McLennan County commissioners

McLennan County commissioners discuss a planned overhaul of the Extraco Events Center site during their meeting Tuesday.

As county leaders prepare to hire an architect to overhaul the 60-acre Extraco Events Center site, it appears the project will have to be split into phases.

In a perfect world, one bond would finance the project and allow it to be tackled in a single phase, but financial markets may make that option impossible, County Attorney Mike Dixon said. He said it is unlikely the project could get a single bond to cover the full cost, which has been estimated at $34.4 million.

Though the county has a high general revenue bond rating, it has a short history collecting a venue tax, Dixon said. In May, voters approved a venue tax on hotel stays and short-term car rentals, with revenue dedicated to the fairgrounds overhaul.

Dixon presented a plan to county commissioners Tuesday for moving forward with the project.

The county would hire an architect to evaluate the project scope, budget and requirements, then a hire a construction manager at risk, Dixon said. The two companies would divide the project into two phases, he said.

Dixon recommended county commissioners hire Populous to serve as the master project architect. The firm created a master plan updates to the fairgrounds in 2010 and also prepared and marketed plans for the upcoming overhaul ahead of the election. Populous specializes in stadiums, event centers and similar facilities.

A construction manager at risk would be chosen through a competitive process, Dixon said.

The 5 percent tax on car rentals has generated almost $165,000 in revenue since July 1, and the 2 percent hotel occupancy tax has generated more than $524,000 since Aug.1, County Administrator Dustin Chapman said.

County Judge Scott Felton said commissioners are still working with financial advisers to set the bond amount, and he expects the court to sell a bond by May.

“That initial offering will be a fairly large amount, probably a good bit of the project,” Felton said. “They’re going to measure the risk, the bond buyers, and the risk is, does the hotel revenue go down? Does it stay stable or does it go up? We’re suggesting that it’s going to go up because it’s been on a trend for the past 10 or 11 years that hotel revenues have gone up.

“With the Silo effect and everything else, and what events Baylor (University) is hosting, it helps drive a lot of that hotel usage, the fact that there’s going to be new hotel rooms coming on, that the average price of a hotel more than likely will trend higher, and so, therefore, the tax revenue should as well.”

Representatives from Populous gave a presentation on the project to commissioners Tuesday.

“This is a momentous occasion,” said Charles Smith, Populous principal-in-charge. “It’s a great opportunity to take the next steps we think in the process of master planning and design.”

Smith said the company, formed in 1983, has worked on about 250 similar projects.

“We’ve done 250 exposition parks, 112 event centers, 80 football facilities, 110 equestrian centers, 140 baseball facilities, including Yankee Stadium, and about 98 expo halls,” he said.

The 60-acre site slated for overhaul includes sections and facilities owned by either the county, the city of Waco or Waco Independent School District.

Felton said commissioners likely will vote next week on hiring an architectural firm.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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