The Tonto Apache Tribe has declined to participate in the Payson Event Center project "at this time."
Although the tribe's decision is a disappointment to Bruce Berres, president of Hospitality Support Group, he said his company remains committed to the project.
"The tribal community would have been the easiest path," Berres said. "No way is this now a simple path. It's not. But everybody is going to line up and we're going to go do this."
Payson Town Manager Fred Carpenter said the tribe's decision came after several meetings with Berres and others involved in the project.
"He presented something to their economic development committee and apparently nothing came of it," Carpenter said. "We got a letter from them saying they declined to participate."
The $21 million project to develop the Payson Event Center originally included a cover for the current rodeo facility and a separate amphitheater, plus a conference center, hotel and cowboy-themed steakhouse. Hospitality Support Group is a Valley company that developed and operates the Prescott Resort.
Berres emphasized that the Tonto Apaches "loved the project" and did not rule out participation at a later date.
"(It was) bad timing," he said. "They are investing a lot of their capital into the new casino and they felt the timing was just bad. This investment was probably more than they're spending on the casino."
The Tonto Apache Tribe did not respond to a request for comment.
Enclosed event center
HSG is also proposing an upgrade to the original concept -- enclosing the rodeo facility so that it can be used all year.
"We've redirected our concept for the event center," Berres said. "We've done some research on that and what other people are using. The original plan was to just cover the facility. Now we feel the best concept is to create a larger, enclosed facility similar to one near Globe at the Apache-Gold casino."
The rodeo arena would be ringed by six to eight rows of permanent seats, with a multi-use concourse around the perimeter that could accommodate bleachers that would raise the seating capacity to 12,000 for rodeos and other spectator events. But the concourse area could also be used for a wide range of other activities.
"You can put exhibit booths in there, or you can put meetings in there," Berres said. "You can just do a wide variety of things, like arts and crafts shows.
"What it does is to give us more alternatives. The idea is to have true events in there on a year-round basis."
The new design also includes a larger arena area which, according to Berres, will make the Payson facility a more attractive venue to rodeo officials and participants.
"I wouldn't get on a bucking horse for all the tea in China, but some friends of mine actually do that, and they tell me they want (an arena that's) at least 250 feet long and maybe 200 feet in width."
The enclosed facility would be heated in the winter and evaporative cooled in the summer.
The next step, according to Berres, is to regroup and then sit down with the town council.
"There's some interesting discussions we have to have, but we have some paths I think we can go down," he said. "We'll bring in our financial team, we'll have some meetings with the town, they'll probably lay down certain conditions and boundaries to work within, then we'll go out and see if we can make it happen."
HSG is proceeding within the time frame of a 120-day memo of understanding with the town signed Nov. 20, so Berres wants to hold the meetings before Christmas if possible.
"At the end of that time, we have to show progress and direction," he said. "If we're making that kind of progress, we'll ask the city for an extension if we need it, but I think we have to show our activity first. The ball's in my court 100 percent."
Carpenter shares Berres' optimism.
"He's got other investors in mind, and he's still going to work at it," the town manager said. "It's still full speed ahead."