Commission weighs event center pros, cons
After a two-year study, a committee of local representatives have recommended to the Carbon County Commission that the Robbers Roost Event Center should be built at the fairground.
"We believe that the county should design, finance, construct and operate a multi-purpose facility as soon as possible," indicated planning-zoning director and committee head Dave Levanger at the commission's regular meeting on Feb. 6.
Carbon lawmakers formed the committee in January 2000 to look into the feasibility of building the center.
The committee and county officials contracted with Donald Snyder of Utah State University to help in the study and analysis of the facility. The study was conducted to:
Identify the broad community characteristics.
Determine specifications and facility costs.
Determine potential activities that could be staged at the center facility.
Identify operation and maintenance costs.
Estimate the financial feasibility of the center.
Estimate the potential economic impacts on the surrounding area.
The committee envisions a facility consisting of an indoor arena, a convention center and offices in a building that could be adapted to function for almost any type of event or meeting. Fixed seating would accommodate between 3,500 and 4,000 people. Temporary seating could be put in that could raise the capacity to nearly 6,000 people.
According to the study, one primary function of the facility would be equestrian activities. But the ventilation system could handle numerous events like indoor demolition derbies, moto-cross and tractor pulls. The proposed sound system would accommodate concerts and musical venues.
The convention center would be one big room that could seat up to 1,400 people for programs and up to 500 for banquets.
The committee suggested that a board be set up to run the facility and a manager hired to run the center.
The study projected costs of operating the center and paying the expenses with fees from entities using the facility.
The committee estimated that the facility could be operating in the black by more than $100,000 annually after the first year. The estimate did not include the debt service coming from constructing the facility.
Considerable discussion at the commission meeting focused on how Carbon government could meet the county's regular obligations and support the center if facility didn't pay its way even for a short time. Initial costs could be a sticking point, even with positive projections for rentals and events.
"I think we can count on this facility costing about $6 million to build," Levanger told the county officials.
Commissioner Mike Milovich had reservations about the cost of construction.
"We haven't had good experience with estimates lately," commented Milovich, referring to the initial estimates versus bids on the Active Re-Entry building at the fairgrounds. "How realistic is this estimate to build it?"
"I have real information on that because I put it together," replied Levanger. "I am sure it can be done for that if we control the costs ourselves."
Levanger suggested that Carbon government act as the general contractor and have some of the work done by county departments.
However, Milovich pointed out that the Utah Legislature has strictly limited the size of contracts public entities can manage or complete. Another bill is currently in the pipeline that will restrict contracts even more.
Commissioner Bill Krompel also had some questions.
"I want to know how liberal or conservative these figures on income and expenses are," stated Krompel.
"I think we were conservative when it came to income and what we could collect the first year and we tried to estimate all costs in the high range," said Levanger. "Proper management would be the key to costs and income in this facility."
Commissioner Tom Matthews was concerned about how realistic the projections were based on events used as examples.
"I look at some of the examples you used of different types of events that could generate money, but some of these have been tried here and have not made money," said Matthews. "I worry about that we are looking for money to support this that may not be there."
Levanger explained the events were just examples and the committee felt some had failed because of improper promotion and lack of proper facilities.
"Besides, our experience by talking with many of the other arenas and conference centers in the state, is that once they are up and running most can choose which events they want hold, not events choosing them," added Levanger. "I think the projections are realistic based on what we have learned from other facilities."
The discussion turned to how the project could be financed. Suggestions had been made to draw money from mineral lease and restaurant tax income. Neither would be enough and doing that might take money away from important, smaller projects.
One suggestion is the consideration of a ZAP tax (zoo, arts and parks tax) like Salt Lake County has used to fund projects.
"The proof in the pudding will be in the public's acceptance of such a project," pointed out Milovich. "We really need to look at the financing because pulling money to do this from sources that could dry up if the Legislature changes its mind about some of those revenues could get the county in real trouble."
"On the other hand, the positive ripple affect on the communities businesses could make it worth it," added Milovich.
All of the county commissioners agreed that strong public support for the multi-event facility would be a must for the center to be a success.
"This could very well be the biggest decision of your tenure," Levanger told the commissioners.
The commission will study the report and come to a decision whether to explore financing options to construct the center.
The lawmakers indicated that the county's decisions should be forthcoming in the next couple of months.