Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Henrico aims to increase tax revenue through sports tourism

A person wearing a maroon shirt and blue hard hat stand on a balcony in a large room
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Dennis Bickmeier, executive director of the Henrico Sports and Entertainment Authority.

The 185,000-square-foot Sports & Events Center is expected to open this fall.

Henrico’s $50 million sports and events space is expected to open this fall in the Fairfield District, near Virginia Center Commons. The 185,000-square-foot Sports & Events Center has been under construction since January 2020 and garnered large amounts of interest from organizers since its conception.

In fact, Dennis Bickmeier, director of Henrico’s Sports and Entertainment Authority, has already secured at least 40 weekend events through 2024 — including the Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball tournament in 2024 and 2025.

“We've got a ton of basketball and volleyball booked,” Bickmeier said. “We even got indoor soccer. Who knew indoor soccer played on hardwood? I thought that was pretty cool.”

Henrico Board of Supervisors formally established the SEA in September 2022 to boost sports tourism and manage the county’s growing number of recreational facilities. Dennis Bickmeier was soon named the authority’s executive director.

With prior experience as president of Richmond Raceway since 2011 and positions within the Michigan International Speedway, Auto Club Speedway, Big West Conference and several major league sports teams, Bickmeier says Henrico is slowly establishing itself as a successful corridor for sports programming and events.

“I think this sports center is really going to be a success story. We haven't had a facility like this in the region ever,” Bickmeier said. “It's 115,000 square feet of playable hardwood space, 12 basketball courts that can convert to 24 volleyball courts and it’s revitalizing Virginia Center Commons.”

One part of that revitalization comes from the sheer amount of revenue Henrico generates from its sports, entertainment and tourism activities. In 2021, Henrico hosted 160 tournaments that generated nearly $60 million in economic growth, exceeding the county’s record high of $66.2 million in 2019.

Richmond Region Tourism Organization, a nonprofit that studies the region’s hospitality industry, estimates that over 16.9 million visitors spent $2.9 billion during that same period.

“That kind of economic impact helps keep the tax base low for our residents,” Bickmeier said. “The region has done a great job when it comes to sports tourism. We've been blessed with some great outdoor facilities here in Henrico. And now we're transitioning to a new indoor facility.”

Henrico’s outdoor fields are just as important to its indoor events spaces, said Bickmeier. Over the last five years, the county has invested over $100 million in park enhancements.

In 2016, the Board of Supervisors allocated $87.1 million of bonds for park projects like the now-completed high school field turf installations and the Dorey Park baseball stadium. Another $37 million will go to a new park in the Three Chopt area, and improvements to Deep Bottom Park in Varina and Tuckahoe Creek Park as part of the county’s 2022 bond referendum.

John Zannino, director of Henrico’s Parks and Recreation Department, said part of what makes Henrico an attractive destination for sports is its diverse number of fields and arenas.

“Our facilities are vital to Henrico’s ability to attract and maintain our portfolio of tournaments,” said Zannino. “The relationship between Recreation and Parks and the SEA is our secret sauce and what makes Henrico so successful. We work hand and hand to support the tournaments and activities the SEA attracts.”

Alongside its parks, the county has also approved building a 17,000-seat arena development to attract additional mixed-use developments, hotels and recreational facilities.

In terms of growth, Bickmeier said the county is rising as a leader competitor in the region. As places like Richmond look to invest in its own arena-anchored district, Bickmeier said it’s important Henrico take a regional view on how to sustain its growth and possibilities.

“I think that our biggest challenge right now is just competition,” Bickmeier said. “Who knows how many of these indoor facilities are going to pop up? So we have to be smart about our growth.”

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
Related Stories