Arena looks rocky for CCRA rodeo
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
According to CCRA's Liz Lawlis, Bandera's Memorial Weekend rodeo is getting increasingly difficult to mount due to rising costs and decreasing revenue. During a previous parade, Jesse Cardenas, 7, and Kutter Riggle, 8, rode on the Ridin' the River Cowboy Fellowship entry in the parade - one of more than 90 entries. It's hard to believe that Bandera's signature celebration, commemorating kids, patriotism, God and cowboys, might be on the ropes.
Volunteers with the Cowboy Capital Rodeo Association are having a hard time keeping the chutes opening - especially after being hit with a $3,000 rental fee for the use of Mansfield Park during Memorial Day weekend.
During the Thursday, Feb. 27, meeting of Bandera County Commissioners Court, Liz Lawlis of the CCRA came to negotiate rising park fees associated with the three-day Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned event. "We're not trying to circumvent Andy, but financially it's impossible to pay the fee he's requiring," she told the court. "It's never been $3,000. One year the rental fee was $300."
Mansfield Park, located just off Highway 16 North, comes under the purview of Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Wilkerson.
Lawlis supplied commissioners with data indicating the financial impact the rodeo has had on the county for the last five years, saying, "We were the number one sales tax earner for 10 years." She said the rodeo was the only tourist-centric event that occurs in May. Weekend activities include a sanctioned cook-off, parade, a kids' rodeo, mutton bustin' and three rounds of arena action, among other activities.
However, due to de-creased sponsorships and less-than stellar weather, revenues have gone down. "It has become a struggle just to put the rodeo on," Lawlis said. "We feel we're batting our heads against the wall." When making their final decision, she asked the court to look at "the merits of what we've done and what we continue to do."
Since 2001, the CCRA Board of Directors had spent $46,000 on in-kind park renovations, which did not include contributed volunteers hours. With the addition of work hours, the tally would be closer to $200,000, Lawlis indicated. Renovations have included replacement of rough stock and timed event chutes and construction of bleachers and box seats.
"I know you'd like us to waive the (rental) fee, but I see a lot of people are making a profit on this rodeo," said Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris. "You're paying $32,000 to the rodeo contractor. If the county doesn't furnish the facility, the contractor won't make a profit."
Lawlis explained that the rodeo contractor - Stace Smith Pro Rodeos - has kept his price around $30,000 for 10 to 15 years. "This is because Bandera was one of his first rodeos," she said. "He also provides everything. Another contractor was less expensive, but we had to furnish manpower and I, for one, don't want to be cracking open a chute gate."
She continued, "This is a PRCA rodeo and we've set very high standards and I want to keep them." Lawlis noted that the Bandera rodeo had been selected as the PRCA Small Rodeo of the Year seven times and attracts visitors from Europe and the Far East annually. "We present what Bandera is all about - the Cowboy Capital of the World."
Other mandatory expenses that nibble away at profits include PRCA judges and a required on-site ambulance and veterinarian.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes noted that the rodeo has had a negative net income for the last five years.
Agreeing with his assessment, Lawlis said, "The last five years have not been profitable. In 2007, we had $47,000 in sponsorships and last year it was just $33,000." Additionally the rodeo has cutback on added money from $21,000 to just $10,500. "You have to offer more money to get the good cowboys here," Lawlis said. "Who wants to come to a rodeo and see every cowboy fall off a bull?"
That being said, she also noted that the CCRA offered $4,000 in scholarships last year.
"What in-kind services are you offering this year?" Harris asked.
"Just supplies not volunteer hours," Lawlis replied. "We feel it's not fair just to consider the $46,000."
"The county's only got so much money and the park budget is tough," Wilkerson said. "We have to answer to the whole county. If we give you a discount, we're obligated to give a discount to every other nonprofit."
"No other organization has put in the amount of time and sweat as we have to this park," Lawlis replied.
"Give me something, materials," Wilkerson suggested. "If you're losing money you've got to find a way to make money. Where does the cash go?"
"We don't have $3,000 or any supplies. Our contention is that we've already supplied $3,000," Lawlis rejoined.
Interjecting, Judge Richard Evans clarified that the CCRA is a nonprofit and that the $46,000 in total repairs - without factoring in volunteer time - was for 2000-2013, which amounts to $3,214 in-kind services per year. "We're not supposed to give away taxpayers' money," he added.
"We're not here to make trouble. We're just trying to continue a tradition," Lawlis said. "Just because the fee is waived, it doesn't mean improvements will stop."
Wilkerson suggested adding 50 cents to each $12 adult ticket and $6 child ticket to make up the $3,000. As an alternate plan, Lawlis suggested, "We'll just put a jar out for 'Donations to Mansfield Park.' If we get $3,000 we'll give it to you."
Coming up with a better plan, Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King recommended CCRA be responsible for paying electric bills to the tune of $1,200 for the weekend rodeo. His motion seemed amenable to commissioners who approved it unanimously.
Apparently park improvements will continue with one project uppermost on everyone's mind. "The arena needs to be covered," Harris said. "If CCRA does it, it would be a huge value to this county."