Grand opening gushers in new era of events, tourism for Churchill County
By Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group
FALLON — A vision. A plan. And now a state-of-the art venue.
Local government officials and guests attended the grand opening and ribbon cutting on June 1 for the Rafter 3C Arena, which is expected to provide a boon to the Churchill County economy.
“It’s much more than I envisioned,” said County Manager Jim Barbee, as he talked about the center.
For those who are wondering, Barbee said the three Cs are Churchill County Civic.
Barbee said he remembers going into the Parks & Recreation office after he was hired four years ago and seeing a rendition from the 1980s of a covered arena. He wondered what happened to that idea from 40 years ago. From that visit, Barbee guided county officials to look at current indoor structures in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and Winnemucca to see what could be constructed in Fallon.
Moving ahead, Barbee said the new arena at the Churchill County Fairgrounds will be a great venue from car shows to rodeos to possibly the high-school state wrestling finals and basketball tournaments.
Barbee said future events will not only add to the local economy, but also help pay for the new 75,000-square-foot, $14 million building. The facility includes a livestock arena, concourse area, meeting room and concession area next to the main doors.
Outside are the covered pavilion which offers additional event space and livestock pens. Large screens were installed in both the main arena and the concourse area to enhance the spectator viewing experience. Barbee said the seating capacity differs depending on the event and the configuration. The 3C arena can hold as many as 8,000 spectators or 1,500 for rodeos.
The parking lot, which was recently paved, will provide room for 700 vehicles, and south of the arena off Miners Road is more room for livestock trailers and RVs.
To the east, the multipurpose building has seen some remodeling, and the large arena underwent changes including the relocation of the rough-stock chutes to the north end.
During the grand opening, the county also recognized a group of people who either assisted or worked on the project as well as different firms involved with the planning and construction.
Restrictions imposed by the governor during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 affected every Nevada county — urban and rural. Churchill County was no different after Gov. Steve Sisolak implemented an emergency order to restrict gatherings and close certain businesses.
Churchill County and the other rural counties felt the pinch with the lack of events and visitors. County commissioners expressed at their March and April 2020 meetings the area could face an economic downturn. In late July 2020, the commissioners took the first steps at a special meeting to begin work on a county civic center near the fairground’s arena.
“Having a project like this and moving forward would give us an opportunity to employ a lot of people in the community,” Barbee said.
The commissioners looked at funding opportunities. This project would be funded by bonds and county general funds.
The first step commissioners took at their special meeting was approving a contract for $81,075 with Hammond Homes and Construction. Hammond Homes and Construction would perform work on the architectural and preliminary structural design. The second agenda item approved an emergency/professional services contract with Lumos and Associates for $155,000 to perform civil engineering work. According to the county, the construction of the center qualified as a public works project, and because of the short timeline, the first contracts were considered as emergency contracts according to state statute, NRS 338.011.
The Churchill County District Attorney’s office said the COVID-9 pandemic met the definition of an emergency, and commissioners had previously adopted a resolution on March 20, 2020, declaring a state of emergency in Churchill County.
Not only could the new center host events, but it would also be used during emergency situations in case a large, enclosed building was needed.
Barbee said a building like the Rafter 3C could’ve been used during the June 2011 Amtrak train crash north of Fallon as a staging area or for sandbag distributions during the flooding caused by melting snow from a record Sierra Nevada snowpack during the spring of 2017.
The commission unanimously approved the plans and funding resources.
Every step in approving the funding sources and plans was accomplished during both regular and special county commission meetings.
As the discussions unfolded for building a new multi-million dollar arena, the county was working with Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford. Barbee saw the benefit of working with the mayor and having the city hep with the marketing.
“I give credit to the county for the vision and the commission and Jim Barbee for doing this,” Tedford said at the grand opening. “It’s a great boon to the community. It puts a lot of people to work at a time when people weren’t working.”
Tedford said the facility used local contractors. The mayor echoed Barbee’s comments with the city assisting with the marketing of events. The biggest event coming to the arena so far is later this month on June 15.
The world’s top rodeo athletes will compete for $50,000 in prize money at the first Battle Born Broncs. Sanctioned by The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), Battle Born Broncs is the first event of its kind to be held in Nevada. Thirty bareback and 30 saddle bronc riders will compete on the best broncs in the sport of rodeo. Televised on the Cowboy Channel, which has 8 million viewers, Battle Born Broncs is the first major event produced at Churchill County’s Rafter 3C Arena.
“So many things can be done here,” Tedford said, citing the presentation of rodeos, concerts, 4-H extension shows.
Prior to the arena, Tedford said Fallon’s limited venues for events caused the area to lose tourism. Then the county stepped in.
“It took a lot of courage,” Tedford said about the commissioners moving forward on the arena.
Commission Chairman Pete Olsen said the Rafter 3 Center is booked for the rest of the month with six events, and the summer months are also looking favorable.
Olsen added the Fallon Cantaloupe Festival and Country Fair will be held at both the arena and fairgrounds, which should attract more visitors. He agreed Churchill County will see an uptick with the economy and an increase in visitors.
“I see this as a benefit to the community,” Olsen said.
When commissioners first approved the project, providing employment opportunities was also their priority.
“It provides jobs and provides a better place to live,” Olsen pointed out. “This is just an awesome facility and will make people stay home and not go anywhere for their entertainment.”
Former Sparks Mayor Bruce Breslow has been working with both the city and county through the Churchill Fallon Economic Development. CFED is a partnership between the city and county to actively recruit businesses whose activities are compatible with the Churchill County and Fallon region and to seek out businesses to locate or relocate to the region.
Breslow is also the former director of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry and a former Commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada. He is the CEO and Founder of Nevada Strategies, LLC, a full-service government consulting firm with experience and expertise in economic development, housing and affordable housing, transportation, planning and zoning, revenue bond programs, new market tax credits and opportunity zones.
Breslow said the arena will be promoted in Washoe County, and the aim is to have people involved with tourism and event planning from the Reno-Sparks area visit the new Rafter 3C Arena.
No doubt events will fill up the city’s motel rooms, which numbers 502, but Breslow said the future involves looking at land for new lodging facilities. Like the others assembled for last week’s official opening, however, Breslow was impressed with what he saw.
“There is no downside to this. It’s amazing,” he said.
Breslow said he envisions events for families and youngsters such as BMX and graduations.
“And curling,” joked Barbee.