New arena, stadium planned for Travis County Expo Center

East Austin District renderings to replace the Travis County Expo Center. (Courtesy/Austin Sports and Entertainment)
East Austin District renderings to replace the Travis County Expo Center. (Courtesy/Austin Sports and Entertainment)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Travis County Expo Center may be getting a major face-lift thanks to a new proposal from a local group called Austin Sports & Entertainment, co-founded by former University of Texas swim star Sean Foley and sports entrepreneur Andrew Nestor. The project is called East Austin District.

The group is partnering with Rodeo Austin and plans to work with both the city and county to replace the Travis County Expo Center with a 15,000-seat arena next to a 40,000-seat open-air multi-purpose stadium.

“This project was part of knowing some of the neglect from an infrastructure and development standpoint that has been happening for many years and realizing that this city is ready for world class sports and entertainment,” Foley said.

Austin Sports & Entertainment hired a Danish architect, responsible for designing the Google headquarters in California and 2 World Trade Center in New York, to work on the project in Texas.

“He has designed some of the most interesting and forward thinking and reasonable and economical buildings on the planet today. So we knew when Bjarke understood where we were coming from with a rodeo meets world class entertainment facilities, when he got excited about it, we doubled down with our excitement,” Foley said.

It’s not just for entertainment. In fact, Foley says the overall plan calls for year-round fun, events and jobs. The revamp will include office and retail space, medical facilities and eight courtyards. Foley says the project could employ more than 5,000 people with temporary construction workers and permanent positions.

“So this is for people to not only go and leave for an event but to have it be a part of the community day in and day out,” Foley said.

Jeffrey Travillion, the Travis County commissioner for Precinct 1, says the Expo Center has been neglected for far too long and the aging 40+ year old structure needs an update.

“As Austin grows and gets more expensive, more people are getting pushed out into the area where the Expo Center is,” Travillion said. “You talk about Pflugerville, Manor, Elgin, Del Valle, it’s right in the center.”

Travillion says this isn’t the first upgrade plan pitched for the Expo Center. “But the most exciting one is the last one because it has specific items, it grows the rodeo and the opportunity to play pro soccer there,” Travillion said.

The hope is the new center will pull congestion out of the center of the city. “If we are able to move some of the concerts from the drum, move some activities from the Long Center, we can meet a very important need,” Travillion continued.

Nearly three years ago, the city, county and Rodeo Austin paid for a study to determine if a new multi-purpose arena could be supported by Austin and Travis County, and if so, where that facility should be located.

“The results of that study were clear, a new facility was appropriate and should be located at the current site of the Travis County Expo Center,” said Rodeo Austin CEO, Rob Golding. “To date, Austin Sports & Entertainment is the only group pursuing a new arena and soccer stadium at the Expo Center. We have been cooperating with Austin Sports & Entertainment and are eager to see a new facility at the Expo Center grounds.

Foley says the new arena and stadium are not purposely being built to host professional soccer, but he says he has talked with the Columbus Crew SC — the professional soccer team looking to potentially move to Austin. But no deals have been discussed.

Foley says they have several interested investors who may support the project. He hopes to begin construction next year and open the arena and stadium in early 2021.

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