Sugar Land booming into entertainment destination

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by Doug Miller / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on January 8, 2014 at 12:37 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 8 at 12:40 AM

SUGAR LAND, Texas -- If you still consider Sugar Land nothing more than a suburb of Houston, you need to think again.

Maybe you need to see a baseball game at Constellation Field, home of a minor league ball team called the Sugar Land Skeeters that has a better record than the Houston Astros. And in a couple of years, instead of driving to the Hobby Center or the Woodlands Pavilion for live entertainment, you could just visit a new performing arts center in Sugar Land.

“A very big deal,” is how Regina Morales, Sugar Land’s economic development director, describes the new center. “A very big deal for the community, very similar to our Constellation Field and our Sugar Land Skeeters ballpark. We’re hoping that the community and the region will embrace this facility.”

Sugar Land’s drive to build new entertainment venues like the performing arts center and Constellation Field demonstrates the city now plays a whole new ballgame. When it comes to entertainment amenities, what once was a sleepy bedroom community in Fort Bend County is no longer content to play in Houston’s outfield.

In 2007, what the city described as a “visioning task force” decided Sugar Land needed to become more than just a place where people live and shop and work on the fringe of Houston. The task force came to the conclusion the city needed entertainment venues, specifically a minor league baseball park and a performing arts center. The following year, voters approved a referendum providing funding for construction of both of those venues.

A market study determined a performance center with roughly 6500 seats would fill a niche in the Houston area, where all other major entertainment centers specialize in hosting events attracting either larger or smaller crowds.

“We performed a market analysis and determined that there isn’t a venue of this size in the Houston region,” Morales said. “So we would not be competing with any other venue.”

Still, the new center’s seating capacity will be twice the size of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, the Houston area’s premiere venue for Broadway road shows. And it can easily host events attracting smaller crowds.

“So if there’s a show that’s going to sell to 2500 people, we’ll bring the walls in, we’ll bring some curtains down, and people will think they’re in this intimate theater,” said Gary Becker of the ACE Theatrical Group, which will book acts into the center and provide $10-million of the estimated $84-million construction cost.

The city plans to build the new center on a 68.5 acre site across the street from the University of Houston Sugar Land campus, making it part of a larger mixed-use development only now getting off the ground.

“It’s going to change the lives of everybody that lives not only out in Sugar Land, but also out in Fort Bend County,” Becker said.

The new center will host a wide variety of events, from concerts to plays to lectures to high school graduation ceremonies. Becker expects “a lot of James Taylors, a lot of Doobie Brothers, a lot of classic rock acts. We’ll see a lot of cultural acts. There’s some Indian population in Sugar Land, and Hispanic and Asian population, and we’ll bring entertainment for them.”

Ground breaking on the new center is expected this summer, with a grand opening expected in the autumn of 2016.

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