Ford Park Hit Again

While the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana and Mississippi have garnered most of the attention in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, areas of Texas continue to struggle with recovery more than five months after the storms hit.

Ford Park, a sports and entertainment complex near Beaumont, Texas, was hit especially hard. The park’s amphitheatre is now unusable, and its arena – which served as an emergency shelter during both hurricanes – suffers from a lack of bookings, according to the town’s Enterprise newspaper.

If that wasn’t enough, SMG-managed Ford Park has been battered by budget problems that almost forced its closure just two years ago.

Reports after Katrina indicated that the amphitheatre was only slightly damaged, but Rita – which directly hit southeast Texas – took off about one-fourth of the shed’s roof.

Initial damage estimates were pegged at $1.5 million to $2 million, but those costs are certain to rise, according to the paper.

The arena roof has been patched but might need to be replaced. It hasn’t been forced to close, but events are few and far between. Convincing promoters the arena is viable has been a problem.

“They’re just not sure if the community has rebounded significantly enough to bring their events to town,” Ford Park GM Allan Vella told the Enterprise. “We’re asking people to put down their disposable income, and there’s not a lot of disposable income going around.”

A World Wrestling Entertainment event will be nationally televised from Ford Park March 13th, a “Champions on Ice” show is scheduled and two concerts are tentatively in the works.

But the biggest problem facing Ford Park isn’t the performance venues – it’s an unfinished visitor’s center that has turned the entire complex into a political football. Completion of the center is nowhere in sight and local officials have been forced to remind a bonding company that it is responsible for finishing the job.

Tom Rugg, a Jefferson County assistant district attorney, told the Enterprise the bonding company has sent reps to the site to evaluate the work left remaining after SMG was taken off the job.

“The storm has made this complicated like it has complicated everything,” Rugg told the paper.

About 10 percent of county property tax revenue will reportedly go to support Ford Park debt service and operations this fiscal year.

In the meantime, county officials continue to brainstorm ways to reduce its operating deficit to a more manageable $500,000 to $750,000 per year.