Board leaders say Lubbock County Expo Center is not over budget

Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 7:45 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2022 at 2:31 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - We told you last week the Lubbock County Expo Center project is over budget, but board leaders say it’s not that simple.

They gave us a breakdown of how much money is available, and where it’s actually going.

Organizers tell us the money is there to cover its current costs.

It’s billing $5,450,000 for the ‘design phase’ of the project, $450,000 more than the bond that Lubbock County commissioners approved back in June of 2020 for pre-construction costs.

Board leaders tell us it will only take a simple action from the Commissioner’s Court to pay the bills.

Tim Collins is vice-chair for the local government corporation for the Lubbock County Expo Center.

Collins says, “You’ve got the bond capital input in one account and you’ve got the revenue from the tax collections in another account.”

The LCEC is one of two boards working on that multi-purpose arena. It represents Lubbock County’s interests, including taxpayers.

That tax revenue he’s referring to is money from the Hotel Occupancy Tax, a two percent levy from the county’s motels and short term car rentals.

Collins says “Here is a revenue stream or a balance in a fund that does not have the authorization to be utilized to finalize the last small amount that’s due.”

Financial records show that account has $6.1 million in it.

Randy Jordan, who leads the private board in charge of designing the Expo Center, says it was not initially planned this way.

When the county wanted to sell its first bond in the spring of 2020, the pandemic hit, and Jordan says no business wanted to take a five and a half million dollar bond.

Jordan says, “Had one bidder at $5 million. one bidder at $5 million, so the county sold that bond for $5 million. That is why you’ve got a little bit of discrepancy there.”

Jordan says even if the county had sold a bond worth more money, the source of the revenue would still be the same, the Hotel Occupancy Tax, which is designated to service the Expo Center’s bonds.

Jordan and Collins say this project is well within its budget, and that construction costs could come down from this month’s projections.

Already cutting costs

On paper, the construction budget the boards looked at last week is also exceeding projections, but organizers say they are already cutting costs.

The original projection for the first construction phase was to come in at about $89 million.

That would build the Lubbock County Expo Center’s arena and a warm-up area.

After estimating prices, it looked like the cost would be closer to $92 million, but, after what board member Randy Jordan calls “value engineering” that could fall by as much as $6 million.”

Jordan says, “We wanted to have 21-inch wide permanent seats for everybody to sit in. When you go back and look and ask, what if we did 20-inch seats, what will that save you? A million, eight.”

One inch, for $1.8 million in savings.

That’s the kind of decisions the Lubbock County Expo Center’s boards are evaluating.

Tim Collins, with the Expo Center’s Local Government Corporation emphasizes that these construction costs are not budgets, but a cost analysis.

He says those change each time they are done, especially in today’s economic climate.

Collins says, “Steel prices escalated severely 18 months ago, they’re beginning to come back down. What we’re seeing today is HVAC equipment, electrical equipment is now escalating, so you see a switch of those dollars back and forth.”

Collins says, “It will continue to evolve until we actually get to say ‘general contractor, let’s go to work.’”

That “evolving cost” equals a moving target for fundraising.

Randy Jordan, who represents the private side of this partnership, says a national-level consultant is going to kick start corporate sponsors, but he says the local support is there.

Jordan says, “Our costs have gone up and so therefore our demand and our need to raise more money has gone up. We’re gonna need $100, we’re gonna need $100,000 we’re gonna need $250,000, we’re going to need it at all levels.”

Despite moving targets, and without naming rights on the books yet, Jordan and Collins say Lubbock County residents should feel confident in this public private partnership.

Collins says, “We are taking the steps necessary to deliver a project to the community - a project that is needed, that is desired, in a way that’s transparent and done in a way that’s satisfactory to everyone involved.”

Both board members told us they are now focusing on messaging, including social media campaigns, websites, and town hall meetings.

They hope to secure naming rights within the next two to three months.

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