The Rim Country's equestrian and rodeo community packed Payson Town Hall Thursday evening to protect its event center privileges, and after over two hours of debate appeared to prevail.
Speaker after speaker cautioned proceeding carefully. The council responded by passing a motion by Councilor Dick Reese to form a committee with majority horse community representation to address issues with Steve Nielson of Nielson-Fackler Planning and Development, the consulting group retained by the town to finalize an agreement for development of the 36-acre site.
The horse community is concerned that an upscale, climate-controlled event center with just 30 days allotted to town events will seriously impact the rodeos, fairs and other events that currently use the rodeo grounds over 90 days a year.
"We have a resource here that we cannot allow to be squandered," John Landino, vice president of the Payson Rodeo Committee, told the council. "If you just look at it from a money generation standpoint and you lose your heritage and the equestrian events and the impact of the rodeos, you are going to have to give up an awful lot."
The new committee will meet with Nielson to address equestrian concerns, after which Nielson will meet with the developer, Bruce Berres of Hospitality Support Group (HSG). Then another community-wide meeting will be held on March 16 to update and discuss the status of the project.
At the beginning of the meeting Thursday evening, Nielson told the council that Berres had agreed to return control of the arena to the town, but that the town would also be responsible for paying for any improvements.
"We understand there has been some more community input and concern and issues, and we went back to the developer about changing his model -- his formula," Nielson said. "If you take the existing arena and just cover it, can we (still) meet some of the objectives? Can we promote tourism? Can we still provide for events?
"By doing away with climate control, we create an opportunity for the town to actually finance and control the arena, while using the revenues off of this hotel conference center to make that viable. We think there is a plan out there that would accommodate that."
But several members of the council questioned whether the current proposal was in the best interest of the town.
"We have limited land here and we certainly have limited land that belongs to the Town of Payson, so for us to give this up in any way means we have to make sure there is tremendous benefit for the town," Councilor George Barriger said. "It has to be a win situation for the town."
In the end, Reese's reasoning prevailed.
"My motion is intended to capture the interest that I have and I think we all should have in including all of the different communities of interest, (plus) the input of a consulting developer -- someone who can digest all of the input and help us craft a deal," he said. "We're getting closer. We're maturing, and I'd like to think we're closer as a function of tonight to a better deal."
Reese's motion passed 5 to 2, with councilors Robert Henley and Tim Fruth voting against it.
Fruth explained his opposition.
"This group (HSG) to me has been just absolutely a waste," he said. "If you take out the event center, I'm sure there's a lot more people who would want to come to the table. I would just as soon cut the loss and start over."
Appointed to the committee that will meet with Nielson were local architect Rex Hinshaw, chairman of the August rodeo board, town parks and recreation employee Charlene Hunt and Leon Keddington.