Commissioner expresses disappointment with events center

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The building should be completed in a month, but Curry County Manager Lance Pyle said the Special Events Center probably won’t be fully operational until at least the beginning of next year.

County Commissioner Robert Sandoval said he is disappointed in the way the project has been handled: The county is on the verge of flipping on the lights, but with no amenities, storage facilities or a plan to book events.

“(Lack of planning) has bothered me for over a year,” he said. “I think we’ve more or less taken a hide-our-heads-in-the-sands (approach) hoping that something is going to happen. It’s sort of like praying for rain.”

After more than seven years of discussion, debate and planning, the county broke ground for the 85,000-square-foot, $7 million facility in April 2006.

But there was no business plan for the facility to determine amenities, type of events to be held, fee structures or scheduling protocol, said Pyle who became county manager in December.

Acquisition and installation of amenities — including an arena floor, scoreboards, folding chairs, bucking and roping chutes, indoor animal pens and janitorial supplies — will have significant impact on the facility’s ability to host events, Pyle said.

Also needed are storage facilities, which could involve construction of a second building on the property, Pyle said.

The commission will have to determine how to furnish the facility, if a management company will be hired or if the county manager’s office will handle booking, and what to charge, he said.

“It’s just hard (to schedule events) in the next six months until we have the amenities.”

The county has estimated the cost of amenities at $1.5 million to $2 million. It has received $850,000 from state appropriations funding. The shortfall will be covered from cash reserves, Pyle said.

On Pyle’s recommendation, county commissioners tabled a decision to hire a firm to operate and book events in January.

Pyle said in coming weeks he will make fee structure recommendations to county commissioners so his office can begin booking events in the interim until a decision is made regarding facility management.

Sandoval said he feels strongly the county doesn’t have the experience needed to maximize the events center and should hire a company to manage and promote the facility. Through proper promotion, the center can pay for itself, Sandoval said.

“Right now the way I see it is until we get somebody (to manage it), I don’t see any huge events. I’ve long been a proponent of alcohol sales at the events center because that’s one way of getting large bookings and more popular bookings in Clovis, but that didn’t pass,” he said.

Commissioners voted against alcohol sales at the center in September.

A prospective management firm told commissioners earlier this year the events center could lose up to $500,000 a year for the first four years of operation before breaking even.