ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Equestrians and horse fans alike will soon see some much-needed upgrades to the Wills Park Equestrian Center.
The Alpharetta City Council voted unanimously at the June 1 meeting to approve a partnership with the Wills Park Equestrian Foundation to improve the center. The partnership will allow the city and nonprofit to pool together $500,000 for the project.
Half of that money was put into the city’s budget two years ago, while the second half was raised by the foundation during that time span.
At the June 1 meeting, the City Council also approved a $76,000 contract with the city’s on-call contractor Pond & Company for Phase I planning services for the equestrian center renovations.
All council members, except for the mayor, were in favor of the contract. Mayor Jim Gilvin said he has supported the center’s renovations for years, but with the current economic downturn, he could not justify the contract’s funding if the city could not afford to give its employees pay raises.
The equestrian center and Wills Park originally belonged to Fulton County and was bought by the city in the 1990s. The center has not seen any major renovations or improvements since it was inherited by Alpharetta.
About three years ago, however, the city conducted a comprehensive review of its parks and realized the center needed a master plan for some long overdue upgrades.
“We’re renovating a facility that has really good bones to more up-to-date standards that Alpharetta can be proud of and will continue to draw a high level of equestrian events,” said Recreation, Parks & Cultural Services Director Morgan Rodgers.
That plan was approved by the mayor and City Council December 2018 with two concepts: one with a competition focus and the other with a community focus. The concepts are identical except for the location of a new arena.
“The mayor and Council basically said, ‘Figure out which way is best and most cost efficient and go with that,’” Rodgers said. “That way, we didn’t have to go back before the mayor and City Council, because they had approved both plans.”
Project heads ultimately decided that the best location for the new arena is at the old maintenance facility’s location in the heart of the equestrian center. The maintenance facility will be moved to the back of the center as a part of Phase I.
The first phase also includes expanding current parking space.
The novelty of Alpharetta’s equestrian center has been a point of interest for the community as well as an economic boon for the city.
“We’re the only place around that has an equestrian center in their downtown area,” Rodgers said. “It’s a draw for a lot of the people that like to show their horses. They have a place to come to. But it also allows access for our local community to enjoy high quality horse shows and local events like the rodeo.”
The center regularly hosts events most weekends, including horse shows and dog shows.
The events act as an economic driver, with guests and participants spending money at local hotels, restaurants and gas stations.
The City of Alpharetta estimates that from July 2018-June 2019, about 125,000 participants at the equestrian center brought in $8.5 million to the local economy.
Phase I of the renovations is expected to take 1-1.5 years to complete.
Phase II includes renovating existing horse rings, and Phase III covers renovating existing horse stalls.