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story.lead_photo.caption Members of the Siloam Springs Riding Club met at City Hall on Monday morning as Mayor John Mark Turner issued a proclamation declaring June 14-16 as Siloam Springs Rodeo Days. Pictured, from left, are Siloam Springs Riding Club members Karen Davis, Kari Hutchins, Jeff Lee, Turner, Dean Miller with Scarlett Thompson and Abigail Carnes in front, and Kaci Johnson. - Photo by Graham Thomas

After a year of uncertainty about the future of the rodeo grounds, the Siloam Springs Riding Club is getting ready for the 60th annual Siloam Springs Rodeo this weekend.

The club has a 99-year contract with the city to provide facilities, and for several months it seemed likely the city would sell the current rodeo ground property to the school district and build the club a new facility on city-owned property on South Arkansas Highway 59. However, negotiations fell through after the cost of rebuilding the facility came in $600,000 over budget and the school district purchased another piece of property next to the rodeo grounds.

National and state economic impact

Nationally, the horse industry directly contributed approximately $50 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017 and directly created 988,394 jobs with wages, salaries and benefits totaling an additional $38 billion, according to the American Horse Council website, The direct effects create ripples in other sectors of the economy that are estimated to contribute a total of $122 billion to the U.S. economy and create 1.7 million jobs.

Approximatley 65,000 households in Arkansas own a horse or other equine, and the equine population of Arkansas is estimated to be 168,000, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau website, The average cost of horse ownership in the state is about $3,000 per year, it states. Horse owners must pay the costs of ownership, whether or not they are actively competing in rodeos or other equine events.

Karen Davis, riding club board member, and Jeff Lee, riding club member and rodeo advocate, said the club will be happy whether they continue to have their current facility or move to the new location.

"We are happy with the plans of moving, but we are equally happy with staying where we are at," Lee said. "I think we're at the point now where we need to say, 'OK, if we are going to stay where we are at for a while, we need to make some plans on how we are going to better where we're at."

If the rodeo grounds stay at their current location, the club will continue to make improvements to the facility's infrastructure, especially the back pens, bucking chutes and announcer's booth, Lee said.

Discussions about moving the rodeo grounds to a new facility have gone on for more than 15 years. Because the club has limited funds, they have hesitated to make improvements to the current facility with the prospect of a move in the future, Lee and Davis explained.

The city has been very good about helping maintain the grounds over the years, and last week they were working on improving the lighting system for the rodeo, Davis said.

The reality is the current rodeo grounds are in the middle of Siloam Springs' growth pattern, and will probably need to move either sooner or later, Lee said.

There is still a chance the new facility could be built on South Arkansas Highway 59, according to City Administrator Phillip Patterson. Even though the school has purchased other property, they haven't indicated they are not interested in the current rodeo ground property, he said.

The city is still looking for financial assistance from national rodeo supporters to build the new facility. The city has not been successful to date, but city officials have not "hit the proverbial wall yet," he said.

"It's not out of the question yet," Patterson said.

The city needs to make a final decision so the riding club knows how to move forward, he said.

"I think there is a better location for them than where they are today," Patterson said.

Patterson hopes to find some answers on financing and bring the issue back before the city board sometime in October, when the board is discussing the 2019 budget.

"We're committed to trying to do that until we hit the proverbial wall," he said.

Economic impact

Investing in the equine community could be a wise decision for Siloam Springs and Northwest Arkansas as a whole, said Lee. He sees a need for rodeo and equine events in the area, especially facilities that are capable of hosting multi-day events.

Davis estimated that the rodeo brings in more than 2,500 ticketed customers a night, totaling more than 7,500 people over the course of the three-day event. It also brings between 400 and 500 entries.

Many of the spectators are either from Siloam Springs or the city's trade area in western Benton County and northeast Oklahoma, but the contestants come from across the region from states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi, according to Lee, who travels the country announcing rodeos.

"That's a pretty big regional draw and this time of year there's a lot of rodeos they could go to in those regions and they chose to come here," Lee said. "Every one of those people who choose to come here, they're going to eat, they're going to buy fuel."

The special needs kids rodeo on Friday morning also has a big draw, with one local organization bringing more than 60 children to experience rodeo activities.

"The most important thing I would want people to know if they read this, is this is one of the longest running, continuously running events in Siloam," Lee said. "You know, it's the 60th year, there is a reason for that, a lot of hard work and persistence, but there is a lot of entertainment value."

In addition to the annual rodeo in June, the riding club hosts at least 60 events in the arena throughout the year, including weekly play nights, weekly barrel races, and steer wrestling and bull riding events, as well as the Ozark Junior Association Rodeo and the OJRA alumni rodeo, Davis said. In many cases, the riding club donates arena time to non-profit fundraising events such as the Ability Tree bull riding fundraiser, she said.

"On Monday night, there could be 50 to 75 trailers out there at the barrel race, it's a pretty packed deal," Davis said.

Each trailer may come with three or four horses and three or four people, or more.

"There are a lot of little communities around here that have arenas, but the horse community doesn't get as much access to those arenas as they do ours," Lee said. "Our arena out here is very active, so it's not everyday that you can pull up or go to somewhere else and they've got events constantly happening."

Economically, most people who are involved in rodeo and equine events do well financially, Lee said. At some of the larger rodeos he attends, where he works as a professional announcer, competitors may have a $50,000 to $60,000 truck, a $100,000 horse trailer and then spend on whatever it costs to purchase and maintain a competitive horse.

"Economically, most of them are doing pretty well off, so coming to town, these are the people that don't mind spending money, they've got the disposable income to do that," Lee said. "Rodeo is on the low end of the spectrum, when you get into cutting horses, you're talking millions of dollars. Those people are making millions in another industry and cutting horses are their tax write-off."

No formal studies have been done on the rodeo's impact on Siloam Springs' economy, according to Wayne Mays, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. Without an advertising and promotion commission, its hard to track the impact of the rodeo or any of the other events in Siloam Springs, he said. Even for the Dogwood Festival, which is a chamber event, the organization can only estimate the impact, he said.

Nathan Reed, chamber director of economic development and finance, speculated that many of the 500 rodeo competitors are probably staying and eating in Siloam Springs because they are from outside the area. Many of the spectators coming in to watch the rodeo probably live in the area, so they are not necessarily going to stay in a hotel or eat in a restaurant, but there is still an economic impact because it is likely those people will be back, he said.

"Just bringing in 3,000 people a night to see the town is huge," Reed said.

"Especially if those people are in the fringe area of our trade area. ... The beauty is they are close enough to come back," Mays said.

"So there is no doubt about it, it might not be in the top one or two tourism events of the year for us, but its certainly there and its in the upper end of the group because it attracts a group of people that we don't see the rest of the year," Mays said. "They're coming in for the rodeo and that's wonderful."

General News on 06/13/2018

Print Headline: City, Riding Club continue to explore options for rodeo grounds

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