Henrico names first leader of new ‘Sports and Entertainment Authority’
HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico County has found its new “quarterback” to help drive sports tourism.
The county established the program in April of 2021.
“Dennis Bickmeier is the absolute best person to lead the new Henrico County Sports and Entertainment Authority,” said County Manager John Vithoulkas. “He knows Henrico and understands how sporting events, concerts and other entertainment can not only attract visitors and fuel our local economy but also raise the quality of life for our residents and communities.”
Bickmeier will oversee the new program focused on increasing sports tourism and managing the county’s private-public facilities, like the 180,000 square-foot indoor sports and convocation center under construction at Virginia Center Commons.
According to Bickmeier, he’s already looking for ways to use it and current facilities.
“To knock on doors that maybe we haven’t knocked on before or that we haven’t knocked on in a long time,” he said. “We are going to go out and knock on some doors to bring events here to our facilities.”
Sports tourism is a driving factor in Henrico’s economy.
In 2021, despite limited indoor events due to the pandemic, the county hosted 160 tournaments, generating nearly $60 million.
“Sports tourism is a win-win for our community,” said Henrico County Board of Supervisors Chair Pat O’Bannon.
“What we’re looking to do with this Sports & Entertainment Authority is really take it to the next level,” Vithoulkas added.
Vithoulkas hopes the program will tap into new opportunities.
“Concerts... the entertainment aspect that we’ve been missing out on as a region,” he said. “People are really yearning to get back out into the real world. I think our timing is absolutely perfect.”
Bickmeier agrees with that vision for the Glen Allen facility, outside of accommodating basketball and volleyball tournaments, in addition to high school graduations.
“It has the opportunity to host concerts as well,” he said. “We can do the outside game in the amphitheater when it’s warm; we can do the inside concerts at that facility.
The facility is expected to open by September 2023.
Meanwhile, Bickmeier has spent decades in the sports industry; previously holding positions with Michigan International Speedway, Auto Club Speedway, Big West Conference along with several major league sports teams, including the Los Angeles Angels (MLB), the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (NHL) and the Los Angeles Rams (NFL).
Using the connections he’s built over the years, Bickmeier believes there is a chance to bring national attention to Henrico County, even through March Madness.
“When you think about the prospect of a huge arena with a potential to come here with GreenCity, that’s a door we’re going to knock on,” he said. “But it takes a lot of partnership. It takes the local universities as well to have a seat at that table.”
The GreenCity development is a $2.3 billion private, mixed-use “eco-district” development that would promote economic growth and environmental sustainability and include a 17,000-seat arena for major concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment.
The development, located northeast of East Parham Road/I-95, would integrate extensive parks, trails, and open spaces among about 2-million-square-feet of office space, 280,000 square feet of retail space, 2,400 housing units, two hotels and a $250 million arena.
Bickmeier added his phone is already ringing off the hook from his connections, hoping to get involved.
Meanwhile, tourism to Henrico helps lower residential taxes, according to Vithoulkas.
“We have visitors who come in on weekends for sports tournaments, events; they stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants,” he said. “That is revenue to the county that offsets taxes that folks would pay in real estate or personal property. It’s a huge benefit.”
As for who will lead the Richmond Raceway, Bickmeier said the group would go through a period of transition from the leadership on the NASCAR side on what the future plans will be.
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