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A Decade in the Making: Mountain America Center Breaks Ground

By Brennen Kauffman, Post Register

Terri Gazdik only had one word on her mind: finally.

Almost exactly a decade after Idaho Falls voters chose to create an auditorium district to establish an event center for the city, ground was officially broken Tuesday afternoon on the Mountain America Center.

Gazdik, the chairwoman of the Idaho Falls Auditorium District Board of Trustees, joined city and state officials, as well as members of the business community, at the groundbreaking. Gov. Brad Little, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and a collection of other stakeholders in the event center spoke at the corner of Event Center Drive and Pioneer Road before grabbing golden shovels for the ceremonial first dig.

“There is a lot more work ahead of us,” Gazdik said. “But eastern Idaho has never had a facility like the one we’re starting to build today.”

The building permit filed for the project in late April values the remaining construction at $51 million. The project has collected $17.16 million through a hotel room occupancy tax over the last decade, along with several million more from corporate sponsorships.

Auditorium District Executive Director Rob Spear said in an interview Tuesday morning that the Mountain America Center should open in October 2022. Idaho Falls’ 48,000-square-foot event center is the product of the third auditorium district in Idaho history, following the ones created in Boise and Pocatello.

“This is going to be the most comprehensive of those centers,” Spear said. “Not only is this going to have the event center, but it’s going to have conference space attached to it.”

Spokeswomen for U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch read excerpts of congratulatory letters from the senators.

The new facility will be home to a minor league team in the North American 3 Hockey League as one of its major tenants. Spear said the 4,000-seat arena will be able to host anything from local sports tournaments to concerts and trade shows.

Teresa McKnight, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, said a successful event center would be able to meet both local needs and bring in new business opportunities and events for the whole region.

“When you come into a new area, you have expectations for what you want from a social scene, what’s available for the arts and for events. People that move to Idaho Falls want to see the same, or better, quality of life they had before,” McKnight said.