Expo Center at 100 percent
After the pandemic year, the Belton facility bounced back strongly and goes into 2022 with a big lineup of events, concerts, fairs and more.
FRIDAY DECEMBER 17, 2021
Parker McCollum will bring his Red-Dirt Mardi Gras show to the Bell County Expo Center on Jan. 29, one of several shows coming in 2022 to the facility. Other acts include a big gospel show, a Pink Floyd tribute band and a classic rock ‘n’ roll group.
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple
Despite a sluggish start because of lingering COVID-19 concerns, business boomed at Bell County Expo Center in the second half of 2021.
“Our year started off much like 2020 — it was very limited,” said Tim Stephens, the Expo Center’s executive director. “In 2020 we had no fair, no graduations. Just about everything was cancelled. 2021 started out very similar but finished strong. We’re now at 100 percent.”
From October 2020 to September 2021, some 212 events were held at the Expo Center drawing more than 295,000 people. Most of those numbers came in the second-half of the fiscal year. Nearly 120 of those events were held over multiple days.
In comparison, the pre-COVID year of 2019 saw 295 events that attracted 403,677 people.
“2021 turned out to be a good year,” Stephens said. “We were able to hold the Central Texas State Fair, and it was our biggest turnout ever. We had more than 30,000 people come out, and I’m sure the pandemic kept some people away — it could have been even bigger.”
According to Stephens, the Fourth of July rodeos, concerts and celebrations also attracted large crowds, and the band TLC brought in big numbers.
TLC is an American girl band formed in Atlanta that was one of the most successful music groups in the 1990s.
“TLC conversations lit up our Facebook page like you wouldn’t believe,” Stephens said. “They played three cities in Texas — Dallas, Houston and Belton.”
Stephens and Operations Manager John Dungan said the Expo Center opened in May 1987 to provide a new home for the Bell County Youth Fair. It also has become Graduation Central for more than a dozen area high schools and home to the Central Texas State Fair.
“There are two reasons exposition centers are built — quality of life and economic impact,” Stephens said. “Quality of life relates to events such as the Youth Fair, rodeos, graduations — we hold more than 100 banquets a year — we provide a place for these kinds of events to be held. It’s the same type of quality of life that a park provides, except the Expo Center also produces economic impact.”
The impact the Expo Center has on Bell County is tremendous. In 2019 — before the pandemic — visitors to the Expo Center spent an estimated $7.9 million with other businesses such as hotels, night spots, restaurants and gas stations.
Even in slow-starting 2021, that economic impact was about $6.3 million. Of course numbers for 2020 were down across the board because of Expo closures and event cancellations.
“The bottom line is we bring in outside people who spend money here in Bell County,” Stephens said. “Tourism is the No. 3 industry in Texas and it’s also big here. This facility wasn’t built as a cash cow, it was built to provide opportunities for local businesses.”
Stephens and Dunham said they generate as much money as they can with Expo events and they give that money to the county to offset expenses.
So does the Expo Center pay its own way? In recent years — with the exception of 2020 — it has come close, Stephens said.
The Expo Center’s operating budget from Oct. 1, 2020, through September 2021 was $2.4 million, according to Stephens. Despite starting the year with about half of the normal number of events, the facility generated a net revenue of $1.4 million. That leaves a deficit of about a million bucks that falls to the taxpayers, right?
“No, not exactly,” Stephens said. “We began receiving a portion of the hotel tax several years ago and that closes the gap significantly.”
According to Stephens, about $800,000 in hotel tax funds were collected, cutting the budget deficit to about $200,000.
The hotel tax — officially called the transient occupancy tax — in Bell County is 14 percent and funds are divided by several entities, mostly cities. Money gained from the tax must be reinvested in tourism.
Stephens said the budget for the current year is $2.5 million and he is confident the Expo Center will make at least $1.5 million in net revenue. Again, the hotel tax is expected to fill in most of the deficit.
Bell County Judge David Blackburn said it is common for counties to subsidize convention and expo facilities.
“I’ve been in government for over three decades and have looked at multiple Expos and convention centers in Texas and around the country,” Blackburn said. “I haven’t seen any that are our size or larger be self-sustaining.”
“I think the county has been actively looking at ways to make the Expo self-sustaining since its inception,” he said. “And, I think we should never stop trying to close the gap between its total operating and capital budget and the subsidy the county puts in.”
Stephens said the Bell County facility brings in a lot of shows other venues don’t get.
“We book shows — actually co-own shows and buy shows ourselves,” he said. “We base our success on total revenues — food, beverages, tickets.”
The Expo Center is a member of Venue Coalition, a group of 75 similar venues across the United States and Canada. They book acts as a group.
“The Coalition has an office in Los Angeles and they constantly look for opportunities for us and the other members,” Stephens said. “We also work the entertainment world pretty hard ourselves. We work on shows we’ve booked, try to book other shows, and search for acts for the Fair.”
Duncan said the Expo Center is now in high gear and a full lineup of events is on the schedule.
These events include one of the world’s top pole vaulting competitions on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, a Parker McCullom red-dirt country concert on Jan. 29, the Carden Circus in March and the Festival of Praise in April.
“McCullom is a big name and he will draw big,” Stephens said. “Another show coming up is Australian Pink Floyd in August. They are one of the best Pink Floyd tribute bands out there.”
You are not alone this Christmas
Our Town Temple
The holidays can be extremely trying for those experiencing loss, sadness or feelings of loneliness, and a special service at a Temple church is designed to provide comfort.
“Invite God to join you in this process, and together we will walk through this difficult time,” said Ami Hooper, communications director at Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Temple.
“The church is continuing a tradition to provide comfort during Christmas for those dealing with grief and sadness,” she said. “Considering the experiences (with COVID) during the past two years, this applies to many of us in our community.”
The service — Blue Christmas, and referred to as The Longest Night — will be at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22. Coincidentally, the actual longest night of the year also falls during this week, Hooper said.
Ministers of Episcopal congregations in the area will be participating, including Mother Janice Krause ( Christ Episcopal Church), Fr. David Krause (St. Francis Episcopal Church), Mother Rachel Harber (Associate Missioner, UMHB), and Deacons of St. Francis Episcopal and Christ Episcopal: Tamara Clothier, Glennda Hardin and Becky Sparks
Special Music will be provided by accomplished Central Texas musicians Sheryl Goodnight, Dr. Leon Couch, Li Ping, Gerald Nicholas and Crystal Conner.
“Join us for a special Christmas worship service acknowledging our losses, finding strength, and bonding us together through God’s love and healing during the holiday season,” Hooper said. “Invite friends or family members who may take comfort in this support.”
“We will have a special table set up where you can bring a photo of your loved one to commemorate them and to offer a special remembrance that was not possible at the time of their passing,” she said.
The service will be held in-person and streamed online at https://facebook.com/christchurchtx.
Fire Base Brewing Co will celebrate Beer Me a New Year. Live music, finger foods, games, Ball drop at 10 p.m., and complimentary champagne toast at midnight. $25 online or $30 at the door.
O’Briens Irish Pub with the Jason Custer Band. 10 p.m.
Bo’s Barn Dancehall Craig Howell & Somewhere in Texas will hit the stage at 9 p.m. $25 per person to include Cover, Party Favors, Champagne, Breakfast and Black Eyed Peas!!! 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Corky’s Wine Bar. Located at 13 S. Second Street, Corkys Wine and Beer hopes to have the most happening New Years Eve party in Central Texas! Tickets are only $35! Included in the price you get a midnight champagne toast, party favors, a souvenir glass, breakfast food after the ball drops and your live music and dancing for the evening! Attire is semi-formal.
FACING THE INFERNO: THE WILDFIRE PHOTOGRAPHY OF KARI GREER: Colorful, intimate, and intensely dramatic images that capture the work of wildland firefighters in this new exhibit that runs through Jan. 15. Amazing photography.
COMING NEXT MONTH! ALIENTO a TEQUILA: This exhibit explores and celebrates the landscape, culture, and traditions that gave birth to tequila. A series of photographs by Joel Salcido include the original distilleries that founded the industry, as well as several artisanal tequilerías committed to the ancestral ways of tequila-making, from harvest to bottle. Jan. 28-March 16.
PEACE OF MIND VETERANS PROGRAMS: In partnership with Help Vets Heal of Temple, veterans are invited for a special program at the museum. Visit the museum to view the exhibits, including the newest traveling exhibit, Private Charles J Miller: WWII Paintings from the South Pacific. Then, make your own wooden Christmas ornament! The event is completely FREE, but pre-registration is required and spaces are limited. 10 a.m. to noon, Friday, Dec. 17.
HOLIDAY FEST: Celebrate and learn more about different winter holidays from around the world, including Christmas, Hanukkah, and Diwali. Make your own Christmas ornaments, Diwali candles, and Hanukkah dreidels! The event is completely FREE. 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 18.
GAULT SITE TOUR: Join us Feb. 12 at the Gault Site for a tour! It is a full guided 3 hour tour across the 2.5 miles long site. Learn about the many artifacts excavated and the Paleoindian culture found right here in Bell County! Pre-registration required; $10/person 11 years and older. All participants are asked to meet at the site at 8:30am. The tour will begin promptly at 9:00am. Maps will be provided a few days prior to the scheduled tour date. The site is 30 minutes from Belton, between Salado and Florence. Tickets are $10 per person, payable by debit or credit card only. Payment is needed within 5 days of registration. Please call the museum at 254-933-5243 to make payment. All proceeds go directly to the Gault School of Archaeological Research.
SHINYRIBS: Shinyribs will perform at the Cultural Activities Center in Temple at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 18.
DEAN’S SERIES: KATHRYN FOUSE: Let the Games Begin with Kathryn Fouse, piano. Join us for an entertaining evening of music from popular video games. 7:30 p.m., Jan. 18 at Sue & Frank Mayborn Performing Arts Center at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
EXHIBIT OPENING: The next art exhibit opening will be Jan. 8 from 5 to 7 p.m. The featured artist is PHOKUS and the exhibit will feature a mixed media presentation entitled "So tonight that I may dream.”
THE QUEEN’S CARTOONISTS: The College of Visual & Performing Arts at UMHB features a band that plays music from classic cartoons and contemporary animation while synchronizing the music to video projections of the original film. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21, at the Sue & Frank Mayborn Performing Arts Center.
AIZURI QUARTET: This group will perform at the CAC on Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Described as "genuinely exciting" by the New York Times and "elegant" and "inquisitive" by The New Yorker, the quartet presents a vibrant selection of new music and standards. The group was nominated for a Grammy in 2019.
LION KING JR.: The Temple High School Theater Arts department will present a production featuring actors from across the school district on Jan. 27-30. The Jan. 27-29 shows will start at 7 p.m. and the Sunday matinee will begin at 2. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Tickets are available at CentralTexasTickets.com.
POPS CONCERT: The Temple Symphony Orchestra will feature trumpeter Allen Vizzutti in a January 29 Pops Concert at the Mary Alice Marshall Performing Arts Center at Temple College. Concert begins at 7:30 p.m.
THE CONTEMPORARIES TELETHON “THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT” will be held on stage Jan. 29 at the CAC. The telethon proceeds provide financial support for the building and the programming.
DEAN’S SERIES: EMILY & JONATHAN GRAY: College of Visual & Performing Arts at UMHB presents Emily & Jonathan Gary in concert at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 4 inside the Sue & Frank Mayborn Performing Arts Center.
INHERIT THE WIND: The Temple Civic Theater will hold auditions on Feb. 2- and 21, and the show will be presented April 1-10.
LAST OF THE RED-HOT LOVERS: The Temple Civic Theater show will run Feb. 4-13 at TCT.
MUSIC TO HELP OTHERS: Christ Episcopal Church is presenting a concert to benefit local charities at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 6 at the church. The concert will celebrate Black History Month and honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. The concert also will be streamed at https://www.facebook.com/christchurchtx and will benefit the Un-Included Club, a nonprofit organization that provides literacy, urban agriculture, and leadership programs for underserved youth. Donations will be accepted at the door or online. The Sunday afternoon concert series is a continuing ministry of the church. The concerts, featuring local musicians, have raised more than $14,000 for area charities, food banks and medical clinics serving those in need.
THE VANDOLIERS - The Cultural Activities Center’s Texas Music Series opens on Feb. 12. Season tickets are on sale at cacarts.org.
VISITING ARTIST JEFFERY CARL: Join us to hear Jeffery Carl, an artist based outside Chicago, whose work explores how our relationship to geography informs our self-understanding, the development of communities, and the ways in which we shape our environment. 4 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Sue & Frank Mayborn Performing Arts Center at UMHB.
WIND/JAZZ ENSEMBLES: An evening of musical entertainment from the UMHB wind ensemble and jazz ensemble at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Sue & Frank Mayborn Performing Arts Center.
CAMP ROCK: THE MUSICAL: Performances are March 5 and 6 at the Cultural Activities Center.
JIMMIE VAUGHAN - The Cultural Activities Center’s Texas Music Series continues with guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan on March 19. Season tickets are on sale at cacarts.org.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS: The Temple Civic Theater will hold auditions on March 27-28 and the show runs May 6-15.
FESTIVAL OF PRAISE: This soul-stirring tour will be at the Bell County Expo Center on April 9 and will be headlined by Gospel music icon Fred Hammond, along with Marvin Sapp and Hezekiah Walker.
VALLEJO - The Cultural Activities Center’s Texas Music Series continues on April 23 with a performance by Vallejo. Season tickets are on sale at cacarts.org.
SEASON FINALE: The Temple Symphony Orchestra’s season finale will be at 3 p.m. May 8 at Temple College and will feature pianists Frances Renzi and Anthony Pattin.
RECKLESS KELLY - The Cultural Activities Center’s Texas Music Series continues June 11 with Reckless Kelly. Season tickets are on sale at cacarts.org.
Monday nights — Yoga Classes offered by Sara Dodd at the Cultural Activities Center. $12. 5:15 p.m. class.
Tuesday nights beginning Jan. 18 — Clay with Marilyn - go to cacarts.org to sign up for her series of classes
Thursday nights beginning Jan 6 — Clay with Lindsay - go to cacarts.org to sign up for her classes
Wednesday nights — Open mic comedy night at Corky’s Wine Bar. Sign up at 7:30 p.m., show starts at 8
Saturday nights — Comedy Showcase at Corky’s Wine Bar. Open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8.
Friday nights @ The Yard — Food trucks and drinks at Mo’s Rail Yard.
December 17, Friday - Matt Cearley & The Rowdy Few, O’Briens. 9 p.m.
December 17, Friday — Hyway Traveler at Bo’s Barn. 8 p.m.
December 17, Friday — “It’s a Wonderful Life” at The Beltonian Theatre. 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
December 17, Friday - Christmas Stroll & Market at Lakewood Professional Park, 200 Paloma Drive in Temple. Drinks, vendors, lights, food and Santa! 6 to 9 p.m.
December 18, Saturday — “It’s a Wonderful Life” at The Beltonian Theatre. 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
December 18, Saturday — People’s Choice live at Bo’s Barn. $10. 9 p.m.
December 18, Saturday — The Real Gun Show at Bell County Expo Assembly Hall. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
December 18, Saturday - Game Show Night by Texas Red at Fire Base Brewing Co., 7-9 p.m.
December 18, Saturday — Lilly & The Implements at O’Briens Irish Pub. 9 p.m.
December 18, Saturday — People’s Choice at Bo’s Barn. 9 p.m.
December 19, Sunday - The Big Catch family fishing at Miller Park Pond. Enjoy a relaxing morning of fishing with family and friends and get ready to hook the big one! Fishing licenses will be waived by Texas Parks & Wildlife during the event with a signed waiver. Plus, hotdogs, drinks, and chips will be provided at the pavilion while supplies last. 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.
December 19, Sunday — The Real Gun Show at Bell County Expo Assembly Hall, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
December 19, Sunday – When Harry Met Sally… (1989), free movie at Cultural Activities Center. Boy meets girl, boy sees other girls, and girl sees other boys. Maybe boy and girl should have seen each other. “I’ll have what she’s having.” The event will include a pre and post-movie discussion with Dr. Joseph Taberlet. 2 p.m.
December 20, Monday — The Grinch is coming to Darling Decor & More, 100 N. Main, Downtown Temple from 2-4 p.m. You have had your photo with Santa, now come out and take a photo with the miserly Grinch himself! Photo sessions are $5 each.
December 23, Thursday - Santa & Elvis at Fire Street Pizza. 6-9 p.m.
December 25, Saturday — Christmas Dance at Bo’s Barn featuring Secondhand Rose, 8 p.m.
December 25, Saturday — Ugly Christmas Sweater party at Green Door. Open at 6 p.m., karaoke at 9 p.m.
December 20-25: “The Polar Express” at The Beltonian Theatre. Visit https://TheBeltonianTheatre.com/Movies for show times.
December 31 - January 1 - Texas Elite Pole Vaulting. The Expo Explosion, the second largest indoor pole vaulting event in the country. Bell County Expo Center’s Garth Arena.
January 6, Thursday - In partnership with the Temple Community Clinic and other sponsors, the Living Well in Bell wellness series will debut at the CAC. The first presenters for the 2022 series will be Dr. Patricia J. Sulak and Dr. Jeffrey Waxman who will discuss all aspects of well-being. 6 p.m.
January 6, Thursday - Central Texas Arts League meets to plan a year of creative ventures. Open to the public. 6:00 pm to 8:00 p.m. Come learn about the plans and meet with fellow artists in the Central Texas area.
January 7, Friday - On the first Friday of every month, historic downtown Temple transforms into a giant party. Enjoy street music and performances, drinks, food, and after-hours shopping.
January 8, Saturday - Cabin Fever: Stargazing Family Dat at Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum. Learn about constellations, meteor showers and other celestial objects while checking out the night sky.
January 14-15 - No Limits Monster Truck Winter Nationals & Mud Races. Some of the nation’s most competitive truck and motocross racers as they invade Bell County Expo Arena on Friday and Saturday. 7:30 p.m.
January 15, Saturday - Game Show Night by Texas Red at Fire Base Brewing Co. We have the night for you! 4 rounds of the game show questions and prize-winning for all! Free to play and Family Friendly! Who will walk away with the evening's Oscar? Play as a team or individual. Win free drinks and other prizes! 7-9 p.m.
January 19, Wednesday - The city of Temple is undertaking the development of a Mobility Master Plan designed to produce a multimodal transportation system. The second public involvement meeting will be hosted online with a live event and in person at the Wilson Park Recreation Center on from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
January 29, Saturday - Parker McCollum Red Dirt Mardi Gras at Bell County Expo. 8 p.m.
February 4, Friday - On the first Friday of every month, historic downtown Temple transforms into a giant party. Enjoy street music and performances, drinks, food, and after-hours shopping.
February 5, Saturday - Geek Out Family Day at Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum. Want to show off your geeky side? Come out to the museum for Geek Out Family Day. Dress up as your favorite superhero, cartoon, or video game character. Enjoy the nerdier side of life.
February 11-12 - Bell County Youth Fair Livestock Show & PRCA Rodeo. The Bell County PRCA Rodeo is currently in its 34th year of continuous operation at the Bell County Expo Center. Last year, the Bell County Youth Fair awarded over $25,000 in scholarships to local area youth. https://agrilife.org/bellctyyouthfair/
LIST YOUR EVENT! Email info to OurTownTemple@gmail.com with “What’s Happening” in the subject line.