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Mike Copeland: Baylor razing nearby hotel; Waco distillery's award-winning success

Mike Copeland: Baylor razing nearby hotel; Waco distillery's award-winning success

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In its continued efforts to create a picturesque view of its campus from Interstate 35, Baylor University is preparing to demolish the venerable Old Main Lodge, 215 Dutton Ave., and convert the site to a manicured lawn.

“As I understand it, the lease ran out in mid-January and the contents now are being removed,” Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said. “Demolition will begin in mid-February, and the site will become green space for now.”

According to the Yahoo travel site, Old Main Lodge, an 84-room Best Western property, is the closest lodging establishment to Baylor. It has accommodated guests in town for homecoming, sporting events and citywide special occasions since 1974.

Baylor acquired Old Main Lodge eight to 10 years ago, when it purchased a tract near campus bounded by Interstate 35, University Parks Drive, Dutton Avenue and South Fourth Street.

That site included the Ivy Square shopping strip, which Baylor eventually tore down, as well as the International House of Pancakes, which continues to operate under a “longer-term lease” than that of Old Main Lodge, Fogleman said.

Baylor officials consistently have said they are razing the structures to improve the appearance of the school’s gateway.

Baylor bought the tract at about the same time it was closing deals on the north side of Lake Brazos in hopes of piecing together enough property to accommodate the George W. Bush Presidential Library. The Bushes instead chose Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

A $250 million football stadium now takes shape on that land, with an opening set for fall 2014.

Times review

Balcones Distillery, a whiskey maker based in Waco, recently received a nice plug in the “Dining & Wine” section of the New York Times.

In a piece titled, “American Single-Malt Whiskeys Serve Notice,” the Times lauded the company’s award-winning success.

Said the Times: “The humid streets of Waco, Tex., may not have much in common with the misty glens of Scotland, home to some of the world’s best malt whiskeys. Not much, that is, until last month, when a single-malt whiskey from the Balcones Distillery bested nine others, including storied Scottish names like the Balvenie and the Macallan, in a blind panel of British spirits experts.”

Balcones won “Best in Glass,” a five-year-old competition to find the best whiskey released in a given year.

“We’ve been selling out everywhere since that New York Times article came out,” said Stephen Germer, who co-founded Balcones in 2008 with Chip Tate, during a cellphone conversation. “I’m walking out of a Spec’s (liquor store) in Austin that sold all it had.”

Balcones products are available in 26 states and in the United Kingdom.

It has not abandoned its roots, still distilling its whiskey in cramped quarters beneath the overpass at 17th Street. It stores barrels of product in a downtown warehouse that Germer was reluctant to identify “for security reasons.”

But change is coming, said Germer, who did not go into specifics but said the company hopes to build “an absolutely beautiful still house in Waco, complete with a testing room and gift shop.”

He said plans remain in the works.

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