WHITESBORO — The city of Whitesboro moved one step closer to becoming the home of a new county equine arena on Wednesday as citizens and city officials presented their case to the Grayson County Commissioners Court.

WHITESBORO — The city of Whitesboro moved one step closer to becoming the home of a new county equine arena on Wednesday as citizens and city officials presented their case to the Grayson County Commissioners Court.


The story of the proposed equine arena began a few million years ago when geological forces deposited a layer of soft sand in a long finger reaching through what would become western Grayson County. This sandy soil provides the perfect footing for horses. By the 1990s, the Whitesboro area was on its way toward becoming the major center of horse breeding and training that it is today.


In the late 2000s, Whitesboro city officials began meeting with locals involved in the booming equine industry, searching for a way to turn horse ranches into local dollars. The idea they had: a local arena complex to provide a place for horse shows and competitions on local to national levels. After much talk, several independent feasibility studies, and approval from the Whitesboro City Council, Whitesboro Economic Development Corp. and Whitesboro Industrial Development Corp., the city brought the project before a special session of the Commissioner’s Court on Wednesday.


"We have huge businesses, and we bring in people from all over the world," local horse breeder and trainer Pete Kyle told the Court. "We need a facility to show those horses."


The proposed equine center would feature an air-conditioned, 150-foot by 300-foot show arena, a covered, warm-up arena of the same size, and a 320-stall barn. The arena would have 500 permanent seats with space to add up to 2,000 more seats for larger events. The nearest facility of comparable size is in Ardmore, Okla., a drive many locals are all too used to making.


"Every Wednesday, the horse folks in our part of the county load up their 10-horse trailers, hook them up to their semi trucks, head out of the county and take their money with them," said Mike Maberry, chair of the Whitesboro Citizen’s Arena Committee. Mike has been a supporter of this project for almost four years. "If this arena is built, money that’s leaving this county will stay in this county, but more importantly money that’s not in this county will come into this county nearly every weekend."


And money was what the Commissioners Court wanted to hear about. Whitesboro does not have the means to finance the estimated $10 million dollar facility. Whitesboro has proposed that the City Council and both of its taxpayer-supported development boards provide a combined $500,000 up front, plus 60 acres of land on Highway 56 west of the town. The land will be donated to the city for the project. The city and the development boards also agreed to provide further ongoing support of $135,000 per year for the project.


The county’s proposed role would be to issue certificates of obligation to finance the construction. The county would own the arena, and the income generated by its operation would go toward paying back the debt. This means the county would be in a position to enjoy extra profits from the arena, but would also be responsible for covering gaps in the budget if the arena is not as profitable as predicted.


Predictions, for what they are worth, are positive. Economic projections by David Gordon, managing director at financial advisory firm Estrada Hinojosa, show the county helping with the arena’s budget only a few times as the project gets off the ground. Once the arena is established, Gordon projects it will net the county $30,000 annually at the very least. Maberry added that feasibility studies commissioned by the development boards project that the arena will create 150 to 175 new jobs and add more than $14 million per year to the regional economy.


Kyle mentioned that the facility, as proposed, would draw more than just horse lovers. He envisions the multipurpose arena hosting everything from concerts to circuses and being busy up to 300 nights per year.


"We think (the project) will be good not just for the city, but for the county," said Whitesboro Mayor W.D. "Dee" Welch. "You’ll be bringing people in that will be using facilities in Sherman, Denison, Gainesville, all over."


After hearing Whitesboro’s plan and asking several questions about the exact nature of the risk the county would be taking on its investment, the Court decided to delay the decision on how to proceed, placing it on next week’s regular agenda. Should the Court vote to pursue the project on Tuesday, they would then go about the process of hiring an owner’s representative and verifying pricing for construction.