A new, improved arena

Published 11:59 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

Ten days after signing a five-year lease contract for the operation and maintenance of the Covington Center Arena, Don Bullard is already “paving the way” for new venues and opportunities at the arena.

Thursday, Bullard, the owner of Bullard Excavating, had crews working full force putting down asphalt inside and outside the arena, installing a new drainage system and working to “clean up the place.”

“One of the first things we said we were going to do was clean up the facility,” Bullard said. “What we found was that there was so much that needed to be done before we could clean, so that we could keep the arena clean.

One project was controlling the red clay dirt found throughout the arena site. The areas outside the arena floor are now covered with limestone.

Bullard’s work crews have been “rained out” from working on contracting jobs, so they have been essentially working full-time at the arena. The men have removed a foot of dirt from the arena floor and laid approximately 3 inches of asphalt in its stead.

The reasoning for it was simple, Bullard said.

“We don’t want any more red dirt than we have to have,” he said. “With this new asphalt floor, we can put down any type of dirt – white, red, pink, yellow or blue – that the event people want. With the new drains, clean up is much easier. We can scoop it off, hose the floor and be ready for the next event.”

Those events might include all sorts of entertainment, like concerts, wrestling events and more, he said.

“It’s easy to imagine having a horse show here one weekend, and we come in the next day, move all the dirt out; rinse off the floor and be ready for a concert,” he said. “With the asphalt floor, we could have a stage here in the center back against the wall. We’ve got all the tiered seating and then room on the floor for about 1,000 chairs.

“Wouldn’t that be great for the county?” he said.

Outside, next to the arena, horse stalls have been removed to allow for the installation of a new drainage system. That area will also be asphalted, he said, allowing the area to be hosed off after each use.

One of the things Bullard is most proud of is a new outdoor arena.

“This whole facility needs to be about versatility,” he said. “I told someone the other day, it’s like this … you’ve got people who boat on Gantt Lake. Some of them can afford a $100,000 boat and others can’t, but I can bet you those people who can’t are having just as much fun as those people on a $100,000 boat.

“I want to be able to offer fun at an affordable price,” he said. “Those who want ‘more,’ I want to be able to give it to them. That’s why we came up with idea of the outdoor arena.”

Located in the area behind the arena building, the outside arena is on the site where animals were previously boarded. Those stalls have been removed and that area also has been asphalted.

“Our plan is to offer that area at half the price of the indoor arena,” he said. “Why do you need seats for something that’s not a spectator event? Sometimes people just need a place to compete. This outdoor arena is perfect for that.”

As for rent prices for either arena, Bullard said he hasn’t set a figure yet.

“The reason (the arena) is in the shape it’s in is that it wasn’t priced at a comparable rate of a facility of this magnitude,” he said. “And right now, I’m still trying to figure out what it costs to operate this place. We’re going to honor all the signed contracts at the current negotiated price. After that, we’re going to see.

“What we have here is a first-class facility,” he said. “The first five years of this lease is where we’re going to have to see what works. There’s no other facility like it from Birmingham south. People want to come here and, when they come to a facility, there are certain things they want and I’m going to work to see that we get them. Now, that takes money, but these people are willing to pay as long as they get what they want.”

Currently, Bullard is in negotiations with an “equestrian event” that would book the indoor facility for the first weekend of the month for 10 months.

“We don’t have a signed contract yet, so I really don’t want to say who it is,” he said. “But I will say they want their first event to be Labor Day weekend. It would be a four-day event. That’s why we’re working so hard out here.

“We want to draw more things,” he said. “Just by laying the asphalt, it changes this facility from being just a horse arena to being the Covington Center Arena — the versatility is endless.”