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Features - May 2003
'Revolution' Earns New Multipurpose Arena For Hidalgo Area
Rio Grande Valley Events Center To Host Newest CHL Franchise
By Mark Rea

Texas has a rich history of revolutions, beginning with declaring its independence in 1836. Now another "revolution" is happening and residents in South Texas are ready to welcome it.

The $18 million Rio Grande Valley Events Center is scheduled to be completed in Hidalgo this fall and will be the new home for the Killer Bees of the Central Hockey League. Built with a combination of local and government funding, the multipurpose arena will join a growing number of similar facilities cropping up in several midsize towns throughout the country.

John Akerley, project manager for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based developer International Coliseums Co., calls it a "revolution" in North American professional sports.

"As the Central Hockey League has expanded, it has virtually run out of buildings in which to play," Akerley said. "The CHL wishes to continue to expand and one way is to offer cities options for multipurpose centers with a major tenant already on board.

"The Rio Grande Valley was interesting to the CHL because there is already a team in El Paso, a new building has opened for a team in Laredo and there is another team in Corpus Christi. So the Lower Valley was an ideal spot for further league expansion.

"It seems that the major leagues have priced themselves out of the market for family entertainment," he added. "To pay the huge salaries for athletes today, they have courted the corporate world and television to survive and some cities just can't do that. All of this has created a void for the family entertainment dollar, and the various minor leagues around the country - into which category the Central Hockey League certainly fits - fill that void.

"We are seeing a growth of these level teams, both in hockey and in baseball, to the detriment to these higher-priced players. Plus, there are a whole lot more medium-sized cities throughout North America than major league cities. So cities such as Hidalgo see Laredo and Corpus Christi with teams and they want to be a part of it."

The 130,000-sq.-ft. events center will have a seating capacity of 5,500 for hockey games and approximately 6,500 for other events.

City officials are ecstatic about the new facility. "This exciting new project will benefit the people of the entire Rio Grande Valley, not just in Hidalgo or Hidalgo County," said Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz. "This new facility will be the entertainment hub for all Texas residents in the Lower Valley and our many friends in Mexico as well as a source of pride for all Valley citizens."

The events center is being constructed with city funds in combination with a loan from Texas State Bank guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Fortunately, we were able to get that guarantee because of the size of the city," Akerley said. "The USDA has programs to encourage the development of small cities and Hidalgo fit into that program."

Although Hidalgo has a population of only about 8,500, the surrounding area boasts more than three-quarters of a million residents.
"There will only be 40 hockey games per year, so we will be bringing other family entertainment to the events center," said Dean Dennis, Western Region vice president of facility management for Global Spectrum, the Littleton, Colo.-based company that will manage the events center. "We just confirmed that the Lipizzaner stallions will be one of our first shows, but we will bring in other shows such as Disney On Ice, the Harlem Globetrotters, monster trucks, Sesame Street Live, wrestling, concerts ... just about any family type entertainment you can name, we plan to feature here."

Other anticipated events include arena football, basketball, indoor soccer and the area's annual Borderfest event held each spring. Championship boxing is also expected at the venue.

"We know there is a very large following for boxing in this area," Akerley said. "Our facility is certainly large enough to accommodate any televised championship fight."

Initial Construction

Groundbreaking for the events center was held last June. Because the water table is low in the area due to the proximity of the Rio Grande, the building is constructed on grade with spread footings. The first concrete pour began in August for a variety of pads ranging from 6 ft. square to 8 ft. by 15 ft. by 6 ft. Crews poured 53 of the largest pads, which support the building's structural columns.

From there, the structural steel was erected to form the shell for the seating bowl as well as the support for the unique curved roof.

"The structural steel is the most unusual part of this project for us just because of the design and sheer volume of it," said Gonzalo Rodriguez, project manager for Pharr-based general contractor Williamson Construction. "We just don't have the type of projects in this area that work with this magnitude of structural steel."

Because the facility will serve a multitude of purposes and host a variety of events, additional steel had to be designed into the structure to support the rigging for special lighting or electronic equipment.

"If it was a single-use building for something like hockey only, you could get away with using much less structural steel," Rodriguez said. "But each truss here can carry an additional 70,000 lbs., so there's no question that the roof is a major component of this building."

When completed, the facility will feature approximately 1,000 tons of structural steel, which was supplied and erected by Tri-City Steel & Fabricators Inc. of McAllen.

The seating bowl for the center is precast concrete over the structural steel form. San Antonio-based North American Precast Co. supplied and placed the bowl, while the other concrete in the building was supplied by Varmacon of McAllen. Hidalgo-based Rio Grande Steel handled the reinforcing steel.

Beehive Exterior

Exterior features will include distinctive yellow metal cladding at the top of the facility that will compliment the hockey team's official colors. In fact, local residents have already nicknamed the building "The Beehive."

On the east and west sides of the building will be architectural screens made of composed wood, which will help hide the two large chiller units on top of the arena.

Ninety percent of the exterior will feature white brick masonry, installed by The Rock Masonry of Hidalgo. The other 10 percent, which encompasses the loading dock/events staging area at the rear of the facility, will be concrete masonry units.

The entrance will feature generous amounts of gray-tinted curtainwall, rising approximately 40 ft. from grade at the main entrance, and 36 ft. under a canopy. The curtainwall subcontractor was Ray's Glass of Hidalgo.

The entrance will feature a concourse complete with ticketing office. Ticket-holders will enter at the event level and then make their way to their seats above. Club level suites will ring the top of the seating bowl with access via stairwells and elevators.

Mandated Landscaping

Although the facility is being constructed on a somewhat barren site on the outskirts of Hidalgo, the grounds surrounding the events center will feature an extensive landscaping program including native palm trees and decorative sidewalks and walkways.

"The city is very strict on landscaping because we want to preserve as much of the native trees and plants that we can along with the development of this land," said Hidalgo building officer Virgil Gonzalez. "By law, we require 20 percent landscaping on any project. That simply means we want 20 percent of the property minus the square footage of the building to be landscaped."

Landscaping will be located throughout the project, including the 200-vehicle parking lot to be located at the rear of the site.

When the Killer Bees begin CHL play this fall, they will join the 16-team league that also features Texas franchises in Amarillo, Fort Worth, Austin, Laredo, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, Odessa, El Paso and San Angelo.

GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Williamson Construction, Pharr
OWNER: City of Hidalgo Municipal Facilities Corp.
DEVELOPER: International Coliseums Co., Scottsdale, Ariz.
ARCHITECT: PBK Architects Inc., Vancouver, British Columbia
ASSOCIATE ARCHITECT: Eduardo Vela Architects, Hidalgo
ENGINEER: Murray & Associates Inc., San Antonio

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