ROCK SPRINGS – Officials from Sweetwater County, Rock Springs, Green River and other agencies met at the Sweetwater Events Complex on Wednesday to get an idea of the future plans of the complex.
This year is the final year of the contract between the Events Complex and the National High School Finals Rodeo. Director Larry Lloyd believes it is important for all the major players to be on board with future plans and set up the special meeting. A similar meeting took place in 2011 when the complex was first looking at making a bid for the rodeo.
When the complex was awarded the NHSFR, a lot of work took place to make sure the needs of the rodeo were met. Two new arenas were built, new stalls were put in and the campground at the complex went from 211 full-hookup sites to 1,250. Other items such as announcer stands and sound systems were also built and upgraded.
“We couldn’t have done in without the help of the cities and county,” Lloyd said.
With this the being the final year of the contract, Lloyd explained they will be bidding for the rodeo again in December and have a meeting with the 27-member NHSFR Board in January. The years the complex will be bidding on are 2018 through 2021.
As Lloyd explained, the event itself continues to grow and the complex will have to keep up with the needs if they want to continue to be a viable competitor to host the event.
“We are in competition with areas around the United States,” Lloyd explained on the bidding process. “If we are going to be a player, we have to be able to accommodate their needs.”
After finishing the contract with the complex, the rodeo will move to Gillette for the next few years. One of the goals is to keep the rodeo in Wyoming with Rock Springs and Gillette alternating every four years. Lloyd said when Governor Matt Mead was at the event last year, he also spoke about keeping the rodeo in Wyoming.
Lloyd pointed to an economic impact study that was done to see how the NHSFR impacted the county. Approximately $30 million were spent in the county and 27,700 nights were spent in local hotels.
Lloyd also informed officials they have been contacted by the National Little Britches Rodeo about hosting their event. The complex will be sending in a bid and meeting with the Little Britches Rodeo in December.
Participants in the rodeo range in ages from five-years-old to 18-years-old. The event brings in 900 to 1,000 contestants annually and according to the rodeo officials brings in approximately $10.5 million annually to the community which hosts the event. Lloyd said the bid will be for the 2016 and 2017 event. He added the rodeo is also looking for a permanent home or three sites the event will rotate between.
The Little Britches Rodeo usually takes place after the NHSFR with many of the contestants competing in both. Since the week after the NHSFR is the Red Desert Roundup and the fair, Complex Director of Marketing and Events Kandi Pendleton said Little Britches is willing to move the event to before the NHSFR.
Lloyd explained the complex has been contacted by the National Motorcoach Association about hosting their event and officials have already been onsite to tour the complex. He also said they are on the outskirts of conversation about the National Junior High Finals Rodeo but said they really want to focus on the high school rodeo.
Sweetwater County Commission Chairman Wally Johnson said he strongly supports bringing in larger events. He also brought forward a couple of concerns. He said these large events only work because of the complex staff and the hundreds of community volunteers. He worried having so many events back to back might burn out the volunteers.
Johnson also said the complex is not a single use facility and many other groups like BMX and motocross rely on the complex. Johnson said it is important to keep in mind how these big events affect those other groups.
Lloyd added to this as he explained these other users are also bringing in major events. He said Rock Springs Moto-cross will host a Loretta Lynn qualifier in 2015 which will bring in between 500 to 700 competitors alone.
Rock Springs Mayor Carl Demshar said when they first discussed bringing the NHSFR to the area the city was very supportive. He said these events put this community on a national stage and it is important to take advantage of that.
The city of Rock Springs has not only verbally supported these bigger events but has provided financial help. Demshar said the voters approved the sixth-cent tax for infrastructure needs. The city helped the complex with these infrastructure needs with leftover sixth-cent tax money.
Demshar also said one of the biggest challenges is to find a balance for these events. He also echoed Johnson’s concerns about volunteers. He explained both he and his wife volunteer for these events and from July 1 to the middle of August it is a blur.
The mayor also pointed out people come to the NHSFR for other reasons as well. He noted the High School Foundation Golf tournament grew from 80 participants to 150 last year. Demshar said staff at the White Mountain Golf Course were scrambling to meet the growing needs of the tournament. Demshar also noted the volleyball tournament during the rodeo which brings in people from around the area.
Fair Board member Kent McCann said when he came here from Colorado he was amazed that a community would have the foresight to build a complex like the Sweetwater County Events Complex. McCann said he believes they are at a point again when they have to start planning for the future. There was also a small discussion about building a larger events center.
Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Dave Hanks said when they did a survey for the lodging tax they added a question on there about supporting the building of a center. Hanks said 76 percent of the surveys returned said they did support a larger events center. Not only that, he explained there were about 40 suggestions on events they would like to see in the area.
Hanks also commented on the volunteer concerns. He said the community is growing by about 3 percent yearly. He said he believes if it is an event people want and it is fun and means something to them they will support it by volunteering.
Fair Board member Paul Zancanella added during the winter months, the indoor arena is completely booked and during some weekends has more than one event going on. Fair Board member Bill Valdez also pointed out the events complex is the no. 1 evacuation spot for the community if there is an emergency.
To close, Fair Board member Charlie Barnum said one of his concerns is it seems like the complex is always going to the commissioners asking for money. Barnum thanked the officials and said it is nice to hear how much support they have from the county and cities.
Lloyd said he anticipates the complex will know about the results of the bidding process on the Little Britches Rodeo after they meet in December and on the NHSFR after they meet with officials in January.