ORLANDO, Fla. — Osceola County on Sunday moved to lure the National Finals Rodeo away from Las Vegas into the Orlando area, as part of a new mega-resort located across from the Gaylord Palms.
Commissioners met in a highly unusual Sunday meeting to give County Manager Don Fisher authority to negotiate with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association to move the annual NFR to the county beginning in 2015.
The “Super Bowl of Rodeo” has been held in Las Vegas since 1985, but the current deal expires in 2014. A 10-day event held each December, it generates about $60 million annually, county officials said. This year’s event wrapped up Saturday.
The reason for the Sunday meeting, Fisher said, was that the PRCA board was meeting at the same time to discuss the event’s future home, and it needed assurances that Osceola was committed to bidding for it. PRCA board members were watching on video as Osceola’s board met, Fisher added.
Las Vegas is working to keep the rodeo in town, and Dallas and Oklahoma City also are wooing the PRCA. Oklahoma City hosted the event before its move to Las Vegas.
Osceola commissioners unanimously approved moving ahead with negotiations, for which there is a 90-day window.
As envisioned, the 20-year deal would include a 24,000-seat enclosed arena, which would be attached to the American Music Resort, a project that had not been publicly revealed until Sunday. Either side could opt out after seven years, according to a “memo of understanding” between the county and the PRCA.
Osceola would commit $16 million annually for the National Finals Rodeo purse and administrative costs, Fisher said, and would be paid back off the top in ticket and concession money. The county’s contribution would increase 5 percent every five years. According to the Las Vegas Sun, that city offered $15 million annually to keep the event in place.
Osceola also would contribute $50 million in tourist-development tax money toward the arena’s estimated $150 million cost. The county would chip in an additional $50 million toward the resort, but that would not necessarily be paid in cash. It could come in free marketing, road improvements or other ways, Fisher said.
The county already has the $50 million in TDT money on hand, and would not have to borrow to finance the project.
While excited about the possibility of landing the rodeo, commissioners said they expect the resort to move forward regardless.
Chairman Fred Hawkins Jr. said the resort would include dining, retail, and nightlife in addition to multiple hotels. “It’s everything you can imagine,” he said.
“This is huge,” Hawkins said of the resort and rodeo’s combined effect on the area.
Details of the resort remain subject to a confidentiality agreement, but Hawkins said the theme would extend to “all of American music — not just country music.”
Representatives of the area’s tourism community spoke in favor of the deal, as well — as opposed to the recent attempt to bring the Washington Nationals spring training operation to town. Tourism business owners were vocal opponents of the proposed Nats deal on the grounds that the team was contributing little or nothing financially and it would have left the county with very little tourist-tax money available for other projects.
“Cowboys and Kissimmee? Come on,” said Mark Miller, owner of Arabian Nights attraction and a booster of the West U.S. Highway 192 strip. “This is the kind of development you dream about in Osceola County.”
“This is a game changer,” Miller added. “This is why we wanted to preserve the money” instead of using it for a Nationals stadium.
The county has a long history of rodeo and has served as the home to the renowned Silver Spurs rodeo since 1944. That twice-annual event began as a competition for local cowboys, but is now sanctioned by the PRCA and draws top competitors from throughout the country. Silver Spurs Arena would host ancillary events during the December event as well.
Commissioners also stressed that the area’s proximity to the theme parks, other recreational opportunities and family atmosphere would be a better fit than Las Vegas.
If approved, the arena would be ready in time to host the 2016 National Finals Rodeo. The plan calls for the 2015 event to be held at the Amway Center, an idea supported by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins in letters to the PRCA.
Representatives of the Gaylord Palms and American Music Resort, whose developers are described as “CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations,” also wrote to the PRCA in support of moving the rodeo to Osceola.