Venue expected to spur redevelopment, add dimension to sports tourism program
Hundreds of residents and other community members packed the entrance and lobby of the Henrico Sports & Events Center to celebrate the opening of the massive facility that will host games, tournaments, graduations and other events.
“Welcome to ‘Showtime. All the time!’” said Dennis Bickmeier, quoting the tagline of the Henrico Sports & Entertainment Authority.
“We made it,” said Bickmeier, who serves as the authority’s executive director. “There’s a huge sense of relief right now that this night has finally arrived, and we’re very proud of what we’ve been able to build.”
The 185,000-square-foot venue began hosting tournaments and other events in late October, but officials reserved the formal dedication and ribbon-cutting for the Community Celebration event, which was held Dec. 4 and welcomed in the public with music, games and giveaways.
The festivities attracted an estimated 500 people, including former NBA stars Johnny Newman and Ralph Sampson as well as Atlantic 10 Conference Commissioner Bernadette McGlade. The A-10 Women’s Basketball Championship will be held at the Sports & Events Center in March 2024 and 2025.
In remarks, Bickmeier noted that youth soccer teams were already playing on courts in the opposite side of the venue, “which is really why we’re here tonight, … to really see our young athletes develop and really enjoy this place for decades to come.”
County Manager John A. Vithoulkas traced the idea for the Sports & Events Center to the late Richard W. Glover, who was in his 29th year as the Brookland District supervisor when he died in 2017. Glover, whose widow Joan attended the ribbon-cutting, had encouraged the county to build a convocation center for high school graduations and other events.
Over time, as sports tourism took root in Henrico, officials began to recognize the potential economic impact of having premier sports facilities for tournaments and other events, Vithoulkas said. They toured similar indoor facilities throughout the country and ultimately connected with the development company Rebkee and general contractors EDC.
The $50 million Sports & Events Center, located just off interstates 95 and 295 at 11000 Telegraph Road, is helping to spur the redevelopment of the area around the former Virginia Center Commons mall. As the region’s first indoor sports facility of its kind, it also is enhancing the county’s sports tourism program, which has generated an estimated $65 million in economic activity through outdoor events held at county sites.
Vithoulkas credited the Board of Supervisors with providing the vision and leadership to make the facility possible.
“It is these elected officials that have to take a chance every now and again, and they have,” he said.
So far, the Sports & Events Center is booked 46 weekends through 2024.
Before the ribbon-cutting, Board of Supervisors Chairman Frank J. Thornton said the facility’s opening provides a “bookend” to his service as the Fairfield District’s supervisor. Both he and Tuckahoe District Supervisor Patricia S. O’Bannon are retiring from the Board and will conclude their 28 years of service when their terms end Dec. 31.
Thornton, whose district includes the Sports & Events Center, said the facility will “grow opportunities for our youth and their families” and praised its flexible design.
“In essence, this venue is designed for everyone, adding a new dimension to our already robust community,” he said.