McLennan County commissioners approved an initial concept plan Tuesday for a more than $30 million overhaul of the Extraco Events Center fairgrounds and surrounding public facilities. They also kicked off their search for a construction manager for the project.

County leaders will meet with representatives from the city of Waco and Waco Independent School District this week to discuss the broad concept plan covering a 60-acre site each entity owns a piece of. Commissioners also authorized the publication of a request for proposal to seek a construction manager at risk for the project.

Populous, an architectural design firm that developed a master plan for the fairgrounds in 2010, presented the concept plan to commissioners Tuesday. It gives interested construction firms an overview of the project, which is fairly large and complex, but also leaves room for changes, Populous senior architect John Fickel said.

“I think everybody’s aware we have a budget,” Fickel said. “This is a very preliminary diagram. It’s based on a lot of assumptions.”

McLennan County voters approved a 5 percent tax on short-term car rentals and a 2 percent hotel occupancy tax last year that will allow the county to take out a bond or bonds to pay for the project.

“These bonds are limited to being paid from the venue taxes, and this project is limited to being funded by the venue taxes,” said Mike Dixon, an attorney who represents the county.

The budget will determine many of the design decisions for the project, Fickel said.

The cost of athletic fields, be it soccer, football or baseball, could vary between $100,000 and $1 million, he said.

“We’re going to have to work with everybody on defining what they need versus what they can afford,” Fickel said.

One of the major facility additions will be an expo hall, which needs to be versatile and able to be reconfigured quickly, said Wes Allison, Extraco Events Center president and CEO. The ability to set up basketball courts in the hall, then quickly reconfigure it with volleyball courts, for example, would help accommodate more events and improve the return on investment, Allison said.

The concept plan includes alternatives for flooring materials, which affects the types of events that can be hosted, Fickel said.

County Judge Scott Felton said if trends continue as they have the last few years the hotel and car rental taxes would generate more revenue than needed to pay off bonds for the project.

If the 60-acre site wasn’t bustling with events already, the project could be finished in a few years, Felton said. However, construction will have to accommodate ongoing events as the busy seasons for school, athletics and fairgrounds events ebb and flow, he said.

“It’s a pretty exciting project I believe,” Felton said. “It’s transforming for our community.”

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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