Date: Sept. 29, 2004

Corpus Christi, Texas, is in the process of positioning itself to offer new and improved state-of-the-art entertainment and convention facilities with the opening of a new $38.5 million arena and the completion of convention center renovations to the tune of $28.6 million.

The AmericanBank Center's new arena is expected to open in November and renovations to the convention center are scheduled for completion in October. The Selena Auditorium, a 2,526-seat performing arts facility, also a part of the center, got a facelift in the process. All three buildings are now physically connected and sit on the Corpus Christi Bay, a definite plus feature.

“We basically have a new center here,” said John Meyer, director of convention center operations and special projects for SMG, the center's management company.

The 10,500-capacity AmericanBank Center Arena will be home to the Corpus Christi Rayz, of the Central Hockey League, and home to the Texas A&M Corpus Christi basketball team, said Yvonne Sanchez, media relations director. The first event will be a hockey game on Nov. 5, then Cher will open the arena to musical entertainment on Nov. 7.

“We are looking at bringing new acts into the area,” Sanchez said. “Since this is a new arena, we really don't know what will work, so we plan to try a variety. We have WWE Smackdown set for Nov. 9 and Disney on Ice will be here in December. We plan to have rock and alternative bands, as well as Latin and country acts.”

The arena was financed through a one-eighth-cent sales tax hike that was passed by voters in 2000. The renovations to the convention center were financed through hotel and motel tax revenues. According to Kevin Stowers, assistant director of engineering for the City of Corpus Christi, total project cost for the arena is estimated at $51.4 million, including land purchase, etc., and total project cost for the convention center is budgeted at $35.9 million.

Meyer said about 75,000 square feet are being added to the convention center to give a total square-footage to the center of approximately 225,000. Exhibit space will total 76,500 square feet in two halls, and there are two ballrooms, one at 27,000 square feet and another at 20,000 square feet. There will be a 7,000-square-foot pre-function space and 25,000 square feet of meeting space. Two new large catering kitchens will be housed in the convention center to serve all venues.

Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback and Associates created the masterplan with associated architects Arquitectonica and Gignac & Associates.

“Our thrust will be to get more state association business,” Meyer said. “We will go for more regional business; not so much national business. We are a little hard to get to. We already have seven meeting rooms booked Oct. 12 and 13. The rest of the center won't even be open then. Our first big event, which will use the entire convention center space, is the Texas Municipal League. That will be here the last part of October. That is just a few weeks away.

“We already have a lot of business booked,” he said. “We have a good sales team that is really out beating the bushes. The east side of the convention center overlooking the bay is all glass. It is gorgeous.”

Naming rights to the center were sold to AmericanBank about two-and-a-half months ago, Meyer said. He didn't disclose a dollar amount, but said the contract is for five years, extendable for another five. SMG signed on as the management company in January 2004 for five years with an extendable five-year contract.

Interviewed for this story: John Meyer and Yvonne Sanchez, (361) 779-1083; Kevin Stowers, (361) 880-3519