Gilbert balances its heritage with a new identity

Mike Summers of Gilbert practices roping at Rodeo Park in Gilbert.

Laura Segall

The Gilbert Rodeo Park is officially entering its final months as a venue.

The non-profit organization that operates the Rodeo Park has indicated that there will be no events there after the lease between Gilbert and Maricopa County expires on Feb. 15.

"Remaining at Gilbert Rodeo Park past Feb. 15 is not a possibility," said Chelle Bullard, president of the Gilbert Promotional Corporation.

Events had been booked at the Rodeo Park through May 1, which leaves organizations scrambling to reschedule. Bullard said the GPC is helping clients find new venues or move to a date before Feb. 15.

The Queen Creek Junior Rodeo Association had events scheduled in Gilbert in January, February and March, but moved them to a facility in Florence.

"We had to make other plans," said Sterling Udall, QCJRA president. "We had to make that decision quickly, so no one is left in the dark. It was kind of a hassle to schedule things around other organizations, but we survived."

Bullard said she is hopeful that the county - which had leased the former landfill site to Gilbert since 1982 - will allow the GPC time to remove the arena, stables and other structures from the facility beginning on Feb. 13. The moving process could take weeks.

County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said she does not anticipate the moving time being an issue. She added that the county will regrade the land at the 47-acre facility located at 1777 S. Val Vista Drive, but currently has no development plans for it.

Citing necessary water-retention remediation costs of as much as $4 million, Gilbert opted not to renew the lease.

Earlier this week, the GPC met with county officials in hopes of saving events through May 1.

"My understanding is that the decision did not stem from an agreement issue (with the county)," Gerchick said. "I think the (GPC) decided they just wanted to move forward and concentrate on finding a permanent location."

Bullard said that the GPC will continue to speak to such venues as the Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre and Marley Farms, both in Queen Creek, regarding a temporary venue for events - including, if necessary, the annual Gilbert Days Rodeo. In terms of a permanent site, "our needs are not yet fully defined," Bullard said.

"We need to evaluate storage of equipment, renovation of existing facilities to meet our needs, location, logistics," Bullard said. "We need to have everything make sense."

A farewell rodeo event will likely be scheduled at the park in February.

"I'm sad to see it go, although I understand why," Udall said. "Hopefully, they will find another spot for the Rodeo Park. I've competed at Gilbert Days, and my kids have. It's something that goes back generations.

"Gilbert is a rodeo town. That's what we do."

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