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Bullard wants arena to ‘be for the county’

The new Covington Center Arena operators have a simple top priority — clean the place up.

Thursday, the Covington County Commission signed a lease agreement with local businessman Don Bullard to assume the operation of the Covington Center Arena.

“I just want people to know that I’m doing this — I’m not trying to make a living out of this — I’m doing this because of my love of horses and the love of the community,” Bullard said. “I’ve had an ‘arena’ since I was 13 years old. I don’t need this arena to play in.

“My goal is to make a great facility for this county,” he said. “I don’t see how it’s going to make money for me. I want this to work. It may and it may not, but the people of Covington County should know I’m damn sure going to try my best.”

The lease is for five years, with an option to renew for an additional five years. Bullard, who is owner of Bullard Excavating Company, will be required to pay the county a $1,000 a month rental fee for the first five years. If and when the contract is renewed, the price will increase by $100 per month each year and will top out at $1,500.

He will also be required to cover all operational and maintenance costs of the facility, as well as carry property insurance and $2 million in liability coverage. All structural improvements or additions to the property become county property at the end of the lease agreement, unless the county requests removal of those items. All plumbing, electrical or heating system repairs that cost more than $2,500 will be the responsibility of the county.

Bullard is required to honor all existing contracts for the facility.

The R.P. Shelley Arena, which is the “outside arena,” will remain open to the public but users are asked to contact Bullard to schedule their required times of use.

Each of the commissioners applauded Bullard’s willingness to take on the project.

“You’ve got the resources to make it happen,” Commissioner David Ellis said. “We failed at it. We don’t have the money to operate it. A lot of people might look at it and say $1,000 a month and say that isn’t enough, but just how many hundreds of thousands are you going to have to put into it to make it the facility it needs to be?

“We thank you,” he said.

Later Thursday, Bullard walked through the arena illustrating what he plans to accomplish in the coming months.

“Really it’s just little things to start with,” Bullard said. “We want to make this facility user friendly. Some things are as basic as cleaning the place up — which is first and foremost on our list — and others are a little more in depth.”

One of the things he does plan to do in the future is determine how to market the arena to bigger attractions.

“What’s going to make this place grow is the people who rent it,” he said. “I can’t change public perception of the arena over night. It’s going to take a while. We want to offer a facility that allows people — whether it’s the Ed Allen’s team roping or the Civitan Rodeo — to draw more people to their event.”

When asked how he plans to create such a facility, Bullard said he’s “got some ideas” but is hesitant to commit to them at such an early stage.

“The whole timing of this situation is bad for me,” he said. “It couldn’t be a worse time. This is the time of year that I need to be out making my living. Now, when the winter comes or it’s raining, that’s when people will see that I’ve gotten down to business out here.”

Bullard said he plans to utilize his own employees in the coming days to “just clean the place up.” He has an open-door policy when it comes to public input about uses for the arena.

“I want this to be a facility that is used for the betterment of Covington County,” he said. “We’re going to be creative when trying to find ways to fill it.

“If there is a specific need in the community that needs to be filled — say one of the high schools is in the state playoffs. It’s been raining and they can’t get on the field to practice. What bigger place is there to get out of the rain than the arena?

“I tell people, call me. We’ll talk,” he said.