A big crowd stood, cheered and clapped as the Nampa City Council voted shortly before midnight Tuesday to stop a proposal to sell part of the Ford Idaho Horse Park.
The crowd numbered in the dozens more than five hours after the council meeting began. It was full of horse people. Many are leaders or supporters of the Snake River Stampede, a century-old rodeo that’s been a tenant of the horse park and adjacent Ford Idaho Center since the venue was built 20 years ago. Others were participants in other horse events, such as the Arabian Sport Horse National, a show that might have stopped coming to Nampa if the city sold the horse park acreage.
Last year, after being approached by two separate companies interested in building a food-processing plant, Nampa officials put together a proposal to sell 16 acres of the horse park. Economic development director Beth Ineck predicted a food-processing plant would employ dozens of workers, bring the city hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in property taxes and lead to tens of millions in economic activity.
But the proposal triggered an outcry, mostly from the Treasure Valley’s horse community. In response, Ineck and others developed a second proposal, to sell 10 acres instead of 16, with the hope of providing enough space for almost all, if not all, of the Idaho Center’s regular horse shows.
Still, horse people were alarmed. They flooded City Hall on Tuesday with a crowd of more than 100. Every person who spoke opposed the sale.
Many made emotional appeals. They said the Idaho Center and horse park are a world-class horse show venue that has put Nampa on the map, at least for the horse community. Selling any part of it would erode the city’s reputation as a horse town, they said.
Others touted the horse park’s economic importance, saying participants who patronize local businesses account for millions of dollars of economic activity every year.
Another common argument was that the horse park needs all the space it can get. Though most events don’t use the area east of the Idaho Center for events, many — perhaps most — use that land for parking or to warm up their horses before shows. As events like the Snake River Stampede grow, organizers said, they’ll need more room than they have now, and selling even 10 acres would badly cramp them.
Several people predicted that if the horse park had more room, it would be able to attract more and bigger shows.
Tuesday’s decision doesn’t end the Idaho Center’s problems. It’s a 20-year-old venue whose events city taxpayers subsidize because they don’t produce enough money to cover operating costs, though the financial picture has improved in recent years. City leaders and the horse community agree that the complex needs major upgrades, and there’s no obvious way to pay for them.
New Mayor Debbie Kling asked people who attended Tuesday’s meeting to help the city find a way to put the Idaho Center in the black.