Welcomed with great fanfare and full houses, the $88-million, 219,000-square-foot Bert Ogden Arena opens a new chapter in the Rio Grande Valley as the largest entertainment venue in South Texas and a boon for regional economic development.
An estimated 5,000 people turned out for grand-opening ceremonies and arena tours in August, entertainer Luis Miguel performed a sold-out concert in September, followed by a near sell-out for a WWE wrestling card.
“I think for the Valley it’s a huge enhancement for quality of life,” President and CEO Marc Solis said. “We can attract artists that might have passed us by in the past, so we can now go after those entertainers and big family shows.”
Norteno icons Alejandro Fernandez y Los Tigres del Norte headline October’s first show, with Columbian reggaeton performer J Balvin, award-winning singer Romero Santos and comedian George Lopez all appearing during the month. The arena is also the new home to the RGV Vipers, a National Basketball Association development team affiliated with the Houston Rockets, which opens its season with a home game on Nov. 2.
A 40-by-20-foot LED scoreboard hangs high over the arena’s center, which is surrounded by three levels of spacious seating for more than 9,300 people, including 12 private luxury suites and six club suites.
The arena project was put together by developer Alonzo Cantu and the Bert Ogden Auto Group in a public-private partnership with the city of Edinburg. “It’s absolutely outstanding, first class,” said Robert Vackar, president and CEO of the Bert Ogden Auto Group. “I would compare it to the Toyota Center in Houston. In fact, it was modeled after the Toyota Center. It’s brought pride back to the Valley. It’s an attitude-changer that brings us all together.”
Entering the arena, wide concourse areas feature numerous restrooms, food concessions and a Vipers Pro Shop. The upstairs private boxes, all of which were sold well before the grand opening, vary in size and amenities that include bars and food-serving areas, and comfortable chairs and sofas in addition to stadium seating situated for good views of the arena floor. A variety of membership packages are available that include tickets for all events as well as access to members-only concessions.
The economic impact of the arena is expected to ripple through the Valley in many ways for many years, and the dollar signs started to ring up even before ground was broken, with the design created by a local architect. During construction practically all the contractors hired were from the Valley. Only the high-tech scoreboard was purchased and installed by an outside vendor.
“We created 1,000 jobs during construction,” Vackar said. “It’s going to be a huge economic driver. There are already plans for three new hotels in the area, and there will be restaurants and other businesses coming in.”
The arena itself supports a large payroll, with around 150 permanent jobs and more than that during events. “It varies from event to event,” Solis said. “For the Luis Miguel concert we probably had over 300 people working that included parking and concessions to security and housekeeping personnel.”
As part of its place in the Valley economy, Bert Ogden Arena is projected to be a significant cog in the gears that drive the regional economy while enhancing quality of life. “Our main purpose was to bring a great venue to the Valley so people would stay in the Valley,” said Janet Vackar, Robert’s wife and also part of the automobile dealership group. “It just all made sense and all the pieces fell together,” she said. “You have to support the Valley that supports you.”
With the vast expansion in the healthcare industry, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and continued industrial and commercial growth in South Texas, hopes are high that the arena will play an important role in keeping local talent local, and attract other professionals to relocate to the Valley.
“It’s a huge enhancement for quality of life,” said Solis, who previously held a similar position with State Farm Arena in Hidalgo. “We’re trying to keep retention of young professionals who are always looking for quality entertainment. There are a lot of young professionals that come down to the Valley after they graduate. This is a great place to start a career and a lot of them have young families as well.”
Beyond concerts, family shows and the Vipers, Bert Ogden Arena has the potential to host a wide range of commercial events, possibly including corporate conventions. “It’s very multi-use,” Solis said. “We can use the floor for huge general sessions, commencement exercises with the various school districts. It’s very capable for things like the Hunter’s Extravaganza, home and garden shows, etc. It’s not just for concerts.”
While it will take time for the arena to build a reputation and track record, each successful event moves the enterprise further down the road to respectability and on the radar of entertainers as a venue to add to their tours. Robert Vackar said long-range projections call for the arena to be in use as many as 250 days a year. “We’re working on getting people down here to perform, and how we get the conventions down here,” he said.