Roughly 150 square feet of pavement has agitated the organizers of Scottsdale’s largest horse show and caused them to consider finding a new home for their event.
Since July, the city has given WestWorld of Scottsdale a facelift in large part to meet the demands of Craig Jackson, president of the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction.
Horse arenas have been moved, the nation’s largest openair tent was constructed and several swaths of open space were paved.
The paving went too far, said Bill Flood, president of the Arabian Horse Association of Arizona. The association, which puts on the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, has lost space that is needed for about 200 stables south of WestWorld’s equidome to asphalt.
The Arabian show draws more than 2,000 horses to the event center every February and organizers must build temporary barns to house them since West-World has fewer than 700 permanent stables.
"The only horse show we have that’s so big they can’t fit on all the areas we’ve earmarked for barns is the Arabian association. They’re obviously the Cadillac" of the city’s horse shows, said Brad Gessner, the event center general manager.
South of WestWorld’s equidome, the city has paved to allow Barrett-Jackson’s patrons to walk around its outdoor tents without stepping in mud, which January rainstorms have brought in recent years.
The event center’s users, including the Arabian association, agreed to the paving. But when officials from the horse show and the city met at WestWorld on Nov. 11 to determine where the stables will be set up, they found a 15-by-100-foot section of asphalt was laid where they had planned for horses.
Pavement is considered one of the worst materials for horses to stand on, Flood said.
"That paving over there was a real slap in the face to us because we thought we’d reached a compromise that would work for everyone, including Barrett-Jackson," he said.
The city paved farther than it initially intended to, said Dan Worth, Scottsdale’s city engineer. As workers placed the asphalt, the contractor noticed that if the pavement stopped where planned — at the top of a slope — it would create erosion problems when flooding occurs.
The land beneath West-World is owned by the federal government for use as a flood control basin.
Scottsdale officials said they have a solution to the Arabian show’s problem. Flood said the association is not so certain and plans to meet next week to consider its options, one of which could be a move in the future.
Glendale officials have been courting the show, as they once did Barrett-Jackson, he said.
The asphalt situation has also exacerbated longsimmering tension over what WestWorld will become: A major events facility or an equestrian center. Scottsdale desires to make it both.
As a result, WestWorld’s master plan has been drawn and redrawn multiple times. Jackson has repeatedly threatened to move his lucrative auction if the city did not upgrade the events center.
"Generally, the Arabians want as much unpaved as possible and Barrett-Jackson wants as much paved as possible," Worth said.
Scottsdale and Jackson are negotiating a contract that would keep the auction at WestWorld for decades.
While the Arabian association and Jackson have jointly supported the city’s pursuit of state trust land surrounding the event center, the two large events are not natural allies. Flood said Jackson’s tactics in securing changes at WestWorld have riled the association.
"We’re trying to be a good citizen and we feel like the good citizens and the people who play by courteous rules are being overshadowed by hard-driven PR campaigns," Flood said.
Jackson could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Local horse enthusiasts allege that Scottsdale has violated the terms of its 1982 contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation establishing WestWorld, then called Scottsdale Horseman’s Park.
The contract restricts the city to use the land for public recreation, which Jackson’s opponents allege the auction is not.
The reclamation bureau has ruled that Barrett-Jackson is permissible at the event center, but should not come at the cost of other events, said Carol Erwin, Arizona area manager for the federal agency. "The idea is to have the widest array of recreational events that we can there."
But Councilwoman Betty Drake, a horse owner, argues that too many impediments are placed in front of horse events at WestWorld.
Ultimately, she said, those events will look elsewhere.
"It’s the death of a thousand cuts," Drake said. The city "just keeps doing things that are a little out of whack."