ALPHARETTA, Ga. — City leaders in Alpharetta are exploring ways to add to and improve amenities at the Wills Park Equestrian Center by partnering with local organizations.
At a recent City Council workshop, officials concentrated on the Equestrian Center, a facility that draws steady crowds to the city each weekend but hasn’t received a great deal of capital funding for improvements.
In Sept. 2017, the city commissioned Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., to update its master plan for recreation and parks. Part of that study centered on the horse park and its potential as a major attraction for events and competition.
Allison Stewart-Harris, senior planner with Jacobs Engineering Group, told council members that the facility is in dire need of improvements if the city expects to attract larger crowds and improved competition.
In 2017, there were 50 horse shows, eight dog shows, a rodeo, concerts and a number of corporate rentals at the facility. Already in 2018, 50 weekends are booked for events.
“You’re doing pretty well with what you have,” she said. “From our discussions with folks from the Equestrian Center and from others it was that … if we don’t upgrade soon, folks are going to start going somewhere else.”
The updated recommendations for the Equestrian Center include:
• Another show ring, schooling ring, and lunging ring
• Relocation of the maintenance shed out of the Equestrian Center to a more centralized place in the park to better serve the rest of Wills Park
• Phased replacement of the horse barns over a five-year period
• Better and more spectator-friendly areas
• Design features that provide a unique sense of place and celebrate Alpharetta’s heritage
• An economic impact study that quantifies the impact from out-of-town visitors/participants on the Alpharetta community
In a focus group with stakeholders, Stewart-Harris said footings was also cited as a key concern for improvements.
“I agree with you. I think it is time to reinvest and fix things up over there,” Councilman Chris Owens said. He added that before the city commits to improvements, it should determine the correct scale of venue it wants to see.
Owens also said that it might be prudent to evaluate the expanse of the facility and concentrate on improving its core amenities, possibly opening up more open space for the park.
Commenting after the workshop, Councilman Jason Binder said part of the city’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan calls for partnering with organizations and individuals to help expand and grow services.
“It’s similar to any of our baseball or softball associations who raise money for their needs,” Binder said.
Those private funds, he said, help enhance the city’s parks and provide upgrades to recreational facilities.
Binder said the city is considering formation of an equestrian advisory group to formulate proposals whose costs could be shared by the city and stakeholder groups. Such projects, he added, would still have to go through an official capital expenditure process, and they would have to benefit all parties involved.
“I’m really hoping that this is opening it up so a lot more people come forward with plans for our parks and theater or anything they can help us grow,” he said. “We‘re trying to make sure our scope of services grows with our population. Those are the things that are going to help us grow.”