Jasper County should have a new event center capable of accommodating 500 people before the end of this year.

"We working to have our first event sometime in November," said Doug Weddell of the West End Event Center project. Workers are now concentrating on interior work for the 66 by 128-foot structure located south of Illinois Route 33 on Newton’s far west side.

Drive up near the Event Center and you quickly realize its immense size. Inside, you could mark off a basketball court with plenty of space left over for spectators. "But we’re not going to play basketball," Weddell said as he finished a conversation with a contractor last week in the arena area. There is also a separate conference area.

The building will host weddings and receptions, anniversary parties, fundraisers, concerts and other entertain events and conferences, large and small. But Weddell said that list could expand in the future.

The idea for the event center developed about three years ago. Weddell, who has been a DJ and owner of a transportation business, saw how many Jasper County couples were booking venues for their receptions outside this county. Some local sites for public or private events were coming up short on space for larger gatherings.

"What triggered my interest was how I was taking people from churches to different venues in different towns. And there were a lot of Jasper County residents involved," Weddell explained. "I have also worked as a DJ, so I saw how different places did things on events."

Economic development in Newton was another factor. "When the new hotel started here, people were hoping for a new event center," Weddell said.

Weddell and his partner, Lenny Meinhart, got the ball rolling on the right location and getting the contractors lined up. They have already booked several wedding-related events for next year. That is not surprising.

"When people are getting ready for their wedding, nine out of 10 of them are looking for the reception venue and caterer before they set the wedding date," Weddell said. "There is definitely a need for this."

Of course, the winter months can be sparse on wedding receptions and other celebrations, so Weddell thinks there will be more options on bookings.

"We realize we’ll have to have some creativity during the non-wedding months," Weddell said.