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Benton facility to open on Oct. 1 as scheduledOriginally Published September 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 4, 2013 at 1:50 p.m.
A vote in November 2011 approved the funding for the Benton Event Center but was followed by months of negotiations that delayed the groundbreaking until July 3, 2012. Months of further delays followed before construction began. Still, the center will open as scheduled on Oct. 1, and the first rental event will be held Oct. 5 and 6.
“We will have three events in the first week with the Saline County Gun & Knife Show, followed by a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County, and the annual Savor the Flavor of Benton will be here Oct. 10,” said Nikki Chumley, director of the event center. “We also have several weddings, and we expect to confirm more reservations in the next two weeks.”
The event center is in the Hickory Square shopping center on the Interstate 30 West frontage road, near the Tinseltown Movie Theater in Benton.
Chumley promotes the event center and books events at the center, which is operated by the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce under an agreement with the Benton Advertising and Promotion Commission.
“We have some events on the schedule as far out as next May and June,” she said. “We are also talking to some local schools about holding proms and graduations.”
The event center’s newest staff member — there will be only two — is Facilities Manager Steve Jordan, a Benton native and resident who has managed the facilities at Holland Chapel Baptist Church for the past 10 years.
“We have visited five or six schools in the last few days talking about graduations and proms to schools,” Jordan said. “Bauxite High School is interested, and we are talking to schools as far away as Malvern.”
The grand hall of the event center is not big enough for Benton High School’s graduation. As many as 10,000 people come to those ceremonies, which are held in Verizon Area in North Little Rock. Mayor David Mattingly said holding such an event is not the purpose of the event center.
“The event center is about networking and promoting the businesses of Benton, and attracting conventions that will also promote our city,” the mayor said during the second Benton Forum on Aug. 1, when he called for Benton residents to support efforts to build a community center for the city.
“We want a community center large enough to hold high school graduations for Benton for at least 10 years,” Mattingly said.
Chumley said conventions and business meetings are expected to be 80 percent of the rental business at the event center, especially after the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott builds a hotel adjacent to the event center. Groundbreaking for the hotel will be Sept. 12, Chumbley said.
The grand hall can be subdivided into five meeting rooms, Jordan said.
“Meeting Rooms 1 and 2 will each have 5,600 square feet,” he said. “Room 4 will have 1,020 square feet.”
Chumley said Room 3 will offer 500 square feet of space, and Room 5 will have 930 square feet. The meeting rooms, which are created by sliding walls, can be opened or closed to create several configurations. The entire great hall, with 14,100 square feet, can be rented for $1,200 for eight hours, Jordan said.
The entire main hall can seat 700 people for a banquet, such as the fall fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club, and can hold up to 1,100 with theater seating. The hall, with a 20-foot ceiling, features 20-foot-long video screens and a video projection system. Each meeting room will have a space for registration, and a catering kitchen is located off the main hall.
“It will be a catering and prep kitchen, where people can warm up food and prep for serving,” Jordan said. “It has a convection oven for warming, but doesn’t have deep fryers or other cooking equipment like that.”
The center’s outside design includes wood, stone, glass and yellow painted concrete walls, with the tower that has been a familiar feature on new buildings in Benton. Inside, there are warm woods on the interior walls, with a light-colored trim, and a lot of glass on the outer walls provide abundant light.
A committee has been working on selling corporate naming rights for the event center, but Chumley said no action has been taken by the Advertising and Promotion Commission on the matter.
For more information on the Benton Event Center or to inquire about renting a meeting room, call the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce at (501) 860-7004.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.