The future of Hopkins County Regional Civic Center was center stage at a workshop meeting of the Hopkins County Commissioners Court Tuesday.
Following a tour of the facility, commissioners met with representatives of VenuWorks, an Ames, Iowa-based firm providing management and consulting services for arenas, theaters and convention centers, to get ideas on how to move forward with the Civic Center.
When the Civic Center opened in 1978, it provided facilties unparalleled in communities like Sulphur Springs. In the 35 years since it opened, there have been expansions and additions to the complex. Today, however, the Civic Center is an older venue, one that is a drain on county finances and in need of attention.
The Tuesday workshop was one of several with prospective consultants, according to Hopkins County Judge Chris Brown.
“This is just one of the consultant groups we've talked to,” Brown said. “They came to look at the Civic Center, to get a little better feel about what we are needing.”
One thing commissioners are trying to identify is if there is a need for a management consultant or someone to provide full management services for the facility.
“What we are looking for are ideas and directions to move with the Civic Center,” the judge explained. “We can come out here and throw some paint on it, but we know it needs more than that.”
Among the issues facing the Civic Center is the possibility of a new or updated kitchen rather than a snack bar; flooding in the auditorium; a need to update the appearance of the building inside and out; and a way to make the Civic Center operation become more self-supporting.
Joseph Briglia, VenuWorks' vice president for development, and Charlton Northington, executive director of Hurst Conference Center in Hurst, gave their initial assessment of the Civic Center. They said commissioners need to make a commitment and move forward to maintain the facility. The consultants also discussed several options for the Civic Center’s use and will submit a proposal within two weeks.
“They are going to give us their proposal, from an impact study to full inventory of what we have and what we need, on up to consulting,” Brown said. “They will tell us what they offer and what they would charge us.”
The judge said commissioners would continue meeting with consultants before making a final selection of a group to advise the county on the complex.
Commissioners say they know they need to get the Civic Center “in shape” but had questions on how to pay for it. Among the options are tax revenue bonds and a bond issue.
The county has been supplementing Civic Center funding by as much as $250,000 a year for a number of years, and county officials are hoping the recently-adopted hotel occupancy tax will help with debt reduction as well as operating expenses.
The commissioners said they were reluctant to increase funding from the county budget's general fund. They pointed out that county employees have not even received a cost of living increase in the past three years, and, last year the county was forced to lay off several employees in order to balance the budget.
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