Horse center plan draws competition

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

Enumclaw is certainly not alone in jumping on the equestrian bandwagon.

As city officials debate the merits of adopting an equine theme, while looking at the potential of turning the Enumclaw Expo Center into a first-rate center for horses and riders, the same exercise is being carried out in two other communities.

The Washington State Horse Park has been active in Cle Elum for a decade and, in the past few months, an effort has generated significant buzz in the twin cities area of Centralia and Chehalis.

Mayor John Wise is certainly aware of the competition, which is detailed in a recently-released study dealing with the financial feasibility of Enumclaw's proposal (see related story, page A1).

“Our plan addresses those other groups,” Wise said. “There are several in different stages of development. It's a complicated issue.”

If it's simply a matter of healthy competition, Wise believes Enumclaw has the upper hand.

“I think we're miles ahead of any of those groups,” he said, “because we already have the property and the infrastructure.”

Other major projects in the planning stage are:

€ The Southwest Washington Regional Equestrian Center, commonly known as the REQ Center, the brainchild of Centralia businessman Larry Hewitt.

The Hebert report identifies The REQ as a project aimed at “the high-end market, the kind of events seen on ESPN.” The report states Hewitt's idea is to build a facility with 7,500 permanent seats and parking for 4,500 vehicles. Other identified amenities include a theme restaurant, exhibition hall and a small, theme-oriented retail mall.

The concept currently has no identified site and no funding plan. Financial support could be generated through increased tax revenue (a bill has been introduced in the state Legislature), although news accounts state Hewitt is also looking for private inventors.

€ The Washington State Horse Park was authorized by the Legislature in 1995 but remains in the planning stage, awaiting state funding.

A major step was taken recently when developers of the huge Suncadia development agreed to donate 106 acres of land to the Horse Park Authority. That donation is contingent, however, upon significant progress being made on the project in 2007. Supporters continue seeking private money and are hoping to secure funding from the state Legislature, with a hope of beginning construction this summer.

The proposal calls for an indoor arena with seating for more than 1,000, several outdoor arenas and the capability to host other types of events.

The Washington State Horse Park Foundation, a non-profit group, has been established to help with fund raising, promotion, planning and construction. The Horse Park Authority has been selling yearly-tax-deductible memberships to individuals and businesses.

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