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Bullard: Arena a slow process

More than a year after leasing the Covington Center Arena, Don Bullard said Tuesday it’s been a “slow process” in changing public perception of the facility.

“I’m not going to lie – it’s been tough, but we’re getting there,” he said.

Bullard said it’s also been tough to get events.

“The economy has really taken a toll on that type of stuff,” he said speaking of the variety of horse shows and rodeos that make up the bulk of the arena users. “People don’t have the money to keep going and going, traveling like they had been in the past.”

In July 2009, Bullard signed a five-year lease contract for the operation and maintenance of the facility, which was under the control of the Covington County Commission. Bullard quickly set to work making improvements such as installing an asphalt base on the arena floor, a new drainage system, stalls for animals and a new outdoor arena.

“The thing about it is that it takes money to make these improvements, but we don’t feel like we’re making progress in getting people to think of it as more than a horse barn,” he said.

Throughout the year, Bullard has worked to bring an array of events such as a monster truck show, a hunter and jumpers show and the famous Lipizzaner Stallions.

“Everyone that comes here brags on the facility,” he said. “Before the hunters and jumpers left, they put down a deposit to come next year.”

Bullard said he still has plans to expand the venues to include concerts.

“But like improvements to the arena, that takes money,” he said. “I’d love to have a concert, but I’m not going to make a $75,000 to $100,000 gamble with this place’s track record with concerts.”

He said previous concerts held in years past did not draw a crowd that would make the expense “worthwhile.”

“The arena is still a sore subject with a lot of people,” he said. “People don’t feel like it’s theirs, that they have ownership in it. The fact of it is that this facility should been used and designed for more than horses.

“Take for instance, the city plays soccer right down the road,” he said. “When there are days of bad weather, this facility is plenty big enough to have practice inside it. We need to make the best of this facility, and to do that we have to all work together.”

Bullard said he has no plans to relinquish the lease or to pursue a beer license for the facility.

“The big talk was that I was going to bring beer in down here,” he said. “I said then and I mean it now – I don’t want to do it if I can get by without it, but the fact of it is, is that I feel there are some venues that dictate it. Concerts specifically. Granted it’s not a gospel concert, but if you get a rock band or a country artist in here. I just think it depends on the venue.

“It costs me money to have these events,” he said. “But I’m doing it for the betterment of the community, and I plan on doing it until I can’t do it anymore.”

Next on the arena’s calendar is in February 2011 when a three-state high school rodeo comes to town, followed by the Civitan Rodeo on Feb. 25 and 26.