Cameron County officials say a new arena for hosting graduations, sporting events, concerts and other events would be good for the county’s communities, residents and the local economy.
County voters will get the chance Nov. 2 to say whether they agree. Prop. 2 on the ballot of the upcoming constitutional amendment election asks whether the county should be allowed “to provide for the renovation, planning, acquisition, development, construction, equipment, and expansion of a multipurpose arena and convention center and any related infrastructure.”
If voters approve the proposition, it would also authorize the county to use the existing hotel occupancy tax at the rate of 2 percent of the price of a hotel room booked in the county, and the existing short-term motor-vehicle rental tax at the rate of 5 percent on gross rental receipts from car rentals in the county, to finance the arena project. An admissions tax of no more than 10 percent would also be added to each ticket sold for an event at the new arena in order to help finance it.
County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said county taxpayers would not foot the bill for the project but rather visitors to the county who stay in hotels/motels and rent cars in the county. Prop. 2 will present voters with the opportunity to add the arena project to those projects that can be funded at least partially through these “venue taxes,” he said.
“It’s a stream of revenue that’s paid for by visitors, and this project would be supported by that stream of revenue, not by the property taxes of our residents,” Trevino said. “We’re not raising taxes and we’re not touching our general fund.”
In 2016 county voters approved two venue-tax propositions: the Cameron County Amphitheater and Event Center in Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island, and the South Texas Ecotourism Center in Laguna Vista. The new indoor arena would seat about 10,000 people and cost about $100 million to build, Trevino said. Venue taxes would only finance a portion of the project. The county and city of Brownsville will chip in, though other funding sources such as state grants will also have to be found, Trevino said.
The arena would be located in the vicinity of a 1,340-acre, master-planned residential and commercial development planned by Maderia Properties southeast of the intersection of I-69E and S.H. 100. Trevino said the arena project has been in the works for more than 15 years.
“It started while I was mayor of Brownsville (2003-2007) and I never lost hope that we could get this done,” he said.
Trevino said a feasibility study the county commissioned for the arena project came back “very positive.” He said the key to the project’s feasibility is that it is multipurpose as opposed to being just a convention center or sports arena. It would also address the county’s longstanding problem of insufficient indoor space for high school and college graduation during bad weather, Trevino said.
“What we want to do is kind of take advantage of the location and then see what’s worked elsewhere and try to avoid what’s not worked,” he said. “We think the way Cameron County is going in regards to the economic development, the attention that it’s getting, we think it’s prime time for us to be moving forward on a project like this. I think the residents of Cameron County deserve this and I hope will wholeheartedly support it.”
With the Madeira development’s nearby hotels and restaurants, Trevino said, the arena would be part of a “destination center” that he thinks would boost tourism, the county’s overall economy and surrounding communities — especially Brownsville. As for a time line for construction of the arena, “we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got everything in place,” Trevino said.
“If we get this approved, hopefully within the next couple of years, hopefully within the next two to four years we can have it started, once we get all the additional funding to make sure that we’ve covered all our bases,” he said.