There will be no live horse racing at Frontier Park after all. Cheyenne Frontier Days announced Friday that it has decided it won’t pursue a lucrative proposal to host 16 days of live horse racing at Frontier Park, which would have brought Cheyenne’s flagship event a little extra money for looming maintenance issues it’s facing.
Tom Hirsig, CEO of Cheyenne Frontier Days, told Cowboy State Daily the organization has simply decided the event did not really fit their brand after all, though it could have brought in some money for upcoming repairs.
“They were a very good company for us to work with,” Hirsig said of Accel Entertainment. “But we told them at the start the most important thing to us is our brand. You can’t put a dollar amount on our brand. And when I talk about our brand, it’s not just Cheyenne Frontier Days, it’s the city of Cheyenne’s brand, too.”
Hirsig said CFD will continue to work with the community on the challenges ahead and seek creative solutions.
“Cheyenne is our home, and we take great pride in the CFD brand,” he said in a media release. “We are committed to continue delivering a world-class show that preserves and promotes Cheyenne’s history, culture and tradition.”
County Commissioners Are Switzerland
Laramie County commissioners had tabled the request from Accel Entertainment to bring live horse racing to Frontier Park, saying that they needed more information about the proposal.
They had also wanted the company to conduct more outreach with the community to collect public input on the proposal.
In the meantime, a false political survey was circulated around Cheyenne suggesting that things like eminent domain could be on the table, or tax increases, angering county commissioners.
Commissioner Gunnar Malm was particularly offended by the false information circulated in the survey.
“You can be against this project for a number of reasons,” he said at the time. “But they should be factual. I’m angry that an entity or person in our community chose to take this tack of espousing lies and mistruths and playing upon the fear of citizens to rally support against this project.”
Malm told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that he would have supported Cheyenne Frontier Days either way it decided to go with live horse racing.
“It was CFD’s decision to make, and they are the ones who control their brand and why it’s important to them,” Malm said. “And if they decide that it’s not worth it, I support that decision, just like I supported their right to utilize their property for any legal purpose.”
Malm said at this point he has not heard anything from Accel Entertainment about whether it will seek a different venue in Cheyenne or elsewhere in Wyoming.
Cowboy State Daily has reached out to Accel Entertainment for further comment. The company had not responded at the time of this story’s posting.
Neighbors Are Relieved
The proposal to bring live horse-racing to Frontier Park drew almost immediate opposition as soon as it became known from CFD neighbors who live in the adjacent avenues surrounding Frontier Park.
At a public forum to discuss the proposal informally, between 30 to 40 neighbors of Frontier Park expressed concern about a range of problems from noise and traffic, to gambling and crime.
Others feared the events would simply become an extension of rowdy behavior they’ve come to expect during Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“We all love and accept and endorse (Cheyenne Frontier Days),” Jen Solis said then. “However, during those two weeks, our free-range children are no longer free-range.”
Solis, reached by phone Friday, said she was relieved to hear that horse racing wouldn’t go forward after all.
“It sounds like the folks at CFD listened to their neighbors,” she said. “And that was all we were asking of them. Like I said at the meeting, I feel like we are really good neighbors to CFD here in the Avenues and we put up with, you know, a lot of fun, but also a lot of chaos during CFD.”
The idea that that might get extended into the fall when school children might be walking to school was stressful to a lot of the parents in the area, Solis added.
“So, I think it was the right decision, and I think it’s nice. You know, we want to be good neighbors and this feels like that’s what they’re doing,” she said.
Looming Financial Issues
One of the reasons Cheyenne Frontier Days became interested in bringing live horse racing to Frontier Park are looming repairs that are going to be needed at the park over the next 20 years.
“Everything that’s been built on Frontier Park, with the exception of a couple of county barns that were built for the county fair that (Laramie) County deeded over to us, has been built by the 10-day event that is Cheyenne Frontier Days,” Hrisig told Cowboy State Daily. “All of the maintenance, everything out here is done by us.”
Building Cheyenne Frontier Days facilities today would cost more than $100 million, Hirsig estimated.
Within the next 10 years, Cheyenne Frontier Days is going to need to rebuild its east through west side grandstands. The price tag for that is in the $40 to $50 million range, based on recent estimates. In all, Frontier Park is going to need an estimated $150 million for all the repairs and improvements it needs to make in the next 20 years.
“Who knows what that will be six or seven years from now, when we get to that point,” Hirsig said.
Right now, the main support for such projects comes solely from ticket sales, Hirsig said.
“And we do try to keep those ticket prices down,” he added. “I think if you look and compare what you would have to pay to see Garth Brooks and try to go see Garth Brooks somewhere else for (CFD’s) price, you won’t get it.”
Rodeo tickets in other venues, too, are almost double CFD’s prices, Hirsig said.
“A lot of people, what they see, you know, is a sold-out night show of 22,000 people and they start thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, at $100 bucks a ticket that’s a lot of money,,” Hirsig said. “But in reality, the artist walks away with 85 to 90% of the ticket sales.”
What remains is the funding that has to support the facilities upkeep and maintenance all year-round.
Remaining At The Top As An A-List Event
Many facilities like Cheyenne Frontier Days are taxpayer funded and supported. This is another place where Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins said Cheyenne Frontier Days is unique.
“CFD is probably the only rodeo that I’m aware of that’s not subsidized by the government,” Collins said.
Denver to the south of Cheyenne, meanwhile, has plans to pump $2 billion into its National Western Stock Show arena and other facilities.
“It’s going to be really difficult for (CFD) to continue to compete with these other rodeos across the country that are subsidized by the government,” Collins said. “So we’re going to have to work together to try to figure out how to make sure they can have the amenities and the facilities to do that.”
That competition is really key to continuing the city’s signature, world-class rodeo, which is right now among the largest in the world, Collins added.
“We have to do a good job — a better job — of delivering a great visitor experience,” Collins said. “And so that’s one of the reasons we’re working to build a bridge and some parking really close in, so that people don’t have to, you know, sit in lines for hours waiting on busses and that type of thing.”
Cheyenne Frontier Days could also use more restroom facilities for women, more food and drink venues, as well as replacement of aging infrastructure, Collins said.
“Replacing those grandstands and upgrading that visitor experience is going to be really important I think for Cheyenne Frontier Days’s ability to survive as an A-list event,” he said. “And I’ve been aware of this for three years that I’ve been mayor, and it’s going to be a really, really big financial challenge.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.