Council boss revives rodeo stadium plan after Tamworth trip

John Gill at the Wagga Pro Rodeo in 2016
John Gill at the Wagga Pro Rodeo in 2016

Wagga council has dusted off plans for a major rodeo and livestock events facility.

Local rodeo stalwart John Gill spent two days in Tamworth last week lobbying council general manager Alan Eldridge at an elite rodeo and campdraft competition held in conjunction with the country music festival.

Mr Gill, who was a key figure in the ill-fated 2008 bid to develop Equex Park into an equine facility to rival Tamworth's $30 million Australian Equine and Livestock Events Centre (AELEC), believed council is "serious" about revisiting the proposal.

"We've been talking about it here for years, and that's all it's been, talk," Mr Gill said.

"At least this guy's fair dinkum about it.”

Wagga will host an Australian Professional Rodeo Association event this weekend, but Mr Gill said existing facilities were inept.

"We have the best in Australia coming here already; there's no better than Brad Pierce and Ben Hall," he said.

"The arena is fine, the prize money attracts competitors, what we need is decent facilities for the paying public, so you're not in the heat and not in the rain." 

Mr Eldridge confirmed council has been evaluating the feasibility of developing the facility in Wagga, but will scrap past "pie in the sky" proposals reliant on massive expanses of land and start afresh. 

"I don’t think we’ll ever be a Tamworth, I don’t think we should try to be,” he said.

“I do think we have an obligation to run the numbers, and consider the public’s consensus.”

Finding a site may prove a challenge.

Equex may be unfeasible, as council has adopted a more tentative approach towards building facilities on floodplains since the 2016 floods.

The rodeo revelation helps to explain why Mr Eldridge and his wife went ​on an official ​mid-week fact-finding ​mission to Australia's largest ​music festival, which was the focus of scrutiny by the Wagga Ratepayers' Group and councillors. 

Councillor Vanessa Keenan has questioned Mr Eldridge’s recent trips.

Cr Keenan raised her concerns at Monday’s council meeting.

"The community has made it clear they seek some understanding of the General Manager’s fact finding trips​," Cr Keenan said.

"​I believe this is a justified request and reporting on council-related overseas trips is in line with past practice."​​​

AELEC plays host to one of the richest equine events outside of thoroughbred racing and injects more than $40 million a year into the regional economy.

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