Arena lease renewed, despite opposition

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Covington County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday for an extension for the company renting the Covington Center Arena, despite several requests from the public to table the decision.

Sandy Wiggins, a member of the National Barrel Horses Association, local business owner Debbie James and local veterinarian Dr. Lynn Hall each spoke to commissioners, urging them to consider other renters for the arena.

Hall said her objection to the five-year extension for current renters, Travel D, LLC, owned by Don Bullard, was due to the loss of major equine events at the arena over the span of the company’s prior five-year lease.

“Please table the Covington Arena decision until you can speak with the Kiwanis Club and the mayor to see what else can be done,” Hall asked commissioners after pointing out several equine events she said has relocated or bypassed Covington County due to exuberant fees at the arena. Hall said the lost revenue from the events totals nearly $2 million.

Supporters said that preliminary conversations about combining the management of the Covington Center Arena and the Kiwanis Community Center and having the two facilities run by the city and county showed promise.

The county’s current lease with Travel D, LLC, ends in June of this year. A clause in the contract required the company to notify the county by the end of December of 2013 if they wanted to renew the lease.

Because that deadline was not met, supporters said, there was no hurry to execute a new lease agreement, and the county could easily have renegotiated.

The original agreement, which was renewed, called for a $1,000 monthly payment to the county for the lease, and the leasor to handle all maintenance and operation costs of the facility. When it was executed in 2009, it was one of only two proposals received, and was expected to save the county more than $200,000 annually. At the time, annual debt service on the building was $228,348.

The commission noted that maintaining the arena was not a fiscal possibility for the county and that the company had always been prompt with monthly rental payments.

The new contract extends the lease through 2019.