History of the Conference Center
The Decatur Civic Center is the culmination of a long-time dream of Decatur Business and Civic leaders who put their shoulder to the wheel to make the dream come true.
The idea began to take shape when Don Robinson, president of the First National Bank of Decatur, discussed the idea of a community-wide auction to raise funds for the project. Robinson, who had come to Decatur from Terrell, had experience with a similar auction there.
The Decatur Chamber of Commerce stepped up to the plate to plan an auction in conjunction with their annual banquet.
Several years after the auction began, work began in earnest on the project. In 1993, using a portion of the auction proceeds, the Chamber funded a $10,000 feasibility study through the Center of Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas.
After receiving a positive report, many local citizens spent months touring civic centers in other parts of the state, They carefully studied the design and financial business plan of center in Grapevine, Gainesville, Mineola, Tyler, Athens and several other cities.
As momentum developed, the Decatur Economic Development Corporation became involved and Decatur voters approved adding the Civic Center to the list of projects that the city’s EDC half-cent sales tax could finance.
After extensive interviews, the EDC selected architects Phelps and Wood of Frisco to design the center. They had done extensive work on such facilities in Frisco and McKinney.
The EDC appointed a Civic Center Study Committee headed by Robinson and representatives of the Chamber on what the facility should provide. The architects began their work in 1998.
The UNT study had recommended a facility of 12,000-15,000 square feet with a portable stage. However, the committee opted for a full performance stage increasing the size of the facility to more than 21,000 square feet.
As plans began to come together, funds for the project continued to come in from the Chamber of Commerce fall auctions and Decatur City Manager Brett Shannon began reserving city funds for the project.
The EDC set a final construction budget and the city sold more than $4 million in bonds. Under a formal agreement, the EDC makes annual debt payments and the city pays for the centers day-to-day operations.
Since it opened the Center has paid between 55%-65% of its operating costs with the remainder of the funding coming from the city’s hotel-motel tax.
As the project progressed, the idea caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal. “Tiny Decatur thinks big with Civic Center plans,” read the headline.
EDC board members who worked on the project included Mayor Pro Tem Charles Burton, chairman, Roy J. Eaton vice-chairman, Mayor Bobby Wilson, City Councilman John Coker, Legend Bank manager Tim Rieger and Chamber manager Susan Williams.
More than a dozen persons worked on various projects set up by Robinson and the Civic Center Steering Committee. As construction began, Robinson and the steering committee turned the project over to the EDC and City Council to complete.
On June 24, 2001, ribbons were snipped by Mayor Bobby Wilson, Mayor Pro-Tem Charles Burton, Chamber of Commerce President Mickey McMaster and Texas State Rep. Phil King. The center opened with a VIP cocktail reception followed by a ribbon cutting and open house.