Council Looks At $21 Million Event Center Agreement

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The Payson Town Council will convene a special meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday to consider a "potential agreement" and discuss "deal points" related to the $21 million Payson Event Center project.

While Town Manager Fred Carpenter denied earlier this month that the town has cut a deal with developer G. Michael Horton to give him 10 acres of event center property in exchange for his financial involvement in the project, he later confirmed that Bruce Berres, president of Valley-based Hospitality Support Group (HSG), has talked to Horton about the project. HSG is the development company that has paid the town $30,000 in seed money pursuant to developing the project, which includes:

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Fred Carpenter, Payson town manager

  • A 150-room hotel with an indoor pool, fitness center, game area and an 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."
  • Enclosing the existing rodeo facility, which was moved from Rumsey Park in 1996, so that it can be used year-round.

"I don't know whether it's Horton involved in it or not," Carpenter said. "I've heard that he submitted proposals to Hospitality Support Group, but I don't know where they're at with it."

In his statement, Carpenter noted that Berres "has mentioned that selling land on the hillside at the event center site to the developer of the project would make the project overall more attractive." But Carpenter said he himself has made no commitments regarding sale of property to anyone, nor has he "even discussed the project with Mike Horton."

Originally, Berres hoped the Tonto Apache Tribe would be a major investor in the project. When the tribe opted not to participate in the project late last year, HSG began a search for other investors.

Last summer, when HSG paid the $30,000, Berres was optimistic that the complex would be built.

"Absolutely," he said at that time. "It's a great concept and it's extremely exciting."

Carpenter said the council would adjourn to executive session at Thursday's meeting.

"This thing is still at a pretty preliminary stage," he said. We're still talking, and we want to see how the council feels about certain terms. Of course, any contract we have would be with Hospitality Support Group -- if we have one."

The town has retained Nielson-Fackler Planning and Development, a consulting group, to assist with the project, and they will be involved in the Thursday meeting.

"We got a bunch of talking points from our consultants at NFPD, and we're going to go over those," he said. "They got some stuff from Berres on what he thought were the costs."

Carpenter said a development agreement would probably be drafted based on the direction the council chooses at the meeting, which will not be televised on public access Channel 4.

While the meeting will probably last "a couple hours," according to Carpenter, the council will probably take no action.

"When there is, it will be on a regular agenda," he said.

The only regular council meeting this month is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 8, although Carpenter said a special meeting will probably be held Dec. 13 to select a consulting firm to conduct an independent market study of town salaries.

Restaurant, hotel, conference center proposed in project plan

  • The enclosed 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.

The 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. The enclosed facility would be heated in the winter and evaporative cooled in the summer.

  • The two-level restaurant will have a western theme.

"We're going to call the restaurant 1884," Berres said. "That's the first year of the rodeo. If you think about 1884, it says exactly what we want it to say about the restaurant -- a western-themed steakhouse, hopefully with sawdust on the floor and live western music."

Payson's heritage will be incorporated into the restaurant theme.

"The restaurant has to say something about Payson," Berres said. "It has to have a historical portion focus on Payson, and as you walk in there you get the flavor of the town and the history of the town."

  • The conference center HSG wants to build is larger than the Prescott Resort, which the company developed and operates.

"Their ballroom is a little bit smaller -- 6,000 square feet in the grand ballroom," Berres said. "We're targeting about 7,000 square feet in a configuration that is expandable,

The conference center can also host local events, including high school proms, large church services at Easter and Christmas, small dinners from 10 people to three or four hundred, and steak fries of virtually any size.

  • The 150-room hotel will be comfortable, but not elegant, and will be priced about $10-15 above the highest room rate in Payson.

"In the ratings business, I would say they are going to be around three stars, with mostly double queen beds to handle families and multiple occupancy," Berres said.

The town will be asked to help with improvements that will have to be made to the 36-acre site. 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 cautioned that much work remains to be done.

"People shouldn't expect to see a groundbreaking tomorrow," he said.

Berres was only a little more specific.

"In the very best case, we're talking opening two years from today," he said.

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