The Mountain America Center has received a gift of $500,000 from the Teton Auto Group. Teton Auto Group President Mario Hernandez, standing with his family, officially handed off the ceremonial check at a press conference Tuesday at the Teton Toyota showroom.

“Partnerships of private enterprise and government are absolutely necessary in order to make projects the size of this one a reality. We are so excited to welcome Teton Auto Group to our project partnership,” said Idaho Falls Auditorium District Board Chairwoman Terri Gadzik. “They have stepped up to the plate and have provided tremendous momentum as we continue to move this project forward.”

In honor of the donation, the Mountain America Center’s exterior plaza will be named the Teton Auto Group Plaza. According to Rob Spear, executive director of the Idaho Falls Auditorium District, the plaza will be about “the length of a football field” and the width of “half a football field.”

An artist's rendering depicts the planned Teton Auto Group Plaza at the Mountain America Center in Snake River Landing.

“We are so thankful for the Teton Auto Group and the Hernandez family. They understand how important this project is to the community and how it will aid businesses in recruitment and retention of employees while providing multiple entertainment opportunities,” Spear said.

Hernandez said he has wanted to get involved in the project for some time. He is hoping his contribution encourages others to make similar donations to the event center.

“We live in this community. We work in this community. Our customers, our friends, our families are all dependent on this community. This community deserves a center like the one that is rendered here and will be built here,” Hernandez said.

The half-million-dollar contribution comes on the heels of a PepsiCo and Pepsi distributor Admiral Beverages donation of the same amount in October. These donations have been inching the project closer to its financial goal. In November, Spear reported the project was $2.5 million away from the funds needed to begin vertical construction. With the Teton Auto Group gift, it is now $2 million away.

Just before the pandemic struck, Spear had gotten a final guaranteed price from the general contractors: $57 million. Spear now plans to have the project rebid, hoping to lower the original $57 million price.

“We expect a more robust bidding cycle and more interest in the project,” Spear said. “Even though there was significant interest before, we really think there’s going to be more opportunity to engage more subcontractors in the bidding process. Hopefully, that results in better pricing for us.”

Prior to the pandemic, things were looking good for the project that has been in the works for nearly 10 years. In February, Spear was “cautiously optimistic” on a March groundbreaking and a completion date of October 2021 if everything stayed on track financially.

The Idaho Falls Auditorium District receives its main funding from a 5 percent room occupancy tax on all hotels, motels and other short-term rentals located within city limits. In 2019, the district received $2,407,599 in bed tax revenue. When 2020 began, bed tax revenue was already exceeding the previous year’s numbers. Spear felt confident the district would bring in that last $2.5 million needed to begin construction.

However, loss of hotel revenue due to the novel coronavirus pandemic put a stop to those plans. In total, the Auditorium District has received approximately $1.32 million from the room occupancy tax so far this year, from December 2019 through September 2020.

Spear said there are currently too many unknown factors at this time to be able to make an estimate on when construction will begin again.

The Mountain American Center will be a 48,000-square-foot event center containing a 27,000-square-foot arena space. The arena is projected to hold 5,500 people. Spear said this seating will include 10 party suites that will have the capacity to seat between 13 and 24 people in each one. An additional 11,500 square feet will go toward meeting space.

The auditorium district hopes to host events such as sporting events, rodeos, Disney on Ice, trade shows and conventions.

Recommended for you