By expert accounts, the Eagle River Center is a fine facility. But it just isn't there yet in terms of what it can offer for big-time equestrian events.
That's why July 10 is a red letter day for the people involved in operating the center - its the day when they will present a proposed $3 million expansion plan to the Eagle County Commissioners. That plan includes the addition of 100 covered horse stalls and an enclosed "warm up" arena at the site - two improvements deemed critical before the Eagle River Center can attract large horse shows to the area.
According to Jan Miller of Eagle County Facilities, the expansion plan proposal has been the subject of intense review for months as the county looked at ways to maximize the potential of the Eagle River Center.
"We know horse shows would love to bring people to Eagle and those shows would stimulate the local economy and bring a lot of people here," said Miller. "We have to weigh the benefits of the potential horse show business against the costs."
In that vein, the county recently hired a renown consultant - Bob Kiser of Kiser Arena Specialists - to evaluate the Eagle River Center and give advice on the facility's expansion plans. Kiser has consulted for more than 2,000 horse show arenas worldwide and he spent three days in the area last week.
"I think they have a very nice facility here. I think if they can get an expansion program going, they could draw a lot of horse shows here," said Kiser.
Kiser noted the center's location - adjacent to Interstate 70 and in the center of the state - is one of its biggest attributes.
"There wouldn't be another facility in this part of the country, that I am aware of. There is a need for it," said Kiser.
While he noted the Eagle River Center could likely attract a lot of horse show business, Kiser noted there are some big dollar challenges before that can happen. First off is the need for roughly $600,000 worth of covered horse stalls.
Kiser noted that people who complete in horse shows have spent thousands on their animals and they require covered stalls for their horses.
"In order to host horse shows we need to have a minimum of 100 covered stalls," noted Miller.
Similarly, horse show competitors require an enclosed warm up arena in addition to the competition space so they can prepare for a show in a controlled and protected environment. That means the county must consider a 150-foot by 150-foot expansion to the existing Eagle River Center, estimated to cost around $1.8 million.
The final large capital construction project that the center would need is the addition of RV hookups along the perimeter of the site because horse show competitors would likely bring camper rigs to town along with their animals. The RV improvements are estimated to cost around $101,000. Site work and equipment costs round out the budget at around $510,000.
Kiser said the county is fortunate because the fairgrounds site offers an expansive area to address the facility needs. "They have a lot of space here, but it is a challenge to get it positioned right to make the best use of this land," he said.
Kiser also stressed that the "footing" - the dirt floor at the facility - has to be top notch if the county wants to bring in prestigious horse shows.
"I have been to $30 million facilities where the last thing they did was footing and they were scrimping on it," said Kiser. "Then I have been call in to fix it.
"People are not going to care about how nice your restrooms are. If your footing is bad, horse show people aren't going to come back."
As part of his consultant duties, Kiser packed up several tubs of local dirt, including dirt from the floor of the Eagle River Center, to test back at his Oklahoma City home base. Additionally, the county recently purchased a piece of Kiser equipment to work the footing in both the Eagle River Center and at the outdoor fairgrounds arena.
In the end, Miller noted all the work on the Eagle River Center is aimed at bringing new visitors to the area and generating more sales tax revenue for both the town and county. She notes if the improvements are approved and the center becomes as popular as anticipated, the county could see its costs recouped in seven years or less. That's one of the issues the county commissioners will examine during the July 10 work session.
As for his part, Kiser said the Eagle River Center has a great deal of potential to become a horse show hub if the improvement program is a go.
According to the American Quarter Horse Association, here's the overall economic impact of an average size, two day horse show for a community:
• 70 horses
• 210 visitors (average of 3 people per
• $94,500 average overall economic
impact per day
• $189,000 average overall economic
impact for a two-day show