A $21 million proposal to develop the Payson Event Center could bring the town a new amphitheatre, conference center, hotel and a cover for the current rodeo facility.
The plan, submitted to the town on Aug. 17 by Hospitality Support Group (HSG), a Valley company that developed and operates the Prescott Resort, will get a public viewing next week.
"There's a long way to go, but it's an exciting concept," Town Manager Fred Carpenter said.
Carpenter said the plan could enhance the town's attractiveness as a tourist and conference destination.
Key elements of the proposal are:
- A 150-room hotel with an indoor pool, fitness center, game area, and area dedicated to Payson history.
- A 1,000-seat amphitheater that would be home to concert series and other musical events.
- A 7,000-square-foot conference center that includes a grand ballroom and is capable of handling meetings of up to 500 people.
- A cowboy-themed steakhouse restaurant and saloon with sawdust on the floor and "a flavor of history."
- A cover for the existing rodeo facility, which has been debated since the rodeo grounds was relocated from Rumsey Park in 1996.
Payson residents can review the plan during a public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 30, at Payson Town Hall. The council will take no action on the project at that meeting.
"What they're going to do Monday night is just come up and present," Carpenter said. "It's an open public meeting, and they're going to present the whole project as they see it. We want to get feedback from the public."
The town has tried on three separate occasions to solicit interest in developing the event center and the 36-acre parcel on which it sits. The facility has lost money since it opened in 1996.
"It's a loser for us; it's never been a winner," Carpenter said, "and it's really underutilized in terms of what it could be."
This time the town hired a consultant to develop a concept.
"We had a $2,500 contract with them, and we sent the concept out to 25 or 30 people," Carpenter said. "We only got one to respond, but it is a good one."
Carpenter said several partners are involved with HSG.
"One of them is Grace (Hospitality Group), which is a rather large hotel operator," he said.
Most of the details of the project, including who would operate the current rodeo facility, remain to be negotiated.
"What they want us to do after (the public meeting) is to enter into a memorandum of understanding (basically saying we believe in the project) with them which will allow us to move forward to negotiate the terms of how this will work," Carpenter said. "Of course, they're interested in certain types of incentives -- I'm sure tax abatement if we can give it to them; favorable leasing, because we own the property; and they want us to put some cash in it every year.
"But looking at the numbers they want, it looks like we can come up with enough just off the project itself, because it will generate bed tax and sales tax and such," he said. "We're in a position to grant concessions because it doesn't cost us anything out of pocket."
Eventually, the project is expected to generate revenue for the town. The facility will also be good for the local economy, Carpenter believes.
"I believe if we get this thing built we'll have everybody up here from the Aardvark Association to the Zoological Society doing conferences, and they're going to spend money throughout the town," Carpenter said.
The council will consider the memo of understanding at a special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14. A time has not yet been set.
"After that, they will try to get what they call equity partners to come in and help with the funding," Carpenter said. According to the proposal, a critical component of the project will be the involvement of the Tonto Apache Tribe.
Besides a positive cash flow, another major advantage is that the town will finally get the current rodeo facility covered, Carpenter said.
"We failed to get the vote on that last fall," he said. "The public said, ‘No, we're not going to tax ourselves for this.' Well, here's an opportunity to do it without taxing anybody."
Water for the project was allocated five years ago according to Public Works Director Buzz Walker.
"The council made a decision years ago when they were talking about leasing that out for development that they would set the limits on water use at that property at 100 ERUs," Walker said.
Carpenter said operating the event center is just out of the town's league.
"We're not hotel managers; we're not hospitality folks," he said. "I'm a strong believer that if you can get the private sector to do something, they're much better at it. They have the profit motive for one thing.
"It's just not our thing. Our thing is to give you water and take care of police and fire and patch streets and stuff like that."
Carpenter said any deal the town makes to develop the event center will preserve the August rodeo.
"One of the things in our proposal is that we must protect the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo," he said, "and (HSG) would love to have it there because it's a guaranteed event every year."
Carpenter was also optimistic that public horse privileges at the rodeo arena can be maintained.
"That's still to be negotiated, but I imagine there will be a lot of times when you're still going to be able to do a lot of horse things out there," he said. "That's part of the charm of the whole thing."