Venues Step Up as Harvey Hits Hard

Canceled concerts and events are secondary to life-saving efforts

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: August 30, 2017

Teenage volunteers help load pallets of water out of the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land, Texas, as flood waters engulf Houston.

Venues in the path of Hurricane Harvey are packed with thousands of people and pets in need of shelter due to the devastating and historic rainfall that hit parts of Texas.

As Hurricane Harvey continues to hit other states along the Gulf of Mexico, it’s not yet known how many venues will be damaged and/or turned into shelters.

Flood waters were four inches from pouring into the shiny new Smart Financial Centre, Sugar Land, Texas, that opened this January; but luckily, the water started to recede Tuesday night.

“We had water four inches from the top of the loading dock. If it had gone up, we would have had water in our building,” said Gary Becker, president of the center. “(The city) didn’t want to evacuate people to this building. We were in the evacuation zone.”

Smart_Financial_Centre_—_loading_dock.jpg

Flood waters were inches away from spilling into the Smart Financial Centre, Sugar Land, Texas, Tuesday, and the venue remains at risk of flooding.

As of Wednesday, the venue was still in danger of flooding, Becker said.

“We still have some risks associated with the Brazos River,” he said, noting that if the river floods, there’s a good chance it will spill into the venue. “We still have 24 to 36 hours to figure out if water is going to come in the building or not.”

Other venues across the region are dealing with a number of rescue efforts.

The George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston, is acting as a temporary mega shelter to nearly 9,000 people, and pets, who were flooded out of their homes, seeking a dry place to stay after being left homeless from the storm. The Dallas Convention Center is housing hundreds, and the Fort Worth Convention Center has 650 beds ready for those in need, Dallas Public Information Officer Richard Hill said.

Other venues in the area are also working with officials to provide relief.

“We postponed all of this weekend's events, even if the water was to recede. There’s been a call-out to the community for towels, blankets… everything,” said Juan Rodriquez, general manager of the BBVA Stadium, Houston. The venue was asked by the city to take donations and is not being used as a shelter at this time.

“I’ll tell you, it’s one of the most amazing humanitarian things that I’ve seen. It’s people helping people,” he said. “The things you’re seeing on TV are night and day compared to what this community is going through.”

His venue and the George R. Brown Convention Center were not damaged by the storm, he said. Yet, there’s no telling how long people will need to remain in the convention center.

“At this point, it’s too early to say how long the facility will be used in that capacity,” stated a press release issued from the city of Houston.

Venue managers across Texas have worked for days on end helping in any way they can.

“The George R Brown Convention Center in Houston is taking people in and it seems to have a lot of takers. Those helping the displaced are tasked with comforting these folks and providing a strong shoulder and warm bed. It's an emotionally exhausting chore. They all need our prayers,” said John Hrubetz, general manager/controller of the Freeman Coliseum & Expo Halls in San Antonio.

“Our complex in San Antonio is housing first responders in our Coliseum and one of our expo halls, housing evacuee's dogs in another building and providing space to feed these fine folks. There is a massive Emergency Operations Center on the property. I've met first responders from all over the country. Yesterday a couple of young firefighters from Los Angeles tiresomely came through our doors. These folks are simply amazing,” he said.

The massive rainfall made U.S. history, pounding nearly 52 inches of water into the Houston area, according to the National Centers for Environmental Protection. The hurricane moved into Louisiana Wednesday, providing a little relief to those in the Lone Star state, but now venues in Louisiana are prepping shelter beds and acting as donation collection stations as well.

The storm is expected to hit parts of Tennessee and Kentucky Thursday and Friday.

Rodriguez said that venue managers with mega venue disaster experience should volunteer their time to the cities most affected by the hurricane and flood waters.

“Offer your services up,” he said, highlighting that his disaster training came from helping with Hurricane Katrina years ago. “I was a part of the Katrina mega shelter.”

Venues outside of Texas also are pitching in, collecting donations and offering help where needed.

SMG-managed Greater Columbus(Ohio)Convention Center (GCCC) is working with its partner, Fern — which is the venue’s general services contractor — gathering supplies and donations to send down south.

“We are honored to assist our partners at Fern by gathering humanitarian relief supplies to assist the residents of Houston devastated by the impact of Hurricane Harvey,” GCCC General Manager John R. Page said.

All Midwest and Southeast locations of Fern are collecting supplies, with the goal to send trucks to Houston by the end of the week if trucks are able to be safely dispatched to the area.

“Often, we’re focused on local, but when it’s something of this magnitude we become focused on helping across state lines,” said Jennifer Davis, senior marketing and communications manager at GCCC.

As venues cancel and reschedule sporting events and shows, teams and artists are being gracious about changing dates for games and concerts.

Mary J. Blige was scheduled to perform at the Smart Financial Centre on Aug.25, but the venue wisely had to reschedule her show, Becker said. She’s now rescheduled to play on Sept. 19. 

“Most of these acts are on a tour,” he said. He and his team worked with Blige’s managers and seamlessly rescheduled the performance. “The team of Mary J. Blige was just awesome. It really shows how much she cares for her fans.”

Becker said it was only the second time he’s had to cancel a show in his career, with the first being Simon & Garfunkel in the 80s at a different venue.

Rescheduling concert dates at the 6,400-seat, theater-style venue will be tricky in coming days and weeks he said, as the most important thing is to be respectful to first responders and the city as they try to rebuild the community.

21078730_10155437802501839_4500900056553163486_n.jpgOtis, the dog, carrying his next meal after floods ravished his small hometown, Stinton, Texas.

However, Becker can’t help wondering when he’ll reopen the Centre.

“Music, entertainment and laughter are the most important ways to take (people) away from the daily grind and into where the artists want to take them,” Becker said, hoping hurricane victims soon can enjoy live entertainment again.

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: August 30, 2017