North Iowa Fair Board kicks off $1.5 million capital campaign to make improvements to horse show facilities

CLEAR LAKE — The North Iowa Fair Board is launching a $1.5 million capital improvement campaign to make improvements that would allow the North Iowa Events Center to host horse shows year-around. Phase one of the project would be improvements would be a $650,000 project for an enclosed, heated warm-up arena, with the second phase being an enclosed, heated stall barn project with an $850,000 price tag.

The Fair Board’s Don O’Connor says  competing horse facilities in Iowa Falls, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Des Moines have stepped up their game and upgrades are needed to be done to keep the Mason City facility competitive.  “We want to return North Iowa to the premier horse facility that we once were. When this was originally built many years ago, this was state of the art. There was nobody else that had anything finer. Unfortunately, we’ve just not kept up.”

O’Connor says Mason City was able to take advantage of facility shutdowns at the community college campuses in Iowa Falls and Cedar Rapids in 2020 and bring those shows here, and it has resulted in full schedules at the Events Center in 2021 and for 2022. He says the horse shows create a large economic impact for north-central Iowa.  “These people stay at our hotels, they eat at our restaurants, they are shopping, and taking in entertainment. They’re not showing their horses the whole time they are here. There’s a lot of down time when they are not showing horses, so they are spending money in other places. Between May and October 2021, there were 18 horse events, not counting cattle battles and some other shows, and based on the numbers from the Visit Mason City study, the economic impact of $4.1 million in spending was brought into our area.”

O’Connor says becoming a 12-month facility will have a bigger economic impact to the area. He says a year-round facility needs more horse stalls and the covered warm-up area.  “The number of stalls, actually, we are very strong. It’s not enough. We have shows that we rent over 300 stalls, and we have to bring in temporary stalls and put them in other buildings. We do not at times have enough stalls to stall the horses we’ve got. All of these facilities have an enclosed, covered warm-up arena or at least a covered one.”

As part of the fundraising effort, the Fair Board is looking for a total of $600,000 of local government funding through American Rescue Plan funds. O’Connor made his comments during a workshop session of the Clear Lake City Council this morning. The council as part of their budgeting process could appropriate money to put toward the project.