It is hard to miss McLane Stadium from I-35. The building’s hulking mass, sited so close that it literally looms over the freeway, makes a big impression among the profusion of gas station, fast food, and roadway signs that are otherwise the only indication that you have left the Texas prairie and are now passing through Waco. Even at the speed of traffic it is clear that what’s happening here is more than just the construction of a new college football stadium for the Baylor Bears—here is the making of a civic icon.
“It’s a huge billboard for the university and for Waco,” said Jeff Spears, a principal at Populous, the Kansas City–headquartered architecture firm that designed the stadium. Indeed, the city demonstrated its commitment to the venture by approving $35 million in tax increment financing to help the private university fund its $260 million stadium. “I don’t think you would consider Waco a college town, but I think they’re heading that way,” continued Spears. “With Baylor’s recent success with football, the community is getting behind it.”
Jeff Spears; Courtesy Populous
In addition to this monetary show of town-gown fellow feeling, the design of McLane Stadium goes a long way toward improving connectivity both between the campus and its football program, as well as between the city and the university. In addition to being on the east side of I-35, the site (which was briefly considered for the George W. Bush Presidential Library before SMU took the honor) is on the north bank of the Brazos River. It links to the Baylor campus, on the south bank, via a pedestrian bridge. As a replacement for Floyd Casey Stadium, which is some two miles away from campus, the new stadium will make it easier for students without wheels to get to games. Also on site is the Baylor Basin, a harbor with boat slips perfect for a new form of water-borne tailgating. The project has also incited Waco to consider a $180 million riverfront development project that could tie into the stadium and help break down the “Baylor Wall,” another name for I-35, which separates the campus from the city center.
As big as it looks from the freeway, at 43,000 seats McLane Stadium is intimate compared to the 80,000-seat-and-up stadia that are home to much of the Bears’ competition. The stadium’s three tiers keep the seats close to the field. A canopy—held 135 feet in the air and cantilevering up to 95 feet out on 42-inch-diameter steel pipe columns—provides shade for hot September games as well as sound amplification to increase the intimidation factor. Horseshoe-shaped in plan, the poured-in-place concrete seating bowl opens up to the south, creating a view corridor to Baylor’s idyllic campus.
Construction is expected to be complete by August 1, well before the first home game of the year on August 31.