After years of waiting, Utah's horse people are happy.
The County Council recently agreed to release about $900,000 to build a roof over one of a half dozen arenas at the Salt Lake County Equestrian Center in South Jordan.
That project will kick off an ambitious long-term plan to transform the 125-acre park at 2100 W. 11400 South into one of the West's premier showcases of horses.
"It's a godsend. A second indoor arena has been needed for a long, long time," said Sandy resident Stu Sprouse, vice chairman of the Utah Horse Council. "It's going to get used extremely well."
The council authorized the expenditure of funds, which had been set aside several years ago, after a nine-member Equestrian Park Task Force identified about $24 million in improvements that would increase facility use and its prospects of becoming self-sufficient.
"People who own horses have money," said Councilman Jim Bradley, contending the Equestrian Park has the potential to be marketed as a destination site by Visit Salt Lake, formerly known as the Convention & Visitors Bureau. "They're the kind of people we want to attract."
Corey Bullock, the Equestrian Park's program manager, said the task force crafted a three-phase expansion plan while examining the facility's assets and prospects since spring 2010.
Phase one would entail putting a roof over an outdoor arena, establishing a riding trail, erecting new barns and paddocks and beginning an extensive upgrade of the property's storm-drain system.
Bullock said a second covered arena is essential to support the park's existing event center, which has 45,000 square feet of floor surface and seating for 3,000.
"It's one of the finest arena's around," Sprouse said. "With two indoor arenas, you can hold two smaller events at the same time. That will provide more income for the arena to support itself. … And, in foul weather, it's an absolute must to have a covered arena."
About four dozen events are on the Equestrian Park calendar in 2011.
The task force figured first phase costs could be covered by the $900,000 set aside earlier, Bullock said, plus $1.75 million to $2.5 million from a proposed sale of an old mink farm and another parcel on the park's fringes.
Phase two involves a feasibility study with South Jordan on the development of a second large event center, barns for boarding and showing horses, and more expensive storm-drain work. Total projected cost: $8.7 million.
The third phase envisions an additional $12 million to wrap up all of the improvements, which Bullock said would include more boarding stalls, recreational vehicle parking for park visitors, relocation of a 12-acre polo field and more covered arenas.
"What we have here is an absolutely unique opportunity," Bradley said. "Utah has a cultural history of equestrian interests. A number of horse trainers across the country got their starts here.
"This could be an economic engine for South Jordan and Riverton," he added, predicting hotels and restaurants could be developed in those cities to accommodate Equestrian Park visitors.
Good news for golfers, too
At times this past summer, golfers waited in long lines at six Salt Lake County-operated courses because software problems slowed credit card payments for tee times to a snail's pace.
To fix the problem and increase course use, the County Council has agreed to spend $100,000 to buy new software that quickly processes payments and better allows for online reservations.
The system will be used at Meadow Brook, Mick Riley, Mountain View, Old Mill, Riverbend and South Mountain courses.