Edinburg’s ‘Viper’ gamble: City doubles down on big venue entertainment

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Leaders in Edinburg say they are working “very carefully” as construction begins for the future Bert Ogden Arena.

More than 15 years later, and still dealing with the effects of expensive failures like the city’s former SuperSplash water park, city leaders say proposed growth from an upcoming medical school as well as innovative public-private partnerships for development should assuade its critics.

“I can’t blame anyone for trying to be ambitious and move the city forward. I think the timing was bad on a few of the situations where the city tried to handle it all themselves,” said Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia. “Here we have public-private partnerships, we have people who are going to work at making these things successful, and they are not a burden on the taxpayer.”

Investors initially purchased $21.3 million in revenue bonds to finance construction of the now torn down SuperSplash Adventure water park in 1998. The park shut down in 2000 after the then Edinburg Industrial Development Corporation defaulted on interest payments.

The water park was impacted by low attendance from the start. According to previous reports, an audit from the park’s first year showed it lost more than $1.7 million within its first three months of opening.

The city was also heavily criticized after construction was halted for its Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in 2007. The Trenton Crossroads development was intially set to be anchored by the Drafthouse, and was announced in December 2005. Unpaid bills by developers drove the property to foreclosure, and the site remained abandoned until November 2010.

The theater, which is located at the busy intersection of Trenton and Jackson roads, has since been picked up by Cinemark and converted into a new movie bistro concept.

The difference now for development projects, according to the mayor, is that innovative thinking from city leaders and major development taking place in Edinburg put the city at the forefront of a wave of new growth set to impact the Valley.

Having just broken ground on the city’s upcoming state-of-the-art arena, Garcia drew a comparison to San Antonio not more than 25 years ago when the impact of its medical school allowed for dynamic growth.

“I think Edinburg is going to be part of a metropolis that will be nationally recognized. This is what I expect for the future,” Garcia said at the groundbreaking of the new arena. “That is what happened to San Antonio with the medical investment. These are venues that are actually going to provide entertainment to the people that will be coming here, but what is truly going to spur the growth is medical investment in the billlions of dollars.”

The NBA Development League Rio Grande Valley Vipers, along with the City of Edinburg, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and Cantú Construction on Thursday, February 26, broke ground on a new, state-of-the-art arena located at Interstate 69-Central and Alberta Road in Edinburg.

Bert Ogden Auto Group was announced as the arena’s naming rights sponsor.

With a capacity of 8,500 seats, Bert Ogden Arena will be the largest entertainment venue in South Texas when it opens in October 2016, according to the City of Edinburg.

The arena is estimated to cost $68 million, with $30 million from bonds using TIRZ and EEDC taxes and $38 million funded by a private developer. The arena will be owned by the City of Edinburg and operated by the RGV Vipers.

Bert Ogden Arena will be funded by Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) and Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) sales taxes.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZs) are special zones created by a governmental body, such as a city council, to attract new investment to an area. TIRZs help finance the cost of redevelopment and encourage development in an area that would otherwise not attract sufficient market development in a timely manner.

Taxes attributable to new improvements (tax increments) are set-aside in a fund to finance public improvements within the boundaries of the zone.

“For me it’s great. The City of Edinburg has been great to work with, and hopefully a lot of the other cities can learn from that and work together with local developers and work on the private-public sector to help the community and think more regional,” said developer Alonso Cantu, owner of Cantu Construction, which is working with the city to finance the arena.

“I think regionalism is where it’s at. Hopefully there is more growth for the Valley,” Cantu said. “I think the medical school is going to be a big impact, I think the Viper arena is going to help out.”

The opening of the arena is just the latest announcement of major projects taking place in the city. The UT Board of Regents has appropriated $196 million for construction, including $54 million for an academic building for the future UT-RGV medical school.

From retailers to restaurants and residential developments which increase the city’s tax base, Edinburg leaders have previously recognized that major activity is happening just from the fact that the medical school is coming.

“We are pedaling as fast as we can,” Garcia said about keeping up with the rapid growth that is taking place in Edinburg. “The growth is good, and the good news is we can handle the growth because the new projects mean more income for the city so that we can provide the services needed for all the new growth that is coming into our area.

“I think this particular center here is going to spur a lot of growth,” Garcia said. “There is a lot of big name companies, like retail and restaurants, that have been on standby waiting to see if this was going to happen. This has been transformative in that respect as well.”

The RGV Vipers will serve as the anchor tenant of the new arena, and will start is 10th season in the facility in the fall of 2016. In addition to being the home of the RGV Vipers, Bert Ogden Arena will host a variety of musical and entertainment acts year round.

Representatives from the Vipers say that because the arena is designed specifically around the basketball court, fans will enjoy a more intimate sports setting. The facility will also display a jumbotron that measures 40-by-20 feet, the largest in the NBA Development League.

Amenities at the upcoming arena will include a full-service restaurant, executive lounges and suites, and concessions. The arena is positioned next to one million square feet of property for an outdoor shopping mall and restaurants.

“We know it’s exciting times,” said Edinburg EDC executive director, Gus Garcia, no relation to the mayor. “With the merger of the universities, with the medical school and the jobs it has created, our construction numbers and residential construction is up. The feedback I am getting from the community is that it’s a long time coming.

“This is something that they have wanted for a long time, and I think they want more,” he said. “I think the retailers are gravitating towards that also. The restaurants understand that for a long time we have had a population that really wants those kinds of venues, and all it took was a domino effect.”

The City of Edinburg is home to 84,000 residents, while more than 1.3 million people call the four counties that make up the Rio Grande Valley home. Edinburg is the third largest city in the RGV and serves as the county seat for Hidalgo County.

The arena’s namesake, the late Bert Ogden, established his first dealership in Edinburg in 1970. He and his wife, Dorothy, passed away several years later, but his daughter, Janet, and son-in-law, Robert Vacker, continued with the family business, which has evolved into a successful vehicle dealership in the region.

The dealership one of the largest privately-owned dealer groups in the United States, with 22 complexes Valley-wide, including seven dealerships in Edinburg. Bert Ogden employs more than 1,000 people in deep South Texas.

The RGV Vipers are in their eighth season in the RGV and currently play at State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas. The team will fulfill its current contract with State Farm Arena before moving to Bert Ogden Arena in the fall of 2016.

“It brings the consistency and ability to do more for our product,” said RGV Vipers President, Bert Garcia. “Any time you are able to give back to the community is an opportunity we are not going to say no to.”