By David Tuma, The Belton Journal
The Expo Center will get a badly needed influx of improvements. This week the Bell County Commissioners unanimously approved $31 million worth of certificates of obligation and refinancing $4 million for the improvements.
The interest rate is 3.49 percent. Air conditioning repairs have already been made on the facility at a cost of just over $5 million.
Currently, the facility is used by just about every major high school in Bell County for a variety of events. The Expo Center is a major tourist draw and brings around $12 million a year in cash pumped into the economy. With the expansion and improvements, those numbers are predicted to rise to over $20 million a year.
Every major city – Killeen, Salado, Harker Heights, Belton and Temple – supported the move made by the commissioners. The county saved around $700,000 by refinancing the current debt. The total project should be paid by 2032. Bell County raising $31 million without a bond issue being passed is impressive.
There will be no tax increase, that was made clear by the commissioners.
“When you look at what the Expo Center generates for our economy, the money is well spent,” said commission Richard Cortese. “It runs at a deficit ($800,000 a year), that is true. But if you invest $800,000 and get back $12 million, that is a good investment. Senator Troy Fraser is helping us by attaching a motel tax to a house bill. We appreciate his efforts.”
The plan is to add an additional arena with around 1,500 seats for smaller events. There will be no AC at this new arena. There will also be extra parking and a new kitchen added to the current Expo Center. The current kitchen is tiny and very outdated. There will be an area for parking horse trailers and some RV hookups. An area to warm up the horses for events and some horse stalls will be built.
These improvements are very important in making the Expo Center competitive with other sites hosting events in Central Texas.
The outdoor building where the boat show is held each year will have AC added. This building is not usable in summer months. Or at least nobody wants to be in the building at 3 p.m. in August.
The Expo Center and its surrounding facilities is also an asset if there is a major disaster in the county. It can house a number of folks if there is a major need. Coastal areas know those needs because of hurricanes and the devastation they bring.
robably and hopefully it will not be needed to house thousands of homeless folks in Bell County but it could be used for those purposes.
If the expansion draws in $20 million directly into the economy, the overall impact is much greater than that.