lacey Compton, one of the owners of the small booth said creating entertainment downtown was a smart move for Waco.
“Hopefully more people will enjoy downtown now,” Compton said.