Money major concern in pursuit of horse barn

Robin Fornoff

Not a single negative from Curry County commissioners or a crowd of about 30 on hand Tuesday in Melrose to hear a proposal for a new 400-stall horse barn and arena adjacent to the Events Center.

There was, however, the matter of a $5 million price tag.

“I personally think it’s something that needs to be pursued,” said commission Chairman Caleb Chandler, quickly adding, however, that “money is the problem.”

Thus, the commission’s horse stall committee got the nod to pursue planning what was described as “the ultimate facility between Scottsdale (Ariz.) and Oklahoma City.” Just no money.

Committee spokesman Steve Friskup wasn’t surprised or disheartened. During his impassioned pitch for the facility, Friskup said he believed much of the funding should and must come from the state.

Friskup said the indoor show arena and horse barn he was proposing would be a magnet for a burgeoning equine industry, pulling in rodeos and other premiere events such as cutting and reining horse shows.

“This is a multi-billion dollar industry,” Friskup said. “People with horses have money.

“It’s an industry that’s been stolen from New Mexico, and we need to get it back, and Clovis should be central to doing it,” said Friskup, who is sales manager at the Clovis Livestock Auction. “It’s not just a Curry County issue. It’s a state of New Mexico issue.”

Friskup’s committee was created in June in response to complaints from horse owners competing in rodeos and other shows at the Events Center. There are no stalls for horses, forcing some owners to bring portable stalls. It is a practice forbidden in most major horse events and considered dangerous to the horses, some valued as much as $250,000 each, according to Friskup.

Friskup and Events Center Manager Kevin Jolley noted rodeo and horse shows increased this year at the Events Center.

“When it comes down to the heart of the matter,” said Jolley, “the equestrian business is what keeps us alive.”

Jolley said there is growing demand from horse show promoters for indoor facilities such as the Events Center. But, he said, horse owners with animals worth $100,000 each aren’t going to bring them to an arena for a two- or three-day event without safe stalls.

“If we don’t do something in a major way,” said Friskup, “what business we have now is going to go away.”

Adding fuel to their argument was Ray Mondragon, economic development and community planner for the Eastern Plains Council of Governments. Mondragon said next week he is hosting a group that is touring Curry County with a goal of building a similar horse arena in Clayton to be paid for by a bond issue.

But there was no talk of a public bond issue from commissioners. Chandler did concur with Friskup that financing from the state should be explored, including grants or low interest loans from the state finance authority. He also said city officials should be consulted about possibly giving a portion of lodging tax revenue to help finance such a facility.

After the meeting, County Manager Lance Pyle said the county had to be careful about borrowing even low-interest subsidized loans from state financing authority. Pyle said loans of such magnitude from the state might affect how much money the county could borrow from other sources to pay for other high-priority projects.

This is a supplemental report to Tuesday’s Curry County Commission meeting at Melrose City Hall. During the meeting, commissioners:

• Were presented with an architect’s briefing on findings at the downtown post office building purchased by the county for relocating public offices. Consultant Andy Aguilar of Architectural Research Consultants said the building is in surprisingly good shape. He also said there is room for additions if commissioners decide all county offices should be relocated to the building. Aguilar is meeting with each county department to determine needs.

• Were told by Curry County Events Center Manager Kevin Jolley the center has taken in about $22,000 more than originally projected in the budget. The increase in revenue is due in part to a larger crowd at the Curry County Fair and the addition of horse events.

• Agreed to push back the paving date for work on County Roads S and 7 to wait for warmer temperatures. Finance Director Mark Lansford said original plans to begin the paving in a few weeks are not realistic. He said asphalt must be put down during summer temperatures.

• Were updated on construction at the Melrose wastewater treatment plant. Lansford and Assistant County Manager Connie Harrison said the contractor is having problems cutting through rock encountered during excavation for a lagoon. They said it may delay finishing the project by Dec. 16.

Lansford said failure to complete by the Dec. 16 date could jeopardize the county’s chances of applying for other grants used for such major costs as road improvements.

One grant-funded project must be completed before the county can apply for another.

County Manager Lance Pyle said he would contact the state financing authority, inform them of the issue and determine if it would grant any special consideration.