The Houston suburb of Sugar Land took a big step toward becoming a destination city as the Smart Financial Centre opened Saturday night with headliner Jerry Seinfeld, who playfully poked fun at the plush new $84 million arena in two-sold-out concerts before a total of more than 12,000 fans.
"Why not capitalize the S in Smart?" Seinfeld asked, noting the signage on the arena is all lower-case. "Doesn't seem that smart. All that money, and you can't spell."
It was a grand — and non-controversial — way to open the gleaming, glass-enclosed arena, as the comedian didn't crack any jokes about politics or utter a single curse word, and he barely mentioned sex, instead using his trademark observational humor to poke fun at life's little absurdities before an adoring crowd.
In a stand-up comedy routine that lasted around 72 minutes, Seinfeld riffed on Hungry Man TV dinners, donut holes, dual air-conditioning thermostats in cars, pretentious coffee shops, uppity waiters, our attachment to our phones, too much texting, the U.S. Postal Service's woes, and 5-hour energy drinks.
"If you need five hours of energy, go to bed," he deadpanned.
One of his funniest bits was an attack on people who rationalize everything with, "It is what it is." It seemed like a routine straight out of the classic Seinfeld series, which ran from 1989-1998, and lives on in reruns.
"People say 'it is what it is' because no one can challenge it. I don't believe it is. I believe it is what it isn't," Seinfeld said. "Any time you repeat the same word twice in one sentence you can really get behind it if you say it with a lot of confidence: 'This is this. A deal's a deal. What's done is done. We'll go in there and as long as we know what's what and who's who, whatever happens happens and it is what it is."
The legendary comedian also revealed his age — he's a remarkably fit 62 (which seemed to mirror the demographic of the older-skewing, largely white opening night audience). "I love being in my 60s. It is my big decade of human life so far," Seinfeld said. "When you are in your 60s if you don't want to do something, you just say no. I got no reason, no explanation. I can't wait for my 70s. I don't even think I will answer."
The Sugar Land way
In a opening night ceremony and cocktail party in the lobby a couple of hours before the concert began, Sugar Land Mayor Joe R. Zimmerman welcomed the VIP crowd and noted the arena was opening on time and under budget, without using any general taxpayer funds. It is funded by municipal sales and hotel-occupancy taxes, a private-equity stake from its operator, Ace SL LLC, a subsidiary of Houston’s Ace Theatrical Group, and naming rights from Smart Financial Credit Union, which paid $6.7 million under a five-year contract.
"It's huge for Sugar Land," Zimmerman told CultureMap. "This is a vision that started in 2007 and completes one part of the puzzle. We have a major sports venue (Constellation Field), and we now have a major arts venue and more to come. It's a great place to live, work, and play."
Zimmerman added that the new arena makes Sugar Land a destination city. "Gary Becker and his team with ACE have done a phenomenal job in developing this venue. We've got world class performers coming into a world-class facility," he said.
Sugar Land city manager Allen Bogard, who called construction of the arena an example of "the Sugar Land way" of getting things done, noted that more than 80,000 tickets have been sold for upcoming events, and "we haven't even had the first one yet."
ACE president Becker, whose father Allen Becker co-founded the legendary PACE Entertainment company in 1966 and was in the audience at the Smart Financial Centre opening, has booked an impressive array of entertainers in the coming months, including Chris Rock, Bill Maher, Steve Martin and Martin Short, Reba McEntire, Sting, Tony Bennett, and Kristen Chenoweth.
"We're ready and under budget, how do you like that?" Gary Becker told CultureMap. "We're really happy."
Opening night went off practically without a hitch, although there were some parking challenges, as Seinfeld appeared in two back-to-back shows, necessitating a quick change of audiences entering and exiting the venue. CultureMap overhead some grumbling about the price of parking ($15 per vehicle) and, though there lots of officials directing traffic, exit lines from the parking lot were long and a bit chaotic, without much directional signage.
But the gleaming interior, large lobby, premium sound quality and good sight lines to the stage, numerous bathrooms, and lavish suites won praise from many who attended the opening night festivities.
And the many celebrities who roamed the premises, including Cher, Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson, caused many in the crowd to do a doubletake. They were actually celebrity impersonators rounded by The Events Company's party guru Richard Flowers. But they looked so much like the real thing that when I posted a photo with Dolly on my Facebook page, many of my friends believed she was there.