More than 4,000 people have signed a petition in Davis County begging the commission to pump the brakes on changes to the Legacy Center, a large indoor arena in Farmington.
Originally built for a rodeo during the Olympics, the center has hosted a variety of equine and 4-H events for nearly two decades.
Kaysville resident Brett King is heavily involved in the rodeo circuit, for adults and kids.
“There’s a saying, you know, that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a kid,” he said. “It goes for adults or anybody.”
King is upset the commission intends to pave over the center’s large dirt arena with concrete to make it better suited for events like wrestling and gymnastics.
“The whole direction of that facility has moved away from horses, from animals, anything like that,” he said.
Commissioner Lorene Kamalu said the county has approved a design study for the concrete work. They intend to finish the current calendar of events on dirt and then pave the area by the end of the year.
She says the decision was about money. Market demand for events on dirt has dried up. There’s more opportunity catering to different crowds.
“A million dollars in the red every year is a significant number for us to consider as a county,” she said.
The gap is funded by tourism dollars — taxes on restaurants and hotel stays.
King and other critics of the move say not all county facilities turn a profit. They feel the recreation space designed for horses appears to be held to a higher standard than golf courses, for example.
Kamalu acknowledged golf courses have up and down years — and do sometimes finish in the red.
“Something that’s different about the county golf courses compared to this property is that they are enterprise funds,” she said. “They are supposed to be a little bit different in their structure.”
The center has temporary flooring now — thousands of panels installed for non-animal events and removed when it’s time for the fair or a rodeo.
It takes about 200 man hours to flip the floor. Much of the labor comes from inmates at the neighboring county jail.
King and many others believe there’s a lot of money to be made in rodeos and other equine events, but the county is simply choosing to get out of that business.
Kamalu insists the county isn’t turning any equine groups away. She says the commission has had talks with the Utah State University Extension in Kaysville about building a new equine facility there.
“They’ve shown us a property there where they believe it can happen,” Kamalu said.
Kamalu believes placing such a facility there would safeguard it from political debates of the future. She says past commissions have had a wide variety of ideas for the Legacy Center, including turning it into a car dealership.
King doesn’t see why the county needs to build another campus if there’s nothing physically wrong with the current one.
“It doesn’t make sense for the county to spend money someplace else,” he said.
Kamalu foresees an incremental build on the USU Extension following a feasibility study, with the outdoor arena in Farmington remaining open to horse events for the time being.