Some contention arose at Fort Bend County Commissioners Court on July 12 when considering the initial financial burden of nearly $27 million in expenditures for the 195,000-square-feet multi-use EpiCenter under construction in Rosenberg.
At the meeting, it was proposed that the county shoulder the initial operating and maintenance costs for the EpiCenter—amounting to $26.8 million. Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers abstained from voting to pass the resolution until receiving further reports on how it would benefit Precinct 3 constituents.
Meyers’ apprehension, he said, comes from changing circumstances from when this project was first initiated in 2017 to 2022, including an impending recession, rising costs of inflation, and a state cap on the county’s revenue.
The county’s temporary funding would come with the expected reimbursement by its fourth year of operation, said County Auditor Ed Strudivant.
Per the EpiCenter resolution, revenue generated by operation of the center—such as event ticket proceeds, rental and license fees, merchandising, gross food and beverage income, gross income from any sale of sponsorship and advertising sales, gross service income, equipment rental fees, box office income, and miscellaneous operating income—would provide these reimbursements and permanent funding for continued use.
At the meeting, Sturdivant acknowledged that it was a “large commitment from the county,” but it would allow the EpiCenter to incur expenses for its opening efforts until it becomes a financial asset to the county.
Operating at a deficit
“The first three years will be an operating deficit,” Sturdivant said. “What we have done here is put the entire asset management contract as the reimbursement resolution. It is very likely that the number will not exceed $5 million.”
Commissioner Meyers, who serves parts of Sugar Land, Missouri City and Stafford, asked why the city of Rosenberg had not been as involved in the project to provide financial backing.
“To me, it seems fair and equitable for the county and the city of Rosenberg to participate in this particular deal, but in this instance—that is not the case,” Meyers said. We do not have the city of Rosenberg on board. Are we working on that?”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Grady Prestage, who oversees a portion of the county south of Hwy. 59, responded to Meyers’ inquiry that a partnership between Rosenberg and the county was never contemplated.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Vincent Morales, who oversees the Katy area, cited the long term benefits of the EpiCenter, referencing conservative revenue estimates for the first three years of its operation—coupled with parcels on the land, naming rights, beverage fees and other revenue streams that were not factored into the financial impact projections from 2017.
“If you look at what was presented through the study and the consultant [for this project], there was $100 million in indirect benefit to the county,” Morales said. “With naming rights and parcels, there could be another $100 million. This will benefit the county long term as an asset to the people of Fort Bend County. It will eventually cover itself, I truly believe.”
Still, Fort Bend County Judge KP George requested that Sturdivant prepare an updated financial impact study due to the effects of inflation and the consistently increasing population of Fort Bend County. This new report will be presented at an upcoming commissioners court meeting.