Downtown events bring school spirit to community

Fans stroll down Austin Avenue and partake in gameday events new to Waco.
Carlye Thornton | Lariat Photo Editor

By Rebecca Flannery
Staff Writer

People in downtown Waco had never seen a Baylor game day like the one on Sunday.

Game Day Downtown, a block party that started around 2 p.m. on Austin Avenue, supplemented the game day experience, offering free parking, transportation and entertainment.

Drew Vincent, project manager of the Waco Downtown Development Corp. said Game Day Downtown was a success.

“We went around and spoke to our vendors and businesses on Austin Avenue during the day,” Vincent said. “They were really happy with it and felt it was worth being open and operating for.”

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 prepared for fans to come flooding down the street with.

Vincent said 15 vendors bought spaces downtown.

“We wanted to provide a welcoming environment to those attending the game today,” Vincent said on Sunday. “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 enjoyed 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 starring 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 streets, leaving a lane on Fifth street 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.

“Some buses began their route early to accommodate those who started parking earlier than 4:30 p.m.,” Vincent said. “That was very gracious of them to do for us.”

Sgt. Patrick Swanton, Waco Police Department public information officer, said despite heavy traffic and a constant flow of buses, the events around the city went off without a hitch.

“I’m very proud of the way our citizens handled themselves on Sunday,” Swanton said. “There were no car accidents or pedestrian arrests all night.”

Restaurants and food services such as Dichotomy, Klassy Glass and Portofino extended Sunday operating 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.