First Look: Sugar Land's new Smart Financial Centre
By: Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle
Jerry Seinfeld will take the stage in one month as the first official performer at the new Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land. The following night, Jan. 15, Don Henley will perform. The venue will at that point be off in running during its inaugural year as a $100 million newcomer to the city's live entertainment scene, and a rare mainstream events venue outside the Beltway.
The Smart Financial Centre, 18111 Lexington Blvd., certainly looks to accommodate. Floor-level seating at venues can be brutally uncomfortable, but the SpecSeats on the floor, which number around 360 are quite forgiving.
Or as developer Gary Becker describes it, "It's a room that's designed specifically for the artists as well as the audience."
Which is to say the venue was built for performances and not sports. The layout manages to strike some balance between grand and intimate. A press preview found it configured for maximum attendance, about 6,400 people. But neon-illuminated walls and curtains that can drop on the balcony create a cozier 3,000 seat venue.
The stage at its maximum configuration is enormous: 120 feet wide by 52 feet deep. But it can be altered for different purposes, accommodating an orchestra in a pit, or cordoned off for a more modest-looking backdrop.
Becker and his father Allen Becker run ACE Sugar Land, which oversaw the creation of the venue. The elder Becker began working in event promotion, production and venue management starting in the 196os with PACE Entertainment, which brought non-sporting events to the Astrodome. ACE will oversee bookings at the Smart Financial Centre. And those bookings have already been made into next December, though some remain unannounced as yet.
Still, performers as varied as Chris Rock, Sting, Billy Crystal, Kristin Chenoweth and Tony Bennett are lined up so far, along with dance and theater performances like "Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage," and "Dancing With the Stars Live!"
"I had a friend who didn't know who we'd actually be booking," says Randy Bloom, the venue's general manager. "She said, 'What are you going to have, something like local puppet shows or what?' Then I heard back from her. 'Oh, Sting, that's it!'"
Bloom's goal is to "have any artist, any size and make that artist feel like they're supposed to be here," he said.
The venue is banking on the fact that a growing Fort Bend County will fuel demand for entertainment. The 2015 Census put the population of the county in excess of 700,000.
"The northwest quadrant of the city is traditionally under-served for entertainment," Bloom said. "There are people who want these shows who don't necessarily want to go downtown. But I also think downtown will continue to grow, too."
While the majority of the bookings so far have largely catered to an older demographic, the Smart Financial Centre plans to court younger fans as well.
Bastille, the Lumineers and the Avett Brothers are among the music acts booked next year. The floor immediately in front of the stage can be lowered for a standing crowd that won't obstruct the view of those in seats.
"Our advance sales have been very strong," Becker said. "Several of these shows are already sold out or close to sold out. So I don't want to say we were right, because I'm sure we've done some things wrong. But there appears to be a lot of acceptance for a venue like this in a place like this."
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