Sugar Land's Smart Financial Centre stokes economic growth in first 6 months
By: Bridget Balch, Houston Chronicle

Six months after Sugar Land debuted its long-awaited entertainment venue, the Smart Financial Centre, the city and area business are reporting an uptick in economic activity.

The $84 million, 6,400-seat venue opened its doors in January and has since hosted dozens of performances – from Jerry Seinfeld to Journey. Since then, Sugar Land has seen a 10.3 percent increase in sales tax revenue in the food and entertainment sector – which is up nearly $500,000 from the first half of last year. Hoteliers have also reported anecdotal increases in room nights surrounding popular performances.

"We believe that is directly connected to the Smart Financial Centre," said Phil Wagner, director of economic development for the City of Sugar Land.

The idea for the venue emerged in 2007 when a task force made up of citizens developed a long-term plan to make Sugar Land a more appealing place, not only for residents, but for tourists. The plan included five venues: Constellation Field, home of the minor league baseball team the Skeeters, the Sugar Land Festival Site, the Smart Financial Centre, and the yet-to-be-realized hotel conference center and a community public arts venue, Wagner said.

"It's been a win-win for everybody," said Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman. "We've got more tourists viewing Sugar Land as a destination."

Zimmerman said that the venue has not only stimulated restaurant and hotel business, but has also put Sugar Land on the map – drawing visitors from as far as The Woodlands and even out of the Houston area.

Wagner said that restaurants in the Sugar Land Town Center, not far from the Smart Financial Centre, have reported having to increase their wait staff in order to keep up with the crowds that come in before and after popular shows. The Town Center developer even started a shuttle service to transport customers to and from the venue.

The Smart Financial Centre is expected to have an annual economic impact of about $26 million for the local area. Sugar Land plans to capitalize even more on the city-owned property surrounding the venue by adding a future multi-purpose development to include office space and the planned hotel conference center and art venue.

"It will be another destination," Zimmerman said.

The Smart Financial Centre still has more than two dozen performers booked throughout the rest of the year, including Idina Menzel, KISS, Trevor Noah, Willie Nelson and the "Hip Hop Nutcracker."

© Smart Financial Centre