By Donna Hill
For The Fort Bend Star
They were all there.
Acrobats and aerialists from around the world performing high flying adventures with the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra behind them. From the Whimsical Wheel, The Thrill of the Season (which brought a touch of magic to a huge snow globe onto the stage) to wrapping up with The Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular Finale.
Sunday’s inaugural public performance at the Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land served as kind of a sneak preview of what to expect from the new venue in the heart of Fort Bend County.
The Smart Financial Centre and Cirque did not disappoint. Located off the corner of U.S. Highway 59 and University Boulevard, the Smart Financial Centre brought in glittering visual effects and holiday sounds to a captive audience.
Sunday night, audiences bundled up and headed to the family holiday event featuring performances by the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra. Ticket holders huddled at the door trying to get out of the cold, kids in holiday outfits happy to stay up late because school was out for the next couple of weeks.
Gary Becker, president of ACE SL, the Sugar Land’s partner in the venue, was more than happy.
“I thought we had a great show with very few problems. There are many things things to improve upon that will be addressed as we get closer to the grand opening,” Becker said. “The venue is beautiful and the sound is better than any venue of this type. There were no lines in the restrooms and the concession stands seemed to move people fairly quickly, even though that is an area that needs improvement.
What about parking?
“There was some delays in getting people in, but assuming this was the first show for us, as well as for the people coming to the venue, it was as expected. The cold weather added to the frustration of everyone. We will do a better job based on the information we gathered from last night,” he said.
Becker stressed the most important thing ticket holders can do is to purchase parking online prior to the day of a show.
“It is a very easy process through ticketmaster.com,” Becker said.
Inside the Centre, a courteous staff welcomed guests everywhere. People could walk to their seats, or take an elevator (with an elevator host).
“We had a job fair three weeks ago to ensure we would hire people from across the Fort Bend area, and you can only train so much on paper,” Becker said.
He said the “soft opening” event was a great way to give staff hands-on training.
“Our goal is to create the best experience for the patron it can possibly be,” he said.
The Centre seats up to 6,400. But that’s only half the story. The 200,000-square-foot indoor venue has movable walls that can be rearranged to create four different seating arrangements from a cozy setting of 3,000 to a maximum of 6,400. Think the artist performing in an intimate setting with comfortable seats and a sound system where you hear every nuance of the performance. The walls of the venue illuminate with neon over the course of the show. There’s comfortable chairs, the latest in sound, light and video technology. The $84 million project is the area’s first state-of-the-art, indoor performance venue. Add in 14 luxury suites, corporate hospitality area, and space for 14 trucks and busses, and 2,500 guest parking spaces.
There’s also food, which guests can enjoy while they’re entertained. Bars were created underneath some of the upper level seats, so there’s no need to head to the concession stand, if you don’t want too. But face it. You’ll want to.
The 20-minute intermission Sunday night gave the audience time to check out the concession stand.
Dave Smalley, founder and CEO of Spectrum Catering and Concessions, knows all about food.
So, what’s on the menu?
“Lobster rolls (made with real Maine lobster) to popcorn, from our Angry beer can chicken nachos to the slider trio of pulled pork, chicken and brisket, and our pesto pepperoni pizzas, it was a great food night for one and all,” he said. “All items are chef prepared on site hitting the highest quality standard. Beverages also ran the gamut, from delicious margaritas to our wine selection, seemingly there was something for everyone.”
Smalley said of his association with the Becker family, “Easily the most satisfying and humbling aspect of this project is to be selected by ACE and the Becker family. I count Allen Becker (the founder of Pace concerts, predecessor to ACE) as my most valued mentor in business. I count Gary Becker, the driver of the Smart Financial Center, as a visionary in the mold of his father, a great business professional in his own right, as a dear friend for some 30 years. Their family brought entertainment to The Astrodome, and to what was then known as the Summit, and life to The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion just in the Houston area, and now to the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land. The Becker family has put much more than their fingerprint on live entertainment, they have embodied it. I am so very proud to be a part of that team.”
Becker for one, is pleased with his team, and every aspect of the new venue.
“Our shows are doing extremely well, and selling out quickly. We have booked approximately 47 performances so far. Our goal is to provide shows across the spectrum of entertainment, culturally diverse events and community family events,” he said.
Youngsters take note. You can bring grandma to one of the shows when she visits this summer.
The Smart Financial Centre officially opens Jan. 14 with back-to-back shows from Jerry Seinfeld, followed by a performance Jan. 15 with Don Henley. Jan. 25 will bring in Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, and Reba McEntire on Jan. 27.
For ticket information and more, visit www.smartfinancialcentre.net.