EpiCenter groundbreaking

A crowd gathers at the EpiCenter groundbreaking in November.

It had rained earlier that morning and the sky was still overcast as a who’s who gathering of Fort Bend County elected leaders and developers assembled last week before a vast field that once was a cotton field.

The field itself wasn’t much to look at, but a series of conceptual drawings perched atop a small hill said almost everything – the crowd was there to celebrate breaking ground on the county’s massive, $120 million undertaking, called EpiCenter.

“This is a special day and a special facility,” County Commissioner Grady Prestage said.

Almost every elected leader who spoke would use some phrase akin to that one.

Crews began work last week on the 195,000-square feet multipurpose arena that county leaders envision as a destination and multi-use venue for years to come.

“Kids will finally be able to graduate in Fort Bend County, instead of having to drive to Houston,” said Kevin Matocha, the founder and CEO of Stonehenge Holdings, the developer behind the project.

Currently, those in Fort Bend ISD use the Toyota Center to hold graduation for seniors each year.

Matocha last week also described plans to hold fair and rodeo events at the venue as well as the possibilities of courting sports tourism to Fort Bend County.

“We are so excited,” he said.

The facility will sit on a 51.75-acre site near the southwest corner of State Highway 59 and State Highway 36 in Rosenberg, near the site of the county fairgrounds.

County officials have been mulling such a project since as early as 2015, when commissioners were considering proposals for a facilities bond election. The court authorized a feasibility study that ended in 2018.

Prestage, County Judge KP George and others who spoke at the groundbreaking last week emphasized that the project will be a testament to Fort Bend County’s growing influence in the region.

“Anytime I drive past the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, I think to myself, 'Why is there nothing like this in Fort Bend County?' ” George asked. “This is so exciting, it’s history in the making.”

Between 2015 and 2020, the county’s population has increased from about 715,260 up to 839,706 residents, according to one analysis by HireAHelper.

Project planners named the venue EpiCenter because it is considered at the heart of the county, Prestage explained. While it’s currently only the geographic center, and not the population one, the hope is that one day it will also be the population center of the county, based on its growth, Prestage said.

Commissioner Vincent Morales echoed many of his colleagues’ comments, saying the project would help move the county forward.

Under the agreement for the venue, the county will lease the property to a developer that will construct EpiCenter and lease the building back to the county. The county will retain ownership of the land and will own the building when its debt is paid.

Developers estimate construction on the project could last as long as 20 months.

The project has not been met with universal praise. Some living near the land argue it will lead to worse traffic and parking issues in the nearby neighborhood.

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