Fair board asks City for $100K contribution

by Marianne Gasaway

Clear Lake City Council members say they will consider a request to contribute $100,000 to a North Iowa Events Center capital campaign which would allow the group to expand and improve its facilities in an effort to host horse and livestock shows year-round.

Don O’Connor, a member of the North Iowa Fair Board, met with Council members last week to discuss the Board’s vision and plan of action to go from a seven-month facility to 12.

“This is not a pipe dream.  We see the potential,” O’Connor told the Council.  “They say, ‘build it and they will come.’ We do believe that.”

O’Connor explained that horse shows are the Event Center’s primary source of revenue and create a large economic impact for North Central Iowa.

“These people stay at our hotels, they eat at our restaurants, they are shopping and taking in entertainment. They’re not showing their horses the whole time they are here. There’s a lot of down time when they are not showing horses, so they are spending money in other places.”

According to a Visit Mason City study, between May and October 2021 there were 18 horse events, not counting cattle battles and some other shows, which created an economic impact of $4.1 million for the area.

Becoming a 12-month facility will enhance that number, O’Connor said.   But to become a year-round facility, an enclosed, heated warm-up arena, heated barn with stalls and enclosed walkways which connect areas are needed.  

“Weather really does dictate what happens at our arena,” he said.

O’Connor pointed out that horse facilities in Iowa Falls, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Des Moines all have enclosed areas for shows and Mason City does not.

“We want to return North Iowa to the premier horse facility that we once were. When this was originally built many years ago, this was state of the art. There was nobody else that had anything finer. Unfortunately, we’ve just not kept up.”

A $1.5 million capital campaign is ready to be launched this winter, according to O’Connor. As a precursor, the fair board has made presentations to Cerro Gordo County Supervisors and City Councils at Mason City and Clear Lake.  Their support will go a long way to inspiring others to give, said O’Connor.  So far, the county has pledged $200,000 to the effort and Mason City $100,000.  Horsemen of Iowa, an equestrian organization in North Iowa will contribute $50,000, he said, leaving $300,000 still needed for the first phase.

Phase one of the project will include an enclosed, heated warm-up arena at the west end of the current arena.  Completion for that phase is early 2023.  The second phase, an enclosed 60-stall area that will attach to the current Curran barn, would follow in 2024.

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