15,000-Capacity Venue Proposed In Austin

Project would replace the Travis County Expo Center and host Rodeo Austin

  • by Chad Swiatecki
  • Published: December 13, 2017

Rendering of the proposed new arena, part of the East Austin District.

An open-air stadium and 15,000-capacity arena have been proposed for construction in Austin, with investors hoping the facilities would serve as magnets for sports franchises looking to relocate to one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S.

The group known as Austin Sports & Entertainment unveiled its plans in early December for East Austin District, a 1.3-million-sq.-ft. project that would revitalize the 1980’s-era Travis County Exposition Center in northeast Austin. That site’s main tenant is Rodeo Austin each March, which generated more than $2.5 million in ticketing revenue and more than 6,000 tickets sold in 2017. Other events at the 6,500-capacity Expo Center include the four-day Republic of Texas Biker Rally, concerts, circuses ad assorted outdoor athletic events on the 300 acres of property.

Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group have signed on to design the project, which is planned to include an assortment of youth sports and other community facilities in a region of Austin that hasn’t experienced the rapid growth and economic development seen in many other parts of the city.

Austin Sports & Entertainment partners said they’ve thus far only secured the money to fund predevelopment work and are in talks with several potential groups about raising the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to build the facilities included in the proposal.

Sean Foley, a partner in the development group and former executive with the Raptor Group that owns the AS Roma soccer team, said the proposal began taking shape in late 2016, with the first meetings with Expo Center leaders happening this past January.

“Austin has such a robust economy, and the growth and income patterns on the east side are a really great thing for what we envision out there,” he said. “We’re focused on building a sports and entertainment hub that will be an asset for the whole community.”

A 2015 report by Hunden Strategic Partners determined the Expo Center property could fill several gaps in the event market in central Texas. The report called for a 15,000-seat arena, 200,000 square feet of exhibition hall space, a 30,000-sq.-ft. ballroom, 25,000 square feet of meeting space, 400,000 square feet of space for the rodeo’s midway, and parking for a minimum of 6,000 vehicles.

Rob Golding, CEO of Rodeo Austin, described the Expo Center as “functionally obsolete” and said the East Austin District development would let the rodeo expand its mid-March programming along with opening up ongoing activities for complementary groups such as Future Farmers of America and 4-H.

“We’re too small for top entertainment events and expanding to 15,000 to 20,000 seats serves us well as a location for the rodeo, concerts and other indoor entertainment,” he said. “We’re currently in a no-man’s land from a concerts point of view and if this concept moves forward one of the keys is to design the arena for entertainment purposes.

“The question is, who takes the lead, since Rodeo Austin isn’t in charge of the arena. It’s got to be a decision made by a group of county and city leaders, with the rodeo at the table.”

The path ahead for the East Austin District is unclear since the Expo Center is managed by Travis County, but sits on land owned by the City of Austin on a lease that will last 17 more years. City and county officials have said they’d favor a competitive process for redeveloping the site, with at least one other proposal known to be in the works.

Golding and other leaders have also come out in support of using some of Austin’s hotel tax, which generates around $100 million in revenue annually, as part of the funding for the Expo Center redevelopment, though no final numbers on cost or total public support amounts have been disclosed.

The unveiling of the proposal comes as the owners of the Major League Soccer Columbus (Ohio) Crew team are pushing for a stadium site in downtown Austin that would let them move the team there. Representatives from Precourt Sports Ventures, the Crew club’s ownership group, have said the potential Expo Center site is not an option they’re interested in.

Also in play is the expected demolition of the Frank Erwin Center, which has served as the home of University of Texas basketball teams for 40 years and has been the only arena option in the Austin urban core. That building is expected to be decommissioned in the next five years and the university has indicated it will build a basketball-only arena as a replacement.

 

  • by Chad Swiatecki
  • Published: December 13, 2017