After several years of planning and hard work, the Orange County Convention and Expo Center is open and hosting a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony Thursday.

The celebration will begin with tours open to the public from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Expo Center located on FM 1442 near Interstate 10. There will be a ceremony for the ribbon cutting and dedication at 4 p.m. followed by a social mixer in the ballroom. The food for the mixer will be provided by the Garden District and Champs.

The idea for the Expo Center has evolved over time. Initially Community Hands Assemble Multi-Purpose Structure, also known as CHAMPS owned part of the property along with other parts owned by the county.

“Over time we purchased the land adjacent to the Orange County land and where the Expo Center is built with an understanding it would be part of the structure,” said Gus Harris, of CHAMPS.

Later CHAMPS deeded the land to the county. They are still in the process of completing the project. CHAMPS is continuing to raise funds to build softball fields and an outdoor type arena.

The multi- million dollar building originally was set to hold the Emergency Operations Center and Emergency Management, but expanded to function as a multi-purpose building housing other county departments as well as a ballroom and conference rooms for rent.

Since the flooding of Hurricane Ike damaged county buildings, also at the Expo Center is the Road and Bridge Department, Health and Environmental Safety and the Texas Argiculture Life Extension office.

The Event Coordinator, Sabrina Gray, was recently hired for the new department for the county with the funds for her salary coming from the Hotel/Motel tax funds.

The  funding for the building came from insurance funds and Disaster Recovery Funding. Homeland Security grant funding for 2008 through 2011 allowed for the purchase of some of the technology available in the building such as computers, wiring and more. The Emergency Operations Center received funding through the 2009 Port Security Grant cycle which paid for the rest of the technology and classrooms now available for first responders.

But even with grants comes the responsibility to match the funding which was paid with private donations.

Gray is busy at work filling her calendar by booking events. However, with a possible gun show promoter seeking another place to host a show, Gray plans to meet with a committee and adjust the rental fees.

But, so far this has not stopped others from making a reservation.

Tickets are on sale for the El Mina Shriners Mardi Gras celebration. The fundraiser will have musical guest Sha Na Na, according to Gray.

Gray has also been busy with brides hoping to use the ballroom for their wedding receptions.

“They get me when they rent the building,” Gray said.

Gray has been working on getting the Expo Center web page up and going. She has future plans for a virtual tour of the building and a gallery of pics from previous events at the center on the website.

For more information on the events or rental prices the website address is

Event Coordinator, Sabrina Gray, is seen within the foyer of the Orange County Convention and Expo Center. RECORD PHOTO: Mark Dunn