Nearly 18 months after rodeo relocation coordinator Barry Cardinael launched "Payson's Promise" to move the rodeo grounds to its new 36-acre site south of town, the project still hasn't been completed, Cardinael is looking for another job, and the town has invested $154,000 in the project.
Was it worth the time and money spent developing the forested property into a modified dirt lot?
"I think he's worked terribly hard out there," Councilmember Hoby Herron said. "The saddest part of this whole thing was that he led people to believe he could bring in a lot more money than he did."
Motorists driving through Rumsey Park last week saw earthmovers hauling dirt out of the old arena and moving it to the new arena site south of town.
"There's no turning back now," Cardinael said.
With only five months to go before Payson's next professional rodeo, town employees are preparing to pick up where Cardinael will leave off Jan. 8 when his contract expires. He has already begun interviewing for other jobs, most of which, he said, will take him away from the community he's grown to love.
"It's very much like a divorce," he said. "When you spend this much time, putting your heart and soul into something, it's very hard to just walk away."
Councilmember Barbara Brewer said Cardinael's departure is a loss to the town.
"I'm going to hate losing Barry," she said. "I'd hate to lose anyone who is as much a self-starter as he is."
The rodeo arena relocation began three years ago, when rumors began circulating within the community that town officials planned to sell 36 acres of town-owned land on the south edge of Payson.
"My original vision was to establish additional recreation areas for the youth of Payson," said Doug White, the man responsible for the arena relocation effort. "The hope was that we would be able to move that rodeo grounds and start establishing additional locations to play softball, soccer, baseball --all the events we had trouble finding locations for."
Back then, White and his crew of volunteers vowed to move the arena at not cost to the town.
According to town figures, White was able to convince local volunteers and businesses to donate $400,000 worth of labor to clear-cut the land and grade the property.
During White's tenure as rodeo relocation leader, Cardinael was developing his own vision for the arena. His plan called for the construction of a covered arena, which would house not only rodeos, but boat shows, antique marts and circuses.
When White announced he was leaving Payson to accept a job promotion, Cardinael unveiled his plan, "Payson's Promise."
In his mission statement, Cardinael said the "promise" was a pledge to build a multi-event center in Payson "with funds which are not financially encumbered, and to create a facility which serves the people of Payson and the Rim country, while supporting the tourist industry activities of this area."
The council liked Cardinael's proposal and in July 1998, hired him to head up the relocation effort, and find financial backing to build the multi-event center.
"It was a tough project all along," White said. "I'm extremely pleased that somebody stayed the course, and pushed forward on a project that is this worthwhile. I know Barry's had his hands full."
Slowly, but surely
Completing that master plan was always the primary motivation for the arena relocation.
"The rodeo grounds was really the cork in the bottle when it comes to adding new recreational facilities to the town," Bill Schwind, director of the Payson Parks and Recreation Department, said. The master plan called for the addition of ball fields in place of the rodeo grounds.
The project became more than anyone anticipated, Cardinael said, resulting in two extensions of his original contract and more than a few disparaging remarks from a disbelieving public.
At an April 1999 council meeting, resident Ruby Finney --now a candidate for the Payson Town Council --applauded Cardinael's abilities as a "salesman," but said the money being used on his extension could be better spent.
"We should stop this boondoggle right now," she told the council.
Mayor Vern Stiffler and councilmember Hoby Herron agreed with Finney.
"In the open market, or in the free enterprise system, if a person doesn't perform, you drop them and get someone else," Herron said. "He worked hard out there, but wasn't getting the work done."
Stiffler said his opposition to continuing Cardinael's contract boiled down to non-performance.
"I haven't changed my mind on this," Stiffler said Monday, "and Barry knows it. We were looking for the rodeo relocation group to do this for nothing, as promised. To date, we've spent $153,902 on it, and have another $52,000 left that we can spend. Who knows what it will end up costing?"
Still, by majority vote, the council opted to extended Cardinael's contract two more times to give him time to reach his goal.
Schwind -- whose department oversees the operation of the rodeo grounds --said the upside of Cardinael's involvement was that it fostered the development of the arena relocation. The downside, he said, was that Cardinael had ulterior motives.
"His goal for the thing was to turn his role into a management position for a facility that didn't exist," Schwind said.
"If you're competing for general fund dollars, we feel that the development of ballfields and the development of recreational fields is a higher priority than paying a manager and additional staff to manage a rodeo grounds which currently is managed adequately by town staff," he said. "We felt it was a duplication. He was doing it for a job; we were doing it for the benevolent need of field space."
Cardinael freely admits that he spent hundreds of hours trying to develop the dirt field into an entertainment center in hopes that he would be able to parlay his efforts into a full-time job.
"Would I have liked to get a job with the town, working with the Parks and Rec team on the event center? Of course," he said Wednesday. "Am I sad my contract is ending before it's finished? You bet I am. But I guess it's time to move on."
By the numbers
Cardinael also has come under fire for failing to live up to his self-imposed goals.
During a council meeting in April, Mayor Vern Stiffler said he didn't want to extend Cardinael's contract because he failed to meet two of the goals outlined in his original contract -- raising $395,000 by Oct. 1, 1998, and moving the arena by March 31, 1999.
At that meeting, Cardinael blamed the weather for hindering those goals and explained his new goals to the council.
"For $29,000 (the amount of the six-month extension), my goal will be to bring in to the town $292,329 in cash donations by Sept. 31," he said, "and another $300,000 in donations of in-kind labor to complete this project."
The latest financial summary by Chief Financial Officer Glenn Smith shows Cardinael's efforts brought in $3,410 in cash donations this fiscal year. Money that was not brought in to the project was supplemented by general fund dollars.
Has he earned his keep?
Councilmember Jim Spencer thinks Cardinael has.
"Over the past 18 months, Barry's earned $57,000," Spencer said. "During that same timeframe, the town was the recipient of over $600,000 worth of cash, material donations, discounts, volunteer labor and free contractor services. I think that's a very good return on our investment."
Cardinael's critics have argued that the town could have gotten the job done faster and cheaper without him.
Spencer scoffed. "When has government ever done anything less expensive than free enterprise?" he said.
Town engineer LaRon Garrett agreed, saying that town staff could have easily handled the project, but he estimates that it would have cost between three and five times more.
"In the end, if town staff had done this," Garrett said, "it wouldn't have looked much different than it does now."
Throughout the project -- as word spread of Cardinael's dream for the center which would house anything from rock concerts to world-class rodeos -- some have questioned what type of facility Payson really needs.
According to Parks and Recreation Department calendars, the rodeo arena at Rumsey Park has been booked an average 26 weekends a year, or 50 percent of the time. As an uncovered arena, that means it's booked just about every free weekend during seasonable weather, Schwind said, with events ranging from gymkhanas to festivals, to more eclectic events such as the monster truck show last fall.
It would take an estimated $1.2 million to cover the arena, said Garrett, who is overseeing the final stages of the relocation effort. For that amount of money, there's no guarantee that it would ever be a profitable enterprise.
The Town of Wickenberg, for example, runs its own community center --a scaled-down version of what the Payson center would look like if it were covered.
"Our center is booked about 95 percent of the year," said Lyle Shaughnessy, Wickenberg's community services director. "I have two full-time staff members who work there, and they do the bookings just like you would at any other type of venue."
The entertainment complex does not, however, make money for the town.
"It's not self-supporting at all," Shaughnessy said. "That's been the policy of the council here. The annual budget is about $125,000, and we're only bringing in about $27,000 a year. But it's been the council's desire to keep events affordable for the promoters and the audience."
Covering the arena would be an obvious benefit to the tourism industry, Garrett said, but it would be hard to justify, especially with other projects such as the new library looming on the horizon.
Changing of the guard
Until his contract expires, Cardinael said he plans to divide his time between his relocation efforts, job interviews and his family.
In the end, he said, he hopes people remember the good that was done for the arena relocation effort.
"I have loved this job more than any other I ever had," he said. "Leaving it will be difficult.
"But, I am determined to enjoy the final few weeks as much as humanly possible. Everything is finally starting to come together and it is exciting to witness, and to be a part of."