Moving Richardson Civic Center out of City Hall garners widespread council support

The center is used to host city events but is also available to rent. (Courtesy city of Richardson)
The center is used to host city events but is also available to rent. (Courtesy city of Richardson)

The center is used to host city events but is also available to rent. (Courtesy city of Richardson)

Members of Richardson City Council are showing unanimous support for removing Civic Center operations from City Hall.

Conversations around the fate of the Civic Center have been ongoing ahead of a potential bond election later this year. Moving the center to a new location or halting offerings altogether would not only open up City Hall to more office space but also increase security in the building. Richardson is the only nearby city of comparable size that houses its Civic Center under the same roof as city offices, Assistant City Manager Shanna Sims-Bradish said at a Jan. 4 council meeting.

At a meeting in November, council asked staff to return with a more thorough analysis of operational costs. The center is used to host city events but is also available to rent for between $300 and $1,800. Those rates have not been adjusted since 2001, Sims-Bradish said.

The cost of running the center generally outweighs the revenue garnered through private rentals, Sims-Bradish said. The average operational cost of the Grand Hall is just over $1,700 per event, while private rentals generate around $1,350 in revenue on average, she added.

Council Member Steve Mitchell said this discrepancy, coupled with the fact that Richardson is now home to a slew of event spaces, is behind his support of finding another location for the Civic Center.

“We don’t really make any money so to speak, so we are kind of in competition with full-service hotels that have ballrooms and other venues,” he said.

Civic Center rates are far lower than a hotel's average rental rate for rooms of comparable size. A room equal in size to the 2,300-square-foot Grand Hall, for example, would cost, on average, more than $8,000 to rent, Lori Smeby, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation department, said at the November meeting.

“I’d like to get out of the Civic Center business altogether,” Council Member Kyle Kepner said. “Our hotels are suffering now and will be for the next year ... If we can throw some business their way, that’s probably the best thing.”

Council Member Ken Hutchenrider said he was torn between the options of relocating and closing the center. He asked staff to study what it would cost to rent private venues for the 12 annual city events hosted at the Civic Center. Municipal revenue is expected to be constrained by new state laws, which could affect the city’s ability to afford private venues for annual events, such as the Corporate Challenge.

“My bigger concern is that I don't want to then come back and say now we can’t do certain events,” he said.

Moving the Civic Center into one of the city’s redevelopment zones, such as the newly minted Innovation Quarter, could act as a catalyst for further investment in those areas, Mayor Paul Voelker said. However, this type of project would require several years of planning and could not realistically be included in the upcoming bond, he said.

If the city were to move the Civic Center to a new location, it would have the option of contracting with a third-party operator, such as a local hotel, to manage the facility, Sims-Bradish said. This is done by the cities of Frisco, Lewisville and Mesquite, but Council Member Bob Dubey expressed concern over this method of operations.

“Then we play by their rules, not our rules,” he said. “When we host something, we want to host it with our game plan.”

Staff plans to take this feedback and incorporate it into a Feb. 1 presentation of refined facility propositions, Sims-Bradish said.
By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.