Lewisville city staff has assessed that the rodeo arena on Parkway Drive will need at least $800,000 worth of repairs over the next few years, about $200,000 of which it needs immediately to be made safe for the annual rodeo in 2018. The city already owned the land it rests on, but all the facilities were owned by the Lewisville Saddle Club, which could not foot the bill, and the city cannot spend taxpayer money to repair facilities they do not own.
Forced to choose between taking full responsibility for the Lewisville Rodeo Arena so the city can pay for repairs or simply letting the annual tradition fade into history, City Council decided to acquire the rodeo arena and keep it afloat.
The Lewisville Saddle Club donated it to the city, so the city didn’t pay anything to acquire the facility. The $800,000 total is split into immediate, short-term and long-term needs. Among the immediate needs are items that need to be replaced for the rodeo to be safe this year.
Community Relations and Tourism Director James Kunke said in addition to those changes, the city is running an assessment on the arena to best understand how to approach renovating it.
“What we can salvage, we will salvage,” Kunke said. “We’re putting in the work that has to be done to get the arena safe and usable for the Labor Day weekend. And then work that can wait, we will wait until we’ve completed that assessment.”
In presentation to City Council on July 2, Kunke explained the different types of improvements needed. The immediate needs listed were the arena sand, fencing and electric wiring and lights, which is the biggest ticket item and priority.
Some wiring will be usable for the 2018 Labor Day Rodeo, while the wiring for the PA system specifically, is being replaced. The arena sand will also need to be replaced before the rodeo. These changes will cost an estimated $425,000, with the fencing costing $130,000, the sand costing $45,000 and the electric wiring costing $190,000 to $215,000, according to city estimations. These are changes that must be made before the arena can host the rodeo.
It will cost an estimated $190,000 to replace the damaged electric poles and all wiring and lighting, which is the minimum city staff recommended. That could be bumped up an additional $25,000 if the city decides to replace all poles.
While the announcing stand and electric wiring are not considered safe overall, the city will be able to get away with not having to repair the wiring completely before the rodeo, as parts of it are still usable. The city also has the option to bring in a portable announcing stand and light poles with generators, which would cost around $20,000. With this plan, the total cost of the immediate changes would be $175,000, but would not be a permanent solution.
As far as long-term plans, the concession stand being torn down will open up a sewer line for a permanent bathroom fixture. Currently, the concession stand is below standards and creates health and safety concerns, according to Kunke. He added the Lewisville Saddle Club has not used the stand in two years and instead have opted to set up food trucks on the east end of the arena’s bleachers.
According to city estimations, the restroom will cost $300,000 but will keep the city from having to rent portable bathrooms. Usually when events are held there, the host brings in portable bathrooms, but Kunke estimates a permanent bathroom would get more use. In the past, adding restrooms has been a financial issue because there is no other sewer connection outside of the concession stand. The tearing down of the stand makes restrooms much more realistic.
City estimations show all changes, long-term and short-term, may exceed $800,000.
Some concerns surrounding the potential improvements include the Old Town North Small Area Plan, which was passed by council at their July 2 meeting. This plan will directly impact the area the rodeo is in. Council will try to work around this as to not hinder the area’s overall plan for development.
Other things of note involve the future maintenance the city will be putting on itself regarding the rodeo arena, and the specifics to the lease agreement with the Lewisville Saddle Club, which will be subject to change with the transfer of ownership. The current lease is set to end in December 2018 and has the Lewisville Saddle Club paying an annual base rent of $3,500 in four quarterly payments, as well as utilities. This lease also gives the club access to the rodeo for up to 30 days per year.
Outside of these changes, the city is also working out a lease with the Lewisville Saddle Club to host the rodeo in September. Kunke said he anticipates the lease to host the rodeo being made official in a week or so.
The need for these specific changes and upgrades began after the 2016 rodeo, which resulted in a horse being put down after it was injured in the show. Another horse became spooked at the event and ran through the arena’s inner fencing and stepped on a child’s foot. In response, the city performed a full safety assessment.
The need for changes was introduced in early 2017 by the city and involved electric wiring, the announcing stand, lighting and fencing, according to the presentation. The highest priority changes were made by August before the 2017 Labor Day Rodeo. But additional changes were still needed. In January, the Lewisville Saddle Club president told the city the club would not be able to afford the changes and repairs necessary and asked for help from the city. The city responded saying they could not make changes to fixtures owned by the club. Later that month, the club voted to transfer ownership of all arena fixtures and equipment to the city.
The city also found out there was a small piece of land on the west end of the property toward Mill Street that had been owned by the Lewisville Jaycees, who have not existed for 25 years. The city has gone through the legal work to acquire the land, Kunke said. The acquisition will connect the property from Mill Street to Kealy Street.
In the workshop session when this was being discussed, several council members expressed a desire to keep the rodeo arena functioning as it adds to the city’s identity, but went over a number of options, including moving the rodeo to an entirely different location. Both Mayor Rudy Durham and City Manager Donna Barron agreed the spot it is currently in is not ideal.
They eventually decided to fully repair the current arena based on two major points — one, that if the rodeo were cancelled this year, it probably would not come back next year, and two, that if they were to pay for the immediate repairs, they should go ahead and pay for the entire package. Councilmember Brent Daniels said that $200,000 for one rodeo was a bad deal, but $800,000 for 20 plus years of rodeos made more sense.
Daniels, said the arena helps Lewisville keep a small-town feel and added the value improving the space can have.
“We have all these different things that keep us a small town that I think a lot of people love about living in Lewisville,” Daniels said. “I know it’s a large amount when you look at the price, but when you look at how that can be split over 15 to 20 years of use, it really is not that big of a price.”