Major addition seen for Penrose

       The new ownership of the Norris-Penrose Events Center is off at a full gallop. The proposed addition can be seen from the west side.  
Rendering courtesy of Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation
       “It's been a wild ride,” commented Rob Alexander, vice president of the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation.
       In January, the foundation took over the event facility on Rio Grande Street, formerly run by El Paso County and known as the Penrose Equestrian Center (name change discussed in story at right.)
       “The county walked out and we walked in,” Alexander said in a recent interview. “That was incredible, taking over a business in midstream, with no chance to stop, get organized and start over again.”
       Adding to the confusion, county policy required that the center's county employees could not just switch over to the new bosses, but had to be legally terminated before they could then be interviewed and potentially rehired by the non-profit foundation.
       One day, Alexander said he and his associates interviewed 11 people in a row. Another time, the office simultaneously had “phone people, plumbers, computer people,” he said. “It was like a beehive or something - crazy.”
       Meanwhile, he pointed out, previously scheduled events had to be managed, invoiced and cleaned up after.
       Now at least the ride has gotten a little tamer. Most of the former employees, including general manager Bill Miller, have stayed on. And, planning has moved forward on the foundation's first major project -a roughly $2 million upgrade to the center's roughly 70-year-old Penrose Stadium.
       The plan is to build a new structure at the open east end of the facility, Alexander said. The three-level concrete structure would provide additional concessions and restrooms as well as a large hospitality venue for sponsors or other individuals involved in stadium events, he explained.
       Miller suggested that the hospitality area could also be rented out for seminars, company Christmas parties or even weddings. “It's difficult now to find a big space that's reasonably priced,” he said. “And we have plenty of parking and great views. I think people will want to take advantage of that.”
       With architectural details still being finalized, a precise cost estimate has not yet been put together, although Alexander said he expects it will probably wind up costing close to $2 million. A city review process will also be necessary. “Under our best-case scenario, work can start in the summer,” Alexander said. “I could see a six-month construction period. That's our goal, to have it done by December of this year. Then we'll have it ready to roll for 2006.”
       The foundation now owns the stadium, the indoor stadium, some warm-up arenas and the boarding stables. The 60-acre center had been a money-loser for the county, but Alexander and other volunteers with Pikes Peak or Bust believe that can be turned around with updated facilities and more aggressive management.
       The 5,700-seat stadium and the newer, 500-seat Indoor Arena host more than 30 events a year, but only a few popular enough (like Pikes Peak or Bust) where the general public can be charged admission.
       The foundation organizes the annual Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, donating profits to military charities. For the past three years, the long-time annual event has been held at the World Arena, but the plan is to bring it back to Penrose this August.
       Miller said he is glad to be part of the new operation. “I've lived here since 1982, and this facility and rodeo are among the six or seven gems of the community,” he said. “Take those away and all we are is Aurora.”

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