In addition to eight proposed state constitutional amendments on the Nov. 2 ballot, Cameron County voters will be asked to approve or reject construction of a 10,000-seat arena that would be the largest indoor entertainment venue in the Rio Grande Valley. The arena would sit along Interstate 69 between Brownsville and Harlingen and officials expect it to cost about $100 million.
Early voting on this and other measures begins Monday.
Longtime Valley residents surely remember a common complaint that there wasn’t much to do around here, and the lack of concerts by popular artists and other major events was a primary reason. That changed in 2003 with construction of Dodge Arena in Hidalgo. Suddenly Valley residents were able to see live concerts by Alan Jackson, Selena Gomez and Luis Miguel. Rodeos, monster truck events and the Harlem Globetrotters had a place to perform. Now known as Payne Arena, the facility even gave the Valley its own professional hockey and basketball teams.
Bert Ogden Arena, built in 2018, added to the number and variety of concerts and events to feed Valley residents’ hunger for entertainment. They also open opportunities to host regional or state athletic tournaments, professional tennis or other competitions, conventions and other special events that can help draw business to local hotels, restaurants and stores.
However, there still isn’t such a place on the eastern side of the Valley.
The success of the Payne and Ogden arenas suggest that a Cameron County facility probably wouldn’t saturate the Valley; large cities have several such venues, often even larger than those in the Valley.
Payne seats almost 7,000 people for concerts and cost about $23 million to build in 2013; that’s almost $35 million today. Bert Ogden Arena, which seats about 7,700, cost about $50 million in 2018. The proposed $100 price tag for the Cameron County venue would include water, electricity and other infrastructure that currently isn’t there, although its location — at the state Highway 100 turnoff that goes to Los Fresnos and South Padre Island — suggest that future development likely will make such improvements necessary eventually, with or without an arena.
County officials are offering assurances that local residents won’t foot the bill for the project. The referendum asks them to authorize the county to dedicate hotel-motel, vehicle rental and ticket sales taxes to help fund the project. They’re also looking for other sources of revenue, such as state grants and perhaps corporate investment that includes naming rights or exclusive concession contracts.
“It’s a steam of revenue that’s paid for by visitors,” County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said recently. “We’re not raising taxes and we’re not touching our general fund.”
Of course, funding is fungible, and the local cost will be in the projects and services that currently get those funds and will lose them once it’s diverted to the arena.
It could, however, increase hotel and restaurants visits and generate enough revenue to offset the costs. Will it be worth the investment? Those who wish to help decide whether this would be a worthwhile investment can do so — by casting their votes on Nov. 2.