Heart O' Texas Fair Complex to get $20 million upgrade

The master plan includes the demolition of the General Exhibits and Creative Arts buildings and replacing them with a single, larger Exposition Hall.

The Heart O’ Texas Fair Complex is preparing a $20 million makeover to upgrade facilities and attract additional livestock and rodeo events.

The fair board unveiled a master plan Tuesday prepared by Knoxville-based consulting firm Populous that outlines the most efficient use of the complex.

The master plan is a three-phase project to gradually upgrade the facility, beginning with paving the parking lot and adding 2,000 more parking spaces.

The next phase includes adding 288 horse stalls, an outdoor warm-up pit and a fourth show arena.

The final stage is to tear down the General Exhibits and Creative Arts buildings and replace them with a single, larger Exposition Hall with a covered, connecting walkway to the Coliseum.

Wes Allison, president and chief executive officer of the complex, said the HOT fairgrounds is booked for livestock or rodeo-related events 48 weekends out of the year.

Expanding the equine facilities will help the grounds attract larger, 1,000-horse events or to book multiple events at the same time.

“We could essentially have an impact there of approximately an additional $10 million into the community,” Allison said.

He estimated the additions could attract 10 to 15 more events to the complex.

The plan also identifies space on the grounds at the corner of Bosque Boulevard and 42nd Street for a hotel.

Allison said such a facility, which is not included in the $20 million price tag, would be leased, built and managed by a private hotel operator.

The fair complex belongs to the county but is leased to the fair board that operates and manages the facility.

The McLennan County Commissioners Court approved the master plan at its Tuesday meeting.

Allison told the court the fair board will seek state, federal and private grants to fund the projects instead of asking for county assistance.

Renovations to the Coliseum and show pavilion were completed in 1999 and 2002, respectively, using $20 million in county-issued certificates of obligation.

“We feel like this is our duty as we pay for this project to be good stewards of what you’ve entrusted us with,” Allison told the court. “As a board, we feel like this is also an economic benefit to us, as we can expand those things that we’re good at, continue to move forward and continue to maintain our competitive advantage in the industry.”

The commissioners court also voted to allow the fair board to pursue leasing the naming rights for the entire complex.

The rights to name the show pavilion had been sold to Dodge in 2004, but the company opted not to renew the five-year lease agreement when it ended last year.

Allison said the board has attempted to resell the naming rights to another company, but usage of the facility did not support the revenue the board was seeking. Selling the rights to the entire complex will net the funds needed to cover the daily operation costs of the fairground, he said.

“We’re not going to go look for a beer company or a tobacco company or something like that,” Allison said. “That doesn’t fit what we do from a family standpoint, so we want to find a company that really fits with us. Plus, I think freshening up the name and re-branding ourselves is always a good thing from a corporate viewpoint.”

If the naming rights are sold, the facility still will keep the red, white and blue heart logo and carry the tag line “Home of the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo.” An area of the grounds would be designated for a “Circle of Honor” exhibit telling the history of the fairgrounds.

Allison said the project’s first phase likely would not begin until sometime in 2011. At least one person hopes the work begins later rather than sooner.

David De la Rosa is the owner of Lake Air Driving Range, which sits directly behind the complex. He began leasing the business from the county three years ago.

Now the fair board intends to use the property to convert it into additional parking spaces, meaning he either will have to find a new location or close down completely.

“I don’t feel too good about it,” he said. “Just being the small man in the situation, I wish they would consider the enjoyment that the community gets out of (the driving range), but there’s really not anything that I think I can do about it.”

Allison said parking is one of the main issues, particularly during the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo in October.

This year, a free shuttle service is being planned that will take fairgoers to and from an off-site parking lot, helping alleviate the congestion around the facility.



Current HOT Fair Complex



Proposed HOT Fair Complex

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