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Waco City Council approves Baylor arena, riverfront project

A new $700 million project will reshape downtown Waco and the riverfront with a Baylor basketball arena and entertainment venue

WACO, Texas — The Waco City Council approved a joint project between the city and Baylor University for a riverfront project that will bring a new 7,500-capacity basketball pavilion and entertainment venue to Downtown Waco. 

The project was unanimously approved on Tuesday night. Two public speakers asked that the city consider EV Charging ports in future parking garages that will be built near the project. 

The arena will cost an estimated $185 million. The project will take place adjacent to the Clifton Robinson Tower along I-35, University Park Drive, and the Brazos River. The city, Baylor, and private investors will pay for the project. No extra taxpayer money will be used, but instead funds will be refocused. 

"I think there’s so much that benefits our community, but I think one thing that we are gonna see is that people around the state, around the country, across the region are gonna utilize this development," mayor Dillon Meek said Tuesday night. 

The project will also include retail shops, restaurants, condos, and a hotel to go along with four phases of the reshaping of the riverfront. 

One city council member said that the "Baylor Bubble" is now gone as the city and university have truly created a marriage with this project. It's called the largest economic development in the city's history.

“Cultural and economic impact of this is incredibly significant and then there’s also the commitment of Baylor and the county and the city working together to ensure that not only this project is successful but also our community continues to thrive in the day ahead," Meek said. 

The basketball pavilion is set to open by early 2024 with the entire project set to be finished by summer 2024. Construction will begin in June 2022. 

The 245,000 square foot pavilion will have nearly 3,000 less seats than the existing Ferrell Center, but Baylor Athletic Director Mack Rhoades says smaller is better for the Bears. 

“We think it’s the right size for us, our goal is to fill that to capacity. Not only three or four games a year, but every single home game," he said. "Big 12 coaches a couple years ago really ranked the most difficult places to play in the Big 12 and Ferrell Center was ranked nine out of ten so this really changes that dynamic.” 

The pavilion will have two separate premium club spaces at a combined 8,500 square feet and two 2,000-square-foot video end boards. 

Tonight, city council approved $65 million to be put towards the pavilion, but the University and the City will have until March 1, 2022, to negotiate and execute a final agreement.