ENUMCLAW, Washington (STPNS) -- In the span of two years, Enumclaw has assumed ownership of the former King County Fairgrounds, renamed it the Enumclaw Expo Center and decided it will be the centerpiece of an ambitious plan to turn the community into major player in regional equestrian circles.

There was one question missing from the equation, however: would the concept fly from a dollars-and-cents perspective?

According to business plan authored by paid consultants, the answer is yes. Members of the Enumclaw City Council adopted that strategy May 12, kick-starting a process that will have Mayor John Wise and others seeking money needed to turn grand plans into reality.



?The council?s vote was a huge step,? Wise said, toward carrying out the goals of a tourism plan that had been adopted in 2006.

The business plan, he said, confirmed the city?s hope that ?if we build it, they will come. It will work.?

Integral elements of the business plan are that the Expo Center be developed along the lines of a 50/50 model, meaning about half the space and effort goes toward equestrian-themed events and half is dedicated to a variety of other events. That includes everything from the annual Scottish Highland Games to the big Olympic Kennel Club dog show.

?There?s not enough of a draw for just equestrian,? Wise said. ?That?s why we named it the Expo Center.?

Horse fanciers make up a considerable part of the audience, though, and the business plan determined that Enumclaw could stage events that would attract people and animals from throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Wise acknowledges there?s plenty of competition for equestrian dollars on the horizon, but feels Enumclaw is better positioned to make something work. A plan has been in the works for the better part of a decade in the Suncadia development near Cle Elum and a project is in the works near Centralia.

The Suncadia project is feasible only during limited months due to the annual snowfall on the eastern flank of the Cascade Mountains, Wise said, and the Lewis County effort has  not yet determined an acceptable site. Also, the Centralia boosters are targeting their effort at major shows, like professional rodeos, Wise noted.

?I don?t think they?re as far down the road as we are,? the mayor said.

The key element to the business plan, from a taxpayer perspective, is that the Expo Center be self-sufficient. Wise emphasized that no money will be taken from other city operations to boost the project.

The resolution passed by the council makes that clear. In supporting the business plan, the resolution states that the city will ?develop and manage the Expo and Equestrian Center like a separately funded enterprise not supported by the city?s general fund.?

That?s a major hurdle to clear, considering the total build-out of the facility is expected to be in the neighborhood of $13 million.

?We have out marching orders to move forward,? Wise said, noting that the city administration?s task will be to beat the bushes looking for money to make a public-private partnership work. Corporate sponsorship is a likely target, he said, explaining that development of a major equestrian arena is the No. 1 priority. That alone could cost upwards of $8 million, Wise said.

Wise said the immediate step for the city is to commission a detailed plan of what the Expo Center should include and look like.

?I need a product to market,? he said, noting a desire to have such a plan in hand within 90 days.

Another crucial piece of the business plan is that the city would benefit from a successful enterprise at the Expo Center. The plan outlines how the center could operate in the black within three years and, eventually, pump $11 million annually into the Enumclaw-area economy.

So far, the city is operating the Expo Center with the $2 million in seed money that came with the transfer of the land. The King County money has been split in half, with $1 million earmarked for operation of the acreage and another million for capital improvements.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.