Other cities offer guide for events center
By BY MELISSA CROWE - MCROWE@VICAD.COM
Jan. 19, 2013 at 7:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 18, 2013 at 7:19 p.m.
In the past five years, Victoria hit milestone-growth in its university, high schools, performing arts venues and business sector.
Now, two business men are championing for a new boom: a multi-use events center on a 500-acre development.
Steve Roth, president of Roth Construction, Inc., and Rawley McCoy, president of the architecture firm Rawley McCoy and Associates, said the project has been a dream for years.
"Anybody who wants to come to Victoria, we need to have a venue for them," Roth said.
The plan looks at three voids within the community: entertainment, hospitality and athletics.
"Our drive is at all levels to fill the need of the community," Roth said. "Along with that, we want to do our best to see it is an entity that isn't a drain on the community but an asset."
The preliminary site is on the northeast side of Victoria between Loop 463 and Victoria Regional Airport, northwest of the future East Airline Road extension.
McCoy said countless opportunities exist for tourism, but those events cannot happen if there is no space for them.
His concept for the events center was inspired by the $55 million Cedar Park Center, which opened north of Austin in 2009.
That venue set the standard for successful event centers since its opening.
It is owned by the city, but operated through a public-private partnership with Hicks Sports Group. The facility was partially funded through a $43 million bond.
Cedar Park Economic Development Corp. President Phil Brewer said the city has not conducted an economic impact analysis on the center, but that the events bring in out-of-town dollars and over-night tourism.
"It was a hybrid quality-of-life, economic development project," Brewer said.
Officials hoped the project would be an "economic engine" in developing the adjacent and surrounding acreage, Brewer said.
Although development has not occurred in conjunction with the center's development, Brewer said preliminary planning is underway for developing the surrounding area with a hotel, office space, retail and restaurants.
Rick McLaughlin, general manager of the center, said the center hosts an average of 135 events, including 64 sporting events, annually.
McLaughlin said the city waited for an agreement with Hicks Sports Group before finalizing the decision to build the 8,000-seat-capacity facility.
The sports group owns the Texas Stars hockey team, an affiliate of Dallas Stars.
He said that agreement gave the city a foundation for success because 40 events were guaranteed.
In the second year, the Austin Toros, an affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs, joined the Stars as tenants, McLaughlin said.
The key to the Cedar Park Center is its adaptability.
"We have to do these conversions so we can play a basketball game on a Friday night, pick up the basketball floor and get ready for a hockey game on Saturday, and literally we could have a concert on Sunday," McLaughlin said.
The center is primarily used on weekends, and minor league sports amount for some of the best crowds, he said.
Area schools use it for graduation ceremonies. It has hosted motocross and monster truck rallies, multiple Cirque du Soleil shows, Disney On Ice and other entertainment events.
According to Cedar Park's annual budget report, the event center has spurred major growth and business development for the city.
It has attracted restaurateurs and overnight tourists, according to the budget report.
In North Texas, Wichita Falls' Multi-Purpose Event Center fulfills the community's need for a gathering place.
The facility is city-owned and operated.
Bob Sullivan, director of the center, said the success is for the community.
"It will never be a must-play concert venue," Sullivan said, but for community activities, entertainment options and amateur sports, the 6,500-seat facility it is a great fit.
He said the event center operates using hotel occupancy taxes, not money from the general fund.
"When (hotel tax) dollars dry up, we're positioned for more amateur sports - hockey, volleyball, soccer," Sullivan said.
Tom Quarles, general manager of Brazos County Expo Complex in Bryan, said hearts need to be in the right place for a city- or county-owned event center to be successful.
"These facilities historically do not make money," Quarles said.
However, he said their impact is far-reaching. By bringing in tourists, communities can see revenue increases in gas, shopping, hotels and restaurant sales.
"The major reason they're built is to have a significant long-term economic impact on the county," Quarles said. "The second reason is to meet the event facility needs for the people in the county."
The complex in northwest Bryan is county-owned and operated. It focuses largely on equine events and features a ballroom, exhibition hall, two large covered outdoor arenas, two large covered pavilions and a covered warm-up arena.
"We don't have the basketball, volleyball, baseball or softball facilities. The city, College Station and the schools have that," Quarles said.
The proposal for Victoria would include facilities for outdoor sports - baseball, basketball, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer and tennis. The focal point of the complex is an an 8,500-capacity, three-story event center, followed with a conference center, stock show barns, a hotel or resort, RV park, farmer's market and carnival space.
"It's all conceptual," Roth said.
Once the team finishes the feasibility study and business plan, they will focus on financing it. Roth foresees it being a public-private partnership.
Brazos County's $32 million complex went under construction in the spring in 2006 with the financial backing of a successful bond election, Quarles said.
"You're going to spend a lot of money, so you want to make darn sure you do your research," Quarles said.
He said a major hurdle is making sure the project is done right the first time.
Because building materials skyrocketed in price, the county nixed its plan to construct an indoor coliseum, Quarles said.
Phase one, which opened in October 2007, was covered by the bond election and included the exhibit hall, pavilion, parking and a covered arena.
Phase two was financed by hotel occupancy tax dollars and officially opened in March 2011. It still receives at 2 percent allocation each year which cover marketing and facility improvements.
"We're going to be using hotel tax funds to pay for this for the next 20 or 30 years," Quarles said.