By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
When Paul Barnes imagines a special events center on the east side of the Curry County Fairgrounds, he envisions a sea of problems.
“The east side is too congested,” said Barnes, who traced the inception of the project to the 1970s, recalling a time when he served as a county commissioner, securing funds for the development of a multi-purpose center that could bring in thousands of dollars in revenue for the county. “The best place for the center would be the west side.”
Rows of residents back Barnes’ assessment, including Sens. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, and Anna Crook, R-Clovis. Although their voices were heard in Tuesday’s Curry County Commission meeting that lasted for more than two hours, the Commission voted 3-2 to proceed with a Schelgel Lewis Architects’ plan to continue with the design of the center for the east side while at the same time pursuing additional funding. If sufficient funding could be procured, construction would then be switched to the originally planned west side of the fairgrounds, the Commission decided.
“I voted against it (the recommendation) because I thought it was too open-ended. I wanted to pick the east or the west with no contingency,” County Commission Chairperson Ed Perales said, joined by board member Tim Ashley in his opposition to the recommendation.
According to arena architect Jim Lewis, cost of development for the proposed multipurpose center, whether on the west or east side, is roughly equal, with rounded price tags of about $6.7 million each. The county currently has $4.25 million available for the project. However, the advantages and disadvantages of the plans greatly differ, Lewis said.
The primary advantage of east-side construction, said Lewis, are low initial costs. The first phase of the project, he said, could be completed free from the crutch of additional funding. But a west-side location would require more upfront funding because additional infrastructure is needed at the site, Lewis said, as more than 20 residents eagerly listened to his morning presentation, prepared at the request of County Manager Dick Smith.
“We have a finite amount of money to deal with today,” said County Board Member J. Albin Smith, who predicts a building could be constructed on the east side by next summer. “I’m in favor of moving the site if we come up with the money, but why delay the project any further? We (the commissioners and west side supporters) are not as diametrically opposed as it may appear.”
The roomful of residents, who support the original west side location, filed into the courthouse hallway after the recommendation was passed. Mostly rodeo event intimates, the residents were critical of the commissioners’ vote, in favor of a west side event center, which would utilize the plot of land originally purchased for the center. They also believe building on the west side would provide more physical space and at the same time avoid animal, human and vehicle congestion.
Harden, called upon as a source for commissioners at several points prior to the vote, was disappointed by the contingency recommendation. But he said he is still committed to finding capital outlay funds to secure a west-side site, which all parties agree is a superior alternative to a slightly smaller and more encroached east-side site.
“In the worst case scenario,” Harden said, “funds available for public works would become limited and a west-side development wouldn’t happen.”
Harden, however, is confident that a west side special events center will become a reality.