Todd Gralla has tried for 10 years to develop an equestrian venue in Kansas. Finally, he will get his chance.
Gralla, of Norman, Okla., is director of equestrian services and a principal at Populous, a company that is designing the equestrian and events center for the Kansas Star Casino near Mulvane.
"We really desperately need a good modern equestrian venue in the state," Gralla said Wednesday during a visit to the site near the Mulvane turnpike exit.
The Kansas Star's equestrian center will be one of the top spectator horse-show facilities in the region, with excellent climate control and ventilation, he said.
The barns, practice arena and main arena will be interconnected so horses won't be exposed to the weather after they arrive, he said.
"That is going to be a really big thing for the shows, because they can't schedule around weather," Gralla said. "You have people coming from all parts of the country, and you can't allow something like weather to affect it."
Gralla and his family visited the site on the way home to Norman after they competed in horse shows at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson.
Gralla's daughter, Lauren, 8, placed first in a class at the Pinto World Championship Horse Show. As Gralla talked, Lauren and her brother Nicholas, 6, rode horses outside the building that will house the center, which is scheduled to open in 2014.
The building initially will house the Kansas Star's interim casino, scheduled to open early next year. The permanent casino is set to open in 2013. Once the main casino opens, the building will begin to be converted into the equestrian and events venue. Horse barns and other support structures will be added. It will host concerts, trade shows and other events in addition to equestrian events.
An economic impact
Populous, with 11 offices worldwide, has designed equestrian arenas in Oklahoma, Canada, New York, New Mexico, Arizona and elsewhere. It designed the equestrian center in London that will be used in next year's Olympic Games.
The Kansas Star's center will be designed to be attractive as well as efficient, safe and comfortable for exhibitors and spectators, Gralla said.
He said he expects that it will host at least 23 equestrian events a year, mostly on weekends. It will accommodate 500 to 600 horses. It will seat 4,000 people for horse shows, and up to 6,500 for concerts and other events.
A report by Civic Economics, one of the consultants used by the state during the casino selection process last year, estimated the equestrian events center would draw between 215,700 and 255,150 visitors annually and have a direct economic impact of $17.5 million to $20.5 million.
Oklahoma City has the closest facility that is similar to the Star's, but that was built for large horse shows, while the Star's center is being built for different-sized shows, Gralla said.
"It's a simpler facility to use, more convenient," he said. "A little smaller, but it should be more economical to operate."
The center should draw horse shows from other venues, he said.
"We'll be able to recapture a lot of our events that have moved out of state for better homes. We'll also be able to seek shows that are currently hosted in places like Tulsa, Denver, possibly even Las Vegas," he said.
Event may move
Kansas has been hurt by not having an equestrian facility large enough to host major shows. The Kansas Quarter Horse Association put its premier event, the five-day Prairie Classic, in Oklahoma City in February and will hold it there again next year. The event averages 500 to 700 horses.
KQHA president Diana Friend said the association consulted on the Kansas Star center and is thrilled to have a venue large enough to host big shows. But she doesn't know whether it would be big enough to accommodate the number of horses required for the Prairie Classic. The Oklahoma City facility can house up to 1,200 horses with indoor facilities for the February event, she said.
Still, the organization would consider moving the event to the Kansas Star, she said.
"We'd have to put a pencil to it," Friend said. "We are a Kansas association. We are hard-working Kansans and we'd like to keep our dollars at home."
Equestrian events haven't suffered during the recession plagued economy like other entertainment events, Gralla said.
"Amazingly, shows are very busy. There have been virtually no shows canceled or downsized," he said. "We have clients all over the country that are building and expanding right how because they've realized there is a lot of strength in the equestrian economy."