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Family Arena looks toward brighter days post COVID-19

Settled securely in the Missouri River bottomlands at 2002 Arena Parkway, The Family Arena, a multi-purpose event space owned by St. Charles County, waits unobtrusively for new life post the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Family Arena
The Family Arena (File photo)

The Family Arena, owned and operated by the St. Charles County Public Arena Authority, was funded by bonds and cost $27 million to build in 1999. It can seat as many as 10,467 for sporting events, and up to 11, 522 for the concerts, circuses and ice shows that brought it success in the past.  In addition to those entertainments, the event space is also used for trade shows, with a total of 39,900 square feet of exhibit space. Currently, the arena is home to the St. Louis Ambush of the Major Arena Soccer League.

During the conceptual and construction phases of the arena, the general idea was that a private contractor would run the facility. But, in 2001, the county took over its direct operation after a private contractor proved only marginally successful. 

In 2008, when Chaifetz Arena opened on the campus of Saint Louis University, the Family Arena lost some of its draw. Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus moved to Chaifetz. At about the same time, Disney on Ice decamped to Enterprise Center in downtown St. Louis, which provided a more central location. 

The facility has done well with college basketball tournaments, pro wrestling and college hockey. It also has hosted numerous college commencement ceremonies for Lindenwood University, Missouri Baptist University and Maryville University among others. And it regularly rents space out for high school graduation observances, even in 2020.

The facility’s revenue is generated by a combination of events it hosts and those that are the products of others who lease the arena’s space, including its ample parking lot. Last year’s Lots of Lights holiday display is a good example of the latter, which proved safe even in a pandemic.

Even without the added challenges of a pandemic, the facility has struggled to draw permanent tenants among sports teams along with concerts and other forms of crowd-drawing entertainment. In 2018, the county considered selling the facility altogether, but the deal was never finalized. Now, St. Charles County, like the nation, is struggling with the fallout from COVID-19, and facilities like the Family Arena are facing uncertain futures.  

Bob Schnur, St. Charles County’s director of finance, noted in a mid-March interview that the county does not have a specific plan in mind for the future of the Family Arena other than to rebuild its client base, once COVID-19 subsides. However, he said that the redevelopment of the I-70 South corridor has long been a goal of both St. Charles County and City. To that end, he noted that the Riverpointe development plan will integrate the Family Arena into a more comprehensive design, along with the Streets of St. Charles initiative.

Currently, the arena is serving as a center for COVID-19 vaccinations. On Thursday, March 18, the county’s Department of Public Health partnered with the Missouri National Guard to host a mass vaccination drive-through event in the Family Arena parking lot that administered 4,000 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to eligible individuals in phases 1A and 1B (Tiers 1 and 2).

Three additional vaccination events are scheduled for March 25, 26 and 27. Register at sccmo.org/COVIDvaccine.

“COVID undoubtedly took a big bite out of us, definitely,” Schnur said.  He stated that the pandemic led to a 74% decline in revenues, but that the “repurposing” of certain county staff for pandemic response responsibilities kept employment high, and the arena did not become a drain on county finances. Sound fiscal management, he said, “helped to keep the losses manageable.”  

Though no one knows what the world will look like after the pandemic finally unclenches its fist, Schnur said he sees an optimistic future ahead for the Family Arena. St. Charles has, in the past, shown that it knows a thing or two about sound fiscal management – talent and experience that may come in handy as the county moves forward. 

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