Bell County Expo Center

People fill the stands of the Bell County Expo Center for a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention in July 2010. As events get larger each year, they are challenging the seating limits of the Expo and it may be time for the aging center to expand in order to stay competitive with other venues in nearby cities, officials said.

March, April and May would have been a busy time for the Bell County Expo Center. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and with it came the cancellation of dozens of events.

“Those months were pretty loaded with conventions. There’s no doubt it’s had a significant impact on our revenues,” Expo Executive Director Tim Stephens said, adding those events would have spurred a substantial economic impact to cities and local businesses. “Being shut down for two months, we’ve certainly felt it just like everyone else.”

The situation is now looking up for the Expo.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has eased some of his restrictions to allow for rodeo and equestrian events to be held. But the Republican placed strict guidelines for those events.

“We’re moving forward with doing some of the events the governor approved that could happen, particularly on the equine and livestock side of things,” Stephens said. “We’re actually starting to plan some of those. We have a pretty busy June planned for those types of events. I’ve got two state cattle shows and one national cattle show and a number of equine events going on. We plan on getting going and operating under the guidelines the governor has put forward.”

Some of the guidelines include limiting the number of people into an event at 25 percent of the building’s occupancy rate, temperature checks and keeping venue patrons six feet apart unless they are from the same household, according to the state’s minimum standard health protocols for rodeo and equestrian events.

As the threat of infection lingers, Stephens said the Expo will be on top of enforcing the state’s guidelines on its events. He said the Expo plans to be at or even under its 25 percent of its occupancy rate.

“And also do all of the other things — the social distancing, the signage encouraging people to wear a mask,” Stephens said. “We’ll be doing some screening on those events and on the participants as they come in and signing off a statement (that says) they haven’t had any of the symptoms of the virus and signing off on that. We’ll be doing that type of screening.”

Hand sanitizer will be located throughout Expo buildings, and staff plan to step up on their cleaning efforts.

“We always try to keep a clean building, but we’ll probably increase that even more in terms of door handles, restrooms and things like that,” the Expo director said. “We’re going to be keenly aware of making sure everything stays clean all the time. We did that anyway before this happened. It’s certainly now a heightened sense of awareness.”

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