By CLINT FOSTER
When Ram Stadium was completed in 2008, the people of Mineral Wells could only imagine the over-arching positive impact the venue could have on the city’s economy.
Five years later, the 7,000-seat stadium on the campus of Mineral Wells High School not only provides a state-of-the-art home for the football and soccer teams, but also hosts multiple events and playoff football games, bringing more out-of-town business to the city than ever before.
Friday’s state quarterfinal six man football matchup between the local Strawn Greyhounds and the Newcastle Bobcats represented the third-consecutive week Ram Stadium hosted a playoff game in the month of November, with the undefeated Graham Steers playing the first two games of their Class 3A Division II playoff march in the previous weeks to a full house.
Mineral Wells head coach Chuck Lawrence said Ram Stadium’s high-dollar facilities are a great draw for any football team.
“It’s not only a great venue for our kids and our fans,” he said. “I’ll just use Graham as an example, I talked to coach [Kenny] Davidson last week and he told us what a great job we did hosting the games. (Rams assistant coach) Sean Harvey does a great job with the stadium as far as the management of it.
“We’ve got plenty of dressing rooms; we can give each team three dressing rooms. One of the best things about our stadium is there is approximately the same amount of seating on both sides. So when we host a Graham/Glen Rose that’s going to give us a fairly large gate, the people on the visiting side don’t have to suffer. You look at a stadium like Weatherford’s and the visiting side just is not very good. The home side is fantastic, but the visiting side is not up to par.
“We went to Brewer a couple years ago after we won the district championship. The one thing I took away from that game was that the visitors’ dressing facility was subpar. When you come to our place, you don’t get subpar dressing facilities. The visitor is treated to a great experience just like the home team is.”
More visiting football teams and their fans coming to town means more opportunities for local businesses. Chicken Express has not only catered food for the press box in every playoff game at Ram Stadium this season, but franchise co-owner Nancy Stuart said the out-of-town guests provide a significant boost to their business and regional notoriety.
“It’s been unbelievable,” she said. “To have that new stadium and do playoff games and bring so many people in has been mind boggling.
They bring tax dollars to the town and we’ve never had that opportunity before. Everybody’s taken advantage of this. It’s such a boost to our economy.”
Stuart said because incoming teams and fans are already familiar with Chicken Express from their hometowns, the Mineral Wells store is able to reach out to them right away and cater food for the football team, coaches and even the band. She said this not only makes them money in the short-term, but keeps Chicken E. on their minds when they return home.
“Having the notoriety of these towns coming in and eating and then going back to their local town and talking about Chicken Express... It’s just a win-win situation for us,” she said. “It’s a huge business opportunity. I count my blessings every day on that one. We’re proud as ever that the school board had the foresight to do this and know what kind of an impact it was going to have on the city.”
Local Mesquite Pit owner, Jake Maynard, echoed Stuart’s sentiment on the importance of playoff football to his business.
“Those Fridays during the playoffs really are a difference-maker for us,” he said.
Maynard’s restaurant also donates catered food to the Ram Stadium press box throughout the regular season. Although they do not make any money off of this food, per se, it works as free advertising and is something Maynard said he simply loves to do for the people who work the games.
“It’s really hard to measure how much business you get out of that, but it’s something we like to do,” he said.
But the food industry is not the only beneficiary of football games at the stadium. Emily Garvin, who manages the Mr. C’s attached to the Chevron gas station at the corner of West Hubbard Street and Farm-to-Market Road 1821 told the Index they get some of their biggest business from folks coming into town for football games.
And football is only the beginning. Ram Stadium also provides a large venue to host multiple community events, such as the lauded annual Veterans Day Program. Maynard said those events can be just as important and lucrative to his business as game days.
“The programs they have there, like the Veterans Day Program they do every year, that’s a huge business lunch for us when that lets out,” he said. “Overall, just having it as a venue for Mineral Wells football games, playoff games after the regular season’s over and events such as the Veterans Day Program all combine for a pretty good boon for the local restaurant business.”
Mineral Wells ISD School Board President and President of Mineral Wells First Financial Bank, Joe Ruelas, said the economic ripple effect has been just one of many positives to come out of the new stadium. In fact, he said it might not have been one of the primary reasons the school board decided to pull the trigger on the move at the time.
“I guess one of the main reasons was the age and location of Miller Stadium in relation to the rest of the school property,” he said. “Not only that, the most important thing was during that time everyone was trying to build stadiums and utilize the new artificial turf. That has been a tremendous saving in water and irrigation. It also provided opportunities to increase income from the use of the stadium, not only from tickets sales at the gate for home games, but also taking advantage of playoff games.”
Because Ruelas was not on the school board at the time, he could not speculate on any economic projections or if money generated by the stadium has exceeded expectations. However, he said based on feedback he’s received from local business owners, the impact has been tremendous.
“I can tell you from my point of view now, based on individual business owners and owners of local restaurants, that they are like, ‘Who’s playing? Who’s coming to town this week,’” he said. “Sales, when we have games like that, are up. The same goes for when we do tournaments in other sports, whether it’s junior high basketball, track or even baseball or softball tournaments. People coming to town from various other communities take advantage of the restaurants and the shopping we have to offer here.”
Although many locals, including Ruelas, look back fondly at the Rams’ former field at historic Miller Stadium, Ruelas said “it was time” to build a new home for Rams football. And if nostalgia is the only downside to one of the tallest structures in Mineral Wells that generates more income than the city has seen in years, it would appear the school board absolutely made the right decision.