$24 Million Covered Event Center Tops Agenda

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The $24 million Payson Event Center project heads the agenda of the Payson Town Council's regular meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The council will consider whether to direct town staff to negotiate a development and disposition agreement with Valley-based Hospitality Support Group (HSG). According to Town Manager Fred Carpenter, a tentative deal is in place.

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A rendering of the $24 million Payson Event Center project shows the locations of its major components.

"This means that the council has the chance to discuss the outline of an agreement in the open before we go any further with the negotiations," he said. "I don't want to go any further on it unless the council is pretty much happy with what we're doing."

As outlined by Carpenter and HSG President Bruce Berres, the project includes:

  • A 150-room hotel with an indoor pool, fitness center, game area, and an area dedicated to Payson history.
  • 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.

Missing from the project is a 1,000-seat amphitheater that had been previously included.

"There's not room for it," Carpenter said.

But two elements are new to the project:

  • An outdoor equestrian practice arena.

"The reason for that is that we don't want to throw away all the equestrian uses we've already got there," Carpenter said.

  • The town would sell the 9.6-acre hillside portion of the 36-acre site to HSG at fair market price for residential development, with the developer having to provide a new water source.

"They have to get their own water for that because the 100 ERUs (the town has set aside for the project) would be eaten up by the (rest of the) project," Carpenter said.

While financing is apparently lined up for the project, which has grown from $21 million when it was first conceptualized, developer G. Michael Horton is not involved, according to Carpenter.

"I can say categorically that he is not, but the developer may have to go to him for water," he said.

The current zoning for the hillside land is R3, so Carpenter said that probably means a condominium-type development.

"Because it's hillside, you can't really do anything for parking or stuff like that, so it wouldn't be used for the project anyway," he said.

The town has retained Nielson-Fackler Planning and Development, a consulting group, to assist with the project.

Also on the council agenda Thursday evening:

  • Approval of the preliminary plat for Parkway Condominium Subdivision at 312/400 E. Tyler Parkway.
  • Liquor license transfers for the Ox Bow Saloon and the Buffalo Bar and Grill.

Details of the Payson Event Center project:

  • 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 for rodeos and other spectator events.

The design also includes a larger arena area which, according to HSG President Bruce 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, western-theme restaurant.

"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 in 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 to 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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