Ford Park Rebound

Despite reports of large-scale damage at Ford Park thanks to Hurricane Rita, the sports and entertainment complex in Beaumont, Texas, has seen a recent surge in ticket sales and event bookings.

And that has venue GM Allan Vella hopeful about the SMG-managed building’s prospects.

“We’re on an uptick,” Vella told Pollstar. “We’ve probably generated more sales tax dollars in the last month than we had in over a year. We have a number of shows on sale; Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary perform on March 23rd followed the next day by George Jones with Merle Haggard, and are doing very well.”

One postponement related to last fall’s Rita has even turned out to be somewhat of a blessing in disguise. World Wrestling Entertainment had a RAW event scheduled at Ford Park near the time Rita struck the south Texas Gulf Coast, and rescheduled not only a March 13th return, but agreed to do a national broadcast from the 9,000-seat arena.

“They essentially went from a house show to a televised show,” Vella said. “We were really pleased they would do that for us. We also have a Monster Jam March 10th and 12th, followed by a huge home show. … We have a ton of stuff going on.”

Local media reports have focused on damage to other parts of the Ford Park complex, as well as concerns about the viability of the market after the storm. Vella reports that while there are still some people out of their homes and jobs in the wake of the disaster, most have returned.

“There were definitely concerns 30 to 60 days ago about whether there is enough disposable income in the market to support concerts,” Vella said. “But there’s a renewed interest in coming back to the market, and we’re getting some really brisk sales, especially with George Jones and Merle Haggard.

“We’re getting calls about the fall right now so we’re hopeful that we’ll have some brisk concert activity. Things are turning. We do have our share of people living in trailers and who have blue roofs (FEMA-provided tarps are bright blue) but I think business is getting back to normal and people are back to work. There’s more disposable income becoming available.”

Vella acknowledged that the outdoor pavilion is out of commission for the forseeable future, at least until FEMA and General Services Administration money is received to help cover repairs. However, the pavilion is historically not a major factor in the booking of concerts at Ford Park.

“We have some small roof leaks in the exhibit hall and in some of the meeting rooms, but they’re minor,” Vella said. “We can accommodate any kind of show or event at this time in the arena as well as in the exhibit hall.

“There’s no physical constraints in our concessions department, restrooms or anywhere else. We’re operating as normal. We’re booking and holding dates for the arena and the exhibit hall now, as we have been.”

Deborah Speer