The Fort Bend Epicenter opened its doors on August 18. The 230,000-square-foot facility is expected to become the literal “epicenter” of Fort Bend County, Texas.
“In terms of the versatility of the building and the opportunities it will bring, this is a game changer for the community,” says Toby Wyman, the facility’s general manager, noting that its location in Rosenberg is the actual epicenter of one of the fast-growing counties in the state.
The indoor multi-purpose sports facility houses six basketball courts convertible to 12 volleyball courts, as well as an arena that seats up to 10,000 people for graduations, concerts, trade shows and other community events. There also will be a 38,000-square-foot covered outdoor pavilion.
Additional venue features include a 29-by-49-foot video board, an LED ribbon board in the arena, a VIP lounge designed for up to 800 people, concessions and in-house food and beverage operations, a designated emergency refuge center, three conference rooms and 2,500 parking spots.
From a sports perspective, Wyman envisions the facility (a $120 million, bond-funding public-private partnership between Fort Bend County and the Sugar Land-based development firm, Stonehenge Holdings LLC) hosting everything from basketball, volleyball, pickleball, cornhole and esports tournaments to wrestling, cheer, gymnastics and other mat sports to livestock and agriculture events, plus rodeos and equestrian shows.
As part of the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan area, Fort Bend County is home to 17 cities and is one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States, a fact that the Epicenter will leverage to make the facility a regional and national sports tourism destination.
“County leadership looked at the needs of the community and the growth that continues to happen here,” Wyman says. “That was the impetus to put something like this in place, not only to service the needs of the constituencies that are here but to anticipate more growth. Plus, there are a lot of rights holders and event organizers that will find this market a nice middle ground between Houston and other large cities. (While technically in Fort Bend County, Houston boasts most of its population in neighboring Harris County.)
Indeed, Epicenter officials have been in discussions with local school districts, regional organizations and several national touring shows and event operators to bring events to the facility, with everything from district, regional and state high school championships to professional volleyball events.
“We’re going to be a community player to support our school districts and their needs, but we’re also looking at what we need to do for Fort Bend County to drive economic development through this building,” Wyman says.
Event Owners Already Signing On
The biggest initial economic impact from the Fort Bend Epicenter will come via early events booked at the facility by the Houston Volleyball Academy, Breakthrough Basketball and Varsity Spirit. Another basketball event owner, Triple Threat Basketball, has also recently signed on.
HVA, with a 30-year history in the market of developing players who have competed on national teams and received All-American honors, signed on as the Epicenter’s first official partner. The facility will serve as HVA’s practice and training facility, as well as host an HVA-sponsored tournament in January that is expected to draw more than 80 regional teams. HVA’s youth volleyball programs will train year-round, while the club’s girls’ and boys’ programs will run from November through June.
“The Epicenter is focused on bringing top-notch sports and entertainment events to Fort Bend County,” Wyman says. “Our partnership with HVA will positively impact the community locally, while their tournaments will bring teams from across the region to compete at our new facility.”
Another early tenant will be Breakthrough Basketball, which is partnering with the Epicenter to host basketball camps. The company provides a variety of resources and information for basketball coaches, trainers, players, parents and fans, and hosts more than 300 camps across the country.
And don’t get the impression Fort Bend is only up for ball games. Mid-October will see Top Rank ESPN Boxing moving in; this event, as you might guess, will be broadcast live on ESPN. Only a few days later, pro wrestling takes center stage with AEW Dynamite, and will be broadcast on TBS, further widening the audience who will see Fort Bend at its finest.
Meanwhile, Varsity Spirit, a global leader in cheerleading, dance team and band apparel, camps and competitions, has booked three competitions at the Epicenter. The first two will be in November: The National Cheerleaders Association’s Lonestar Classic and a Universal Cheerleaders Association regional competition. The Athletic Championships Houston Nationals will be held at the facility in March 2024.
Need further proof of the venue’s versatility? In December, Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live will draw motor sports fans of all ages.
“These are well-established brands within their respective sports, and we certainly appreciate their enthusiasm for the facility,” Wyman says. “We’re excited about the collaborations and showcasing the value of what we have to offer, from both a building perspective and our location in southeast Texas.”
Sponsorships Are Already in Place
Wyman says Fort Bend Epicenter already has an all-star line-up of sponsors, including heavy hitters like Pepsi, Energy Texas, Southwest Mitsubishi, Bud Light and Chick Fil-A. (Worth noting: Chick Fil-A will operate concessions as well.)
“These are our founding partners,” Wyman notes, “and we’re very proud of our relationship with them.”
Located less than 40 miles southwest of Downtown Houston, Rosenberg is a city of about 40,000 residents with a rich history dating back to 1883.
That’s when, according to the city’s website, “the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway laid out a town site and named it after the company’s president, Henry Rosenberg. Rosenberg began as a shipping point on the Brazos River and reached a boom in the late-18[00s] and early 1900s as railroads developed. It grew to become a center of commerce in the 1940s and 50s and was known as the ‘Hub of the Gulf Coast.’ Today, Rosenberg is experiencing unprecedented growth in commercial and residential development while holding tight to its roots and charm.”
The city’s historic downtown includes antique shops, clothing boutiques, cultural and visual arts opportunities, dining options and spa services, with attractions like the Rosenberg Railroad Museum, the Black Cowboy Museum, the Fort Bend Art Center and Seabourne Creek Nature Park. Plus, Constellation Field, home of the Houston Astros Triple-A affiliate Sugar Land Skeeters, is about a 25-minute drive from the Fort Bend Epicenter.
The Epicenter is located on a 51.75-acre site near the southwest corner of U.S. Highway 59 and State Highway 36 in a highly traveled area with strong visibility. (A marquee sign will be located on Highway 59.) About 700 hotel rooms are available within five miles of the facility, according to Wyman, with another 2,000 rooms within 10 to 12 miles of the facility.
Fort Bend County, meanwhile, boasts a diverse population of almost 900,000 residents, and it is recognized as the most diverse county in Texas and the third-most diverse in the United States. The county also has the third-highest household income in the state (leading the Houston region), and it ranks among the top 10 in the country’s highest level of educational attainment.
Wyman and his operations team have high hopes for the Fort Bend County Epicenter’s potential. While Sugar Land, The Woodlands, Katy, Pearland and other cities in the Houston metro area might have more name recognition, the Epicenter can put Rosenberg on the sports tourism map.
“Part of it will be about accessibility, the ease of getting in and out,” Wyman says. “You’re not in the hustle and bustle of a major downtown area, and that provides efficiency and convenience. But we still have access to the things people need.” SDM