CASEY LOGAN, CLOGAN@NEWS-PRESS.COM 10:50 a.m. EST March 9, 2016
A $7 million, 7,746-seat covered rodeo arena will soon be built in rural Arcadia, an hour’s drive from Fort Myers.
The facility, to be built on a new site adjacent to Turner Agri-Civic Center, is expected to be completed by mid-2017, said Katherine Marks, executive director of the nonprofit Arcadia All Florida Championship Rodeo Association. The arena will work in conjunction with the county owned and operated agri-civic center to benefit both.
About $5 million has been raised for the arena, she said, with $3 million of that coming from the Mosaic Company Foundation in the form of a grant. The company is the world’s leading producer of concentrated phosphate and potash. It mines phosphate rock from nearly 200,000 acres in Central Florida.
“The rodeo is the major league sport for Arcadia,” said Marks, underscoring its importance to the community. “We would like to have another $2 million pretty quickly.”
The rodeo’s signature event, the 88th Arcadia All Florida Championship Rodeo, is coming up March 10-13.
Talk of a new arena was going on before Hurricane Charley struck in 2004, devastating the town and badly damaging the present arena, which was built in 1959. The economic downturn that came later further derailed hopes of building new in the town of 7,700 residents.
The water tower in Arcadia is shown Aug. 14, 2004, after it was destroyed by Hurricane Charley.
“That was really the catalyst — the grant,” said Don Hall, a county judge who has been president of the rodeo association the past 14 years. “That gave us a great opportunity to start putting the wheels in motion. We’re an ag community … trying to raise those sort of funds, that can be a real challenge. That gave us an opportunity and some hope.”
FSW hopes to raise $500,000 for arena construction
The rodeo association has reached out to folks in surrounding counties, notably Sarasota County, for additional money. As those donations come in, the association is taking a judicious approach before it takes out a short-term construction loan.
“We don’t want to have to borrow too much,” said Hall, whose family has had a cattle operation in Arcadia since 1938. “We’ve got to look at those numbers very carefully. Our goal to have it built in 8 months is very possible. We’ve broken ground and got fill in there. All we’re waiting to do is pull the trigger.”
The community supports the rodeo 100 percent, said Tom Hollingsworth, a fifth-generation Floridian who co-owns and helps to run Arcadia-based Sun Bulb Co., one of the country’s largest family-owned orchid businesses.
“The rodeo and what it does for the youth, it supports the community more than any other entity, period,” he said. “It’s the only major sport we’ll ever have.”
One stumbling block to more donations is the status of today’s citrus industry, Hollingsworth said, with growers struggling with issues such as citrus greening. Citrus is a driver of DeSoto’s economy.
“It’s tough for the owners of these groves to support it in a big way financially because they don’t know their future,” he said.
The 88th Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo is March 10-13.
Still, major donations have come from sources such as Ben Hill Griffin Inc., Doyle and Debi Carlton and the William G. Welles IV “Kayo” family.
The nutshell version of the rodeo’s history in the area: It began in 1928 when the American Legion wanted to raise money to help pay for a new building and continued even through the Great Depression.
Ed Welles, grandfather of William Welles IV, kept the rodeo going in the community from 1938-1950, when he died. The rodeo kept going at Welles’ arena until 1959, when it was moved to the present location.
The Florida Cowboy Museum, a new entity, will operate inside a 2,000-square-foot space inside the new arena. It will be named for Welles IV, a former president of the Arcadia rodeo association who died in 2013.
“He was a man of vision, he could see a lot of Florida agriculture come in and he was a true son of the Heartland,” said Sandra Welles, his wife of 56 years. “He was as comfortable in a bank board meeting as he was working around cowboys on his ranch.”
Next Sunday, granddaughter Berkleigh “Bleu” Hale will take part in the rodeo, in barrel racing.
“The rodeo just brings a lot of people to Arcadia,” Welles said. “It’s really a community project, yet a lot of people come from out of town and look forward to going every year.”
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Go to arcadiarodeo.com, click on “New Mosaic Arena” and hit the “donate now” button. Donors may also call the office at 1-800-749-7633.
If you go
88th annual Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo
Gates open at 11 a.m. Shootout performance at 1 p.m., followed by mutton bustin'. Rodeo starts at 2 p.m.