Labor Day rodeo represents significant city investment

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Lewisville construction crews work to replace the sand at the Lewisville Rodeo Arena in July. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

Lewisville will host its 54th annual Labor Day rodeo this weekend at the rodeo arena on Parkway Drive. Though the tradition stretches back more than half a century, it would have ended this year if City Council had not taken on an $835,000 obligation to repair the arena.

At the July 2 City Council meeting, media relations and tourism director James Kunke outlined the history of the Lewisville Saddle Club and rodeo arena. In the end, the council had a choice — to let the Saddle Club donate the arena to Lewisville and take on responsibility for an estimated $835,000 worth of repairs, or let the tradition end.

Council member Brent Daniels spoke against allowing the rodeo to die out, and the rest of the council agreed.

“Granted, I’ve been to the rodeo three times in the last 10 years, but to me, the rodeo, the homecoming parade is one of those things that keeps that small town feel that I think is unique and that other cities don’t have,” Daniels said. “We don’t want to become Southlake or Coppell that don’t have a rich, vibrant, Fighting Farmer history.”

Council eventually accepted the Saddle Club’s donation of the rodeo arena and committed to repairing it — it’s not legal to spend city money to repair private property, necessitating the donation. The city committed to $175,000 in immediate repairs just to make sure the 2018 rodeo happened, but those repairs have come in significantly under budget.

Kunke said the city ended up doing a lot of the work in-house that was originally supposed to go to private contractors. The exact numbers won’t be in until after the rodeo, but the repairs ended up costing closer to $100,000.

The initial $835,000 estimate encompasses replacing significant portions of the original arena. The rodeo arena is as old as the rodeo itself — the first rodeo was held in 1965, when the arena was completed. The city first purchased, and still owns, the land on which it was built in 1959, and leased it to the Saddle Club when it formed in 1962. That lease has been extended, in several different periods, to today. The Saddle Club built the arena, which it owned until July.

As time took its toll on the facility, repairs needed to be made, and the Saddle Club was unable to pay for them. Major problems were discovered at the 2016 rodeo, when one horse injured its leg and had to be put down. Another, after getting spooked, broke through the fence between the arena and the bleachers and ended up stepping on a child’s foot.

The child was not seriously injured, but city officials required repairs to be made before the 2017 rodeo could take place. The Saddle Club made the highest priority repairs and held the rodeo that year, but more were needed, and they could not pay. They turned to city government for help, but the city could not pay to repair a privately owned facility — Lewisville still owns the land, but the arena on top of it was held by the Saddle Club. The Saddle Club ultimately voted to donate the arena to the city so it could make repairs, pending City Council’s approval.

Kunke said the city had identified areas that needed work, totalling an estimated $835,000, almost $175,000 of which was needed immediately to hold this year’s rodeo. Kunke said, if the city accepted responsibility for the arena, they would need to replace the arena sand and interior fencing in order to address immediate safety concerns from the 2016 rodeo. The city also identified the need to replace electric wiring and the announcing stand, which would bring the budget for near-term repairs to $425,000.

Beyond that, the city would eventually need to repair the fencing around the arena, which Kunke said was failing at many points, for an estimated $100,000. Then, the arena would need a new concession stand — an estimated $10,000 — and a new restroom — an estimated $300,000, which would build a 12-stall facility using the existing sewer line that connects to the current concession stand.

Council discussed using food trucks and portable bathrooms to shave off those last two items, but repairing the facility was still a significant investment. Daniels said it was worth the investment to keep Lewisville a rodeo town.

“The Labor Day Rodeo is a tradition going back over 50 years,” he said.  “My family doesn’t make it every year, but we have been attending often since our kids were very young. This tradition and the memories it evokes are just some of the many things that help us keep that small town feel and makes Lewisville special.”

The 54th annual Labor Day Rodeo will be held 8 p.m. Aug. 31- Sept 2 at the Lewisville Rodeo Arena, 101 Parkway Drive. Admission is $10 for adults, with discounts for children 12 and under and active-duty military personnel. The rodeo will feature Bareback Bronc Riding, Breakaway Roping, Tie Down Calf Roping, a clown act, Saddle Bronc Riding, Team Roping, Children’s Calf Scramble, UPRA Barrel Racing and Bull Riding. For more information, visit lewisvillesaddleclub.com

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