Situated in the heart of the Texas Triangle, outlined by the state’s four main urban centers—Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio—is Bryan.
With a population under 100,000, the city in Brazos County named for Texas’ founding father Stephen F. Austin’s nephew William Joel Bryan may pale in comparison to its larger metropolitan neighbors. However, Bryan and its bordering sister city College Station, home to Texas A&M University, play a vital role in the region, particularly when it comes to sports and recreation.
“We’re not New York, we’re not Orlando and that’s OK,” former Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson said. “We love the size of our community. We’re a wonderful midpoint for four of the 10 largest cities in the United States.”
Knowing its role in the Texas Triangle, Bryan has undergone a metamorphosis of late, specifically in Travis Bryan Midtown Park, located halfway between Texas A&M’s main campus and downtown Bryan. The city’s commitment pays homage to its 150-plus-year history with an eye on the future.
Despite golf’s growing popularity in the last few years, having too many courses in a finite area has proven to be detrimental in Bryan-College Station, which was home to Travis B. Bryan Municipal Golf Course, City Course at the Phillips Event Center, and The Golf Club at Texas A&M— all located within three miles of each other.
With Travis B. Bryan Municipal losing an estimated $200,000 to $350,000 annually, while “inexorably getting in worse shape year after year,” a decision had to be made. Knowing that when The Golf Club at Texas A&M was closed for a year, the other two courses made a profit, the answer was obvious: one had to go.
City Course at Phillips Event Center, formerly known as Briarcrest Golf Course, was generously donated by local developer Wallace Phillips to the city of Bryan, which took over the 107-acre course in December 2017.
“That is the light that allowed this whole thing to start,” Nelson said. “Wallace Phillips should be recognized for sure because none of this would have happened without him. He’s the most important part of it.”
Knowing Travis B. Bryan Municipal Golf Course would be sacrificed, what could the city do with the land? Scouting similarly sized cities within the Texas Triangle, like Waco, Killeen, and Temple, while comparing the park and recreational amenities and sports facilities in nearby College Station, the Bryan City Council determined a mixed-use development would be beneficial to residents and tourists alike.
After five years and hundreds of hours of planning and construction, the 150-acre Travis Bryan Midtown Park went from vision to reality, starting with the opening of BigShots Aggieland (a 40,000 square-foot golf and entertainment venue) and Travis Fields (a youth and amateur baseball facility) in the first part of 2022. Additionally, Travis Bryan Midtown Park is home to a 4,000-foot-long walking path and Midtown Lake. The complex is anchored by the 122,000-square-foot multipurpose Legends Event Center, which is home to indoor sports like basketball, volleyball, wrestling, and cheerleading. The $41 million venue opened on December 10, 2022.
“For us, it gives our population a place to go and a place to spend quality time, outside and inside, so no matter what the weather is, you’re able to do something in our Midtown Park,” said Bryan Mayor Bobby Gutierrez. “It’s very important for bringing in tourism, for our own population, and for the businesses and restaurants around there as well.”
Since opening its doors seven months ago, Legends Event Center has attracted more than 36,000 tourism event attendees and generated more than $10.8 million in total economic impact for the community, with more than $7.2 million of that coming from new events. The facility is operated by The Sports Facilities Companies, a professional firm that partners with cities to plan, develop, and manage sports, recreation, and event venues.
The key to building Legends was to offer amenities that couldn’t be found in neighboring cities while complementing — not competing with — existing sports facilities and parks. One such facility is College Station’s Veterans Park & Athletic Complex, which boasts 13 multi-purpose fields and five natural grass softball fields for outdoor sports like football, soccer, baseball, and softball.
“We knew it would not be successful if we went and did something that was already being done inside the Texas Triangle,” said Nelson, mayor of Bryan from 2016-2022. “Inside that triangle is the majority of people (in Texas), so we wanted something that could allow them to meet, but it was critical that we not repeat a facility or activity that a similarly sized community or mid-sized town was doing.
Image courtesy of Legends Event Center
With more amenities and improvements still to come, Travis Bryan Midtown Park now serves as an integral part of Bryan’s own triangle, or catalyst zones, according to Gutierrez, connecting Midtown Park to Union Hill and Downtown.
Bryan City Council approved a new recreation and entertainment facility that will include at least 24 bowling lanes, six pickleball courts, an outdoor amphitheater, an arcade, movie theater rooms, and premium concessions. The City Council also approved a $5.1 million construction contract for new outdoor amenities at Legends and Midtown Lake, including four NCAA-approved sand volleyball courts, a boathouse, and a multipurpose trail.
The park’s revitalization also includes dredging, cleaning, expanding, and deepening the lake, previously nicknamed “arsenic lake” due to a chemical spill and pollution from a nearby fertilizer plant upstream in the 1960s.
Despite being approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for the safe use of the lake, there was still a negative perception caused by the prior contamination. However, the city is changing that.
“It’s going to be the cleanest body of water in the state of Texas,” Nelson said.
While the city celebrated its 150th anniversary of incorporation on November 29, 2021, the future certainly looks bright from the beating heart of the Texas Triangle thanks to the redevelopment of Travis Bryan Midtown Park and everything it will bring—to residents and visitors alike.
“It’s a really exciting time to be the mayor of Bryan,” Gutierrez said.