By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
Bell County has been waiting for this for some time. According to Bell County Judge Jon Burrows, nearly 15 years of planning.
And that time was last Friday afternoon at the Bell County Expo Center, as the ribbon was cut to officially open the brand-new Equine Center and Performance Arena.
The Bell County Commissioners Court approved the expansion in February 2016, with construction that began in February 2017.
The 220,000-square-foot facility, at a cost of $24.6 million, consists of an 800-seat arena, a bar and grill, a warm-up arena, an 800-seat performance arena, and livestock staging arena. It also contains a large number of horse stables and showers.
“It’s the culmination of a long process,” Burrows said. “Probably 15 years or more on planning and organization and working through the judicial process and the legislative process to have something come together is so good.”
With the facility being in a prime area of Bell County, near the intersection of Interstate 35 and Interstate 14, it’s expected to have a significant regional economic impact. Belton will certainly be one of the top beneficiaries. Belton’s hotel market is dependent on the Expo.
Burrow projects that the new equine center may bring in $6 million a year in economic impact to Bell County. Added to the $13 million estate that the EXPO brings in annually, The complex may push the $20 million threshold annually, once the Equine center enters its first calendar year of operations in 2019.
“This is a first-class facility here. As I often say, someone might build something bigger than ours, but it won’t be nicer than ours, and it sure won’t be at the corner of two interstate highways,” Burrows said.
Commissioner Bill Schumann echoed Burrows sentiments and added that there are number of former commissioners and other individuals who worked to make the expansion a reality. Former Commissioner Richard Cortese was also involved in making the center a reality.
“People like him who have been here for 24 years don’t get the credit of today that they deserve,” Schumann said. “This is the culmination of a lot of years and a lot of hard work. We’re happy to be here.”
Commissioner Russell Schneider agreed with Schumann’s sentiment.
“I just want to commend the people before I was here that had this vision,” Schneider said. “I was not a part of that, but I was on the other end, and had the fortune to see it happen. All the accolades should go to the former commissioners and Commissioners Court and the Expo board who had this vision.”
Belton Mayor Marion Grayson commented on Commissioner John Fisher’s thoughts on the beauty of the equine center.
“As Commissioner Fisher said that in a 200-mile radius this is the best facility in the best location in the state,” Grayson said.
The Belton Chamber of Commerce, the Temple Chamber of Commerce, members of the Belton Independent School District, and other county dignitaries took part in the ribbon-cutting.
The ribbon-cutting was followed by an outstanding performance by the 1st Cavalry Mounted Unit, who demonstrated different horse-mounted formations and exercises. After the performance, people toured the facility.
“It’s a big day for us,” Expo Executive Director Tim Stephens said. “We’re looking forward to getting going with it.”
The equine center is already booked for every weekend through Christmas.
“We have a lot of events booked that we haven’t had before,” Stephens said. “That was the whole idea for this. We can take ourselves to a new level as far as the events we can do here in conjunction with the facility we already have.”