The project that includes replacing Paul Tyson Field on Lake Air Drive has more moving parts than “The Queen’s Gambit,” the Netflix miniseries about a chess prodigy.
But clarity may come soon, as McLennan County, the Waco Independent School District and city of Waco negotiate agreements that specify who gets what piece of a 260-acre tract near Waco High School and the county fairgrounds — land that may see a reconfigured Lake Air Little League complex, a Waco ISD track-and-field center and a new county equine and livestock facility.
The first finished element of the broader venue project, made possible by a 2017 bond election, will be The BASE, a $32 million, 80,000-square-foot multi-purpose center added to the Extraco Events Center complex and set for an unveiling in the coming months.
The Waco ISD board is expected to vote this month on bids for the Paul Tyson replacement, which were due Dec. 7. Base bids from four prospective contractors range from $8.8 million to $11.1 million, according to the local office of the Associated General Contractors of America. Bidders were also asked to submit bids for two alternatives, which generally include extra features added to the final product. Over the summer, the board approved preliminary plans and placed a $9.5 million cost estimate on the project.
The new Paul Tyson Field is slated to be ready by September with an 8-lane track, artificial turf and grandstands seating about 2,000 spectators. Other features include lighting for night events, press box, ticket office, concession stand and locker rooms. The facility would be of University Interscholastic League “competition quality,” Waco ISD spokesperson Josh Wucher by email.
Meanwhile, other details of the larger project are still being finalized, including land swaps and county payments to Waco ISD and the city.
One significant change from the early stages of planning the area’s reconfiguration is that the Cobbs Recycling Center will remain where it is, Waco senior parks planner Tom Balk said.
All parties involved are sensitive to the needs of Lake Air Little League and are working to avoid disrupting play there this season, Balk said.
The county-issued bonds, funding construction of The BASE and partially funding other projects, are being paid back with a 2% hotel occupancy tax and 5% rental car tax. Those revenue streams have slowed along with travel in the face of COVID-19. Through October, local hotels reported $30.6 million in revenue, 39% less than the $50.5 million during the same period last year, according to Amarillo economist Karr Ingham, who tracks local trends.
“The county has made commitments from venue funds to Waco ISD in the amount of $2.4 million and to the city of Waco for $3.6 million,” County Administrator Dustin Chapman said by email.
The timing of county payments in support of the school district’s Paul Tyson project and the city’s Lake Air Little League project is among the details still being worked out.
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said the agreements will reflect economic realities in the COVID-19 era, including devastation the pandemic has inflicted on the lodging and tourism industries.
“COVID-19 has really interrupted initial projections,” Felton said. “Revenue coming in from hotel tax and car rentals is off compared to prior years. The money will eventually come in, but we want to make sure these agreements line up with what actually happens. It may come in slower or faster. We must take that under advisement as we reimburse each entity.
“First, we have to pay bondholders $1.8 million each year, then we pay other expenses after that, including payments to the city and WISD.”
When the dust settles and the public becomes confident COVID-19 is under control, the county will be well positioned to meet any rebound in remand for hotels, Felton said. About a half-dozen new hotels are expected to open soon in Waco.
Felton said longer-term, the county envisions a new equine and livestock facility where 60-year-old Paul Tyson Field now stands.
“It’s yet to be named, but we think it has the potential to be even more of an economic driver than BASE, considering the livestock and equine shows it would make possible, increasing what we do now,” Felton said.