Stories by Blake Herzog
Prescott Frontier Days®, which presents the World’s Oldest Rodeo® every 4th of July weekend and manages the Prescott Rodeo Grounds, has unveiled a $40 million improvement and expansion plan for the city-owned property its leaders say will secure the site’s and the rodeo’s future as an economic driver for the area.
“Our rodeo is wildly popular, and it’s kind of amazing to me. I always say to people that we’re selling them a wood bench and a port-a-john. And yet, people love the rodeo,” Prescott Frontier Days Business and Development Manager Greg Mengarelli said.
“We don’t want to lose the historic charm or authenticity of our rodeo, we want to keep that alive, but we want to become more user-friendly,” he added.
The major elements of the master plan include:
• Adding about 1,500 seats to the existing 4,000-seat outdoor arena where most rodeo events are held and constructing a two-story restroom building next to it.
• Building a 75,000-square-foot indoor arena with 112 horse stalls and restrooms and other facilities for participants in equestrian events, allowing for these to be held year-round.
• Building a 16,000-square-foot multipurpose pavilion with event space, a rodeo museum and gift shop and covered space for food and merchandise vendors.
The outlines of the plan were first presented to the Prescott City Council in March, where it was emphasized that no city money was being sought for the project. The council must approve any changes to the grounds and the plan has raised concerns from nearby neighborhoods.
Mengarelli, Prescott’s mayor from 2017-2021, said the plan includes aspects that would benefit nearby homeowners like replacing the chain-link fencing around the site, paving the dirt parking lots and a new sound system to better contain the noise on the rodeo grounds. A traffic impact study is planned for later this year.
He said about 90,000 people come through the rodeo grounds annually, and that number could double if all the improvements are put into place. An economic impact study prepared by Rounds Consulting Group estimated the improved facility will raise an additional $14.2 million in City tax revenue annually within 10 years, along with $8.5 million for Yavapai County and $36 million for the state.
The master plan drew wider attention in May after a $15.3 million appropriation for the project was included in Arizona’s 2023-24 budget after state Reps. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, and Selina Bliss, R-Prescott, pooled some of the money allocated for them to spend as part of the budget process.
That funding is now on hold after a lawsuit was filed in late June by the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and two Prescott residents alleging the funding violates parts of the state constitution.
Prescott Frontier Days is seeking private donations through a 501(c)3 foundation, the 1888 Buckle Club (www.1888buckleclub.com) it formed to support the expansion and maintenance of the 43-acre rodeo grounds, which also serve as the Yavapai County Fairgrounds and host the Arizona Equifest and Legacy Ranch Horse Sale and other events.