Linda White made a compelling case for further negotiating the tentative deal between the town and Hospitality Support Group (HSG) to develop the Payson Event Center site at the town council meeting Thursday evening.
But when White identified herself as a Round Valley resident, the issue of non-Payson residents using town facilities they don't support with their taxes became a major topic of discussion. And when enough other issues were raised about the deal with HSG, the council decided to step back and take a closer look at a special work-study meeting currently scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 16.
White's argument was that HSG was not allowing the town use of the event center for nearly enough days to hold the equestrian and other events that are currently held there. In the "broad outline" that Town Manager Fred Carpenter asked the town council to consider, HSG proposed managing not only the hotel and conference center that would be built on the event center site, but also the enclosed event center itself, with the town receiving 30 days each year "to accommodate existing events."
In asking the town to reconsider the proposed deal, White provided the council with a list of events held at the facility over the past 12 months, including rodeos, 4-H events, the Northern Gila County Fair, high school rodeo events, and more.
"These wonderful events encompass almost 90 days and they're offering one-third of what we actually need for the town of Payson and the citizens who actually pay the taxes here," she said.
Councilor Judy Buettner then brought up the issue of non-Payson residents using the facility. "We've done some data searching in our files over the last year," Parks and Recreation Director Bill Schwind responded. "Recreationally, when we offer any kind of activity and event, we do about a 33 percent rate of out-of-town-limits participation. When it comes to our equestrian programming, those numbers jump to 66."
But Schwind noted that it is increasingly prohibitive to live in Payson and have horses.
"So those people are now out on the fringe," he said. "They've left Payson for Strawberry, Pine, Star Valley, Round Valley so they can have that quality of life and equestrian environment."
Councilor George Barriger stuck up for non-Payson residents.
"I'm willing to listen to people who don't live in the town of Payson but live in the general area," he said. "A lot of people have to live outside the town of Payson because they can't afford to live in Payson."
But use of the event center by nonresidents was just one of many issues raised about the event center project. Barriger fired the first salvo.
"Quite frankly, I don't think it pencils out for the town," he said. "One of the things we started off with when we said we wanted to do this is that we wanted to cover the event center so we could have more events.
"It would be controlled by the town, and I think that was one of the things Hospitality Support Group agreed to. It looks like that's turned around."
Barriger also questioned another major deal point, selling HSG 10 hillside acres of the 36-acre site for residential development.
"If we're going to go sell 10 acres of land, we might as well sell it and fix up the event center ourselves," he said. "I don't want to see us giving up something that I think is extremely important to this community, but I don't think we have a basis for negotiations frankly."
Another sticking point for several councilors was what Carpenter called "how fancy the event center is" -- the fact that an air-conditioned rodeo arena might be prohibitively expensive for the town to open for some of the smaller events.
The other deal points presented in Carpenter's broad outline include:
- A 35-year lease for HSG, with two 10-year renewal options.
- In addition to enclosing the 3,000-seat event center, HSG would build a 150-unit hotel, 500-seat conference center, and outdoor practice arena.
- HSG would receive a waiver of the government lease excise tax for eight years and deferred lease payments.
Councilor Tim Fruth asked that Gila County be invited to participate in the Feb. 16 session to discuss their possible financial support of the project.