Canyon County

Idaho Center turns a profit for first time in 22 years. Here’s what that means for you

Bareback bronc ride pumps up Snake River Stampede rodeo

Tucker Zingg of Glendive, Montana, rides Gold Buckle during the bareback bronc riding event in July 2016 at the Snake River Stampede rodeo at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.
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Tucker Zingg of Glendive, Montana, rides Gold Buckle during the bareback bronc riding event in July 2016 at the Snake River Stampede rodeo at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.

Good news, Nampa taxpayers. For the first time since it opened in 1997, the Ford Idaho Center finished a fiscal year in the black. The news could benefit event-goers, too.

The events center, owned by the city, has bled money for the last several years. Before the city contracted management to Spectra, a Philadelphia venue manager, in 2015, the center was losing about $1 million each year, according to the company. In the last three years under manager Tim Savona, the center has improved its budget by around $300,000 each year. In the year that ended Sept. 30, it reported a profit of $185,768.

“Since Spectra took over, they’ve been a lot more aggressive and done a good job,” said Councilman Rick Hogaboam in a phone interview Friday.

But the city isn’t free of the tax burden yet. Savona asked the council for $1 million in the year that began Oct. 1 to fund renovations and capital improvements, Hogaboam said. But the Council only ended up funding $225,000 of that request.

The newfound profits will go toward renovations too, which could benefit people who attend events and help attract even more events, Hogaboam said. He pointed to the outdoor amphitheater as one area that could be used more often with additional upgrades.

Reduced city subsidies free taxpayer money for other purposes in the growing city, whose problems include a shortage of police officers and an outdated sewage-treatment plant.

In the 2018 fiscal year, the Idaho Center hosted 186 events, covering 277 days, Savona told the Statesman on Thursday. The events range from gun and trade shows to high school graduations.

Spectra has also sold more sponsorships within the center. Evidence of that is displayed on the walls of the Idaho Center, which are rife with colorful posters displaying Idaho companies.

The horse park controversy

Certain parts of the park bring in more revenue than others. Nearly half of the Idaho Center’s revenue comes from the indoor arena. The horse park generates one fifth of the revenue, and the amphitheater one tenth.

The horse park has a strong and vocal constituency, but Savona said it has the center’s highest operating expenses. Hogaboam and others have previously called on the horse community to do more to ease the center’s drain on taxpayers.

The conflicting views around the center’s future were brought to a head last year, when Nampa considered selling some of the land its owns near the horse park. But organizers and supporters of the Snake River Stampede and other horse events said they may need that land for future events. The City Council decided in January to keep the land.

Despite the center’s improving finances, Mayor Debbie Kling this year reconvened a committee on the city’s event venues that will work to identify the best uses for the entire Idaho Center campus, Hogaboam said.

“We have to weigh what brings in the most money to what events add cultural value,” he added.

Beth Ineck, Nampa’s economic development director, told The Statesman in February that the city had never expected the Idaho Center to generate a big profit. Budget deficits are common among government-owned venues, she said.

Savona said he expects strong performance this fiscal year.

“Until we are booked 365 days a year, we have more work to do,” he said.

This story has been corrected. An earlier version included an incorrect dollar amount for the fiscal 2019 subsidy request that Spectra asked of Nampa.

Kate Talerico: 208-377-6292; ktalerico@idahostatesman.com; @k_talerico
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