Tour sharpens vision for indoor sports and convocation center

Update: On Aug. 13, the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to authorize the county manager to request detailed proposals for an indoor sports and convocation center. The six entities that submitted initial proposals will be invited to offer detailed proposals that would include a controllable site for the center and the county’s purchase price for the land.  

Henrico officials recently toured an indoor sports and events venue in Rocky Mount, N.C. as the county prepares to sharpen its pursuit of a similar facility here.

Henrico has been weighing the development of an indoor sports and convocation center to strengthen its thriving sports tourism program and to host high school graduations and other events.

Members of the Board of Supervisors, county administration and other officials, including representatives from Richmond Region Tourism and the Henrico Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, traveled Aug. 2 to the Rocky Mount Event Center in the city’s downtown.

The tour, which included briefings by city and venue officials, provided insight into what a comparable facility could do for Henrico and area businesses.

“This was an opportunity for the board to see a facility and talk to the people who built it and run it,” said Neil Luther, director of the Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks. “It certainly achieved that goal. It was a good trip from the standpoint of fleshing out an idea and seeing what a comparable facility looks like.”

The Rocky Mount Event Center opened in October and has already held more than 50 events, including tournaments, weddings, receptions and concerts.

The $40 million, 165,000-square-foot facility offers space for eight basketball or 16 volleyball courts and includes locker rooms, concession areas and a 4,000-seat event space. Other amenities include a family entertainment center, with a ropes course, climbing walls and an arcade.

The tour also gave the Henrico delegation a chance to consider how a venue might be tailored to the county’s needs, Luther said. Henrico’s facility is envisioned at more than 200,000 square feet, with 12 basketball courts, a 4,500-seat event space and no smaller-event facilities, such as for weddings and conferences.

“There’s plenty of banquet space in hotels here,” Luther said. “We certainly wouldn’t use it that way.”

Henrico’s primary focus would be bolstering sports tourism by accommodating basketball, volleyball and other indoor sports.

In 2018, sports tourism in Henrico generated about $54 million in local economic impact, with more than 170 tournaments held at county parks and sports complexes. More than 180 tournaments are expected this year.

By not having an indoor venue, Henrico missed capturing $33 million in estimated annual spending, Luther said.

In addition to sports, the facility could house graduations and other large events. Henrico’s high school graduations are held at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center in Richmond because the county lacks a comparable venue.

Henrico has been pursuing the development of an indoor sports and convocation center since last summer. Six groups responded to the county’s request for proposals under the Virginia Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act. Officials spent much of the past year in negotiations with two groups.

A review panel identified the Richmond Raceway complex as a potential location, but negotiations to secure a site stalled. “We just couldn’t reach agreeable terms,” Luther said.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to take up the issue Aug. 13. Staff is proposing to invite the RFP’s six original responders to submit revised proposals that would include a controllable site.

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