STARKVILLE — The Mississippi Horse Park hosted 23 events in 1999, its first year in existence.
Last year it hosted 134.
“We started off just as an idea on paper, and then we were four metal buildings on a gravel road, and look where we are today,” facility director and Oktibbeha County District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller said at Monday’s Starkville Rotary Club meeting.
The park located on Poor House Road, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, resulted from a partnership between the city of Starkville, Oktibbeha County and Mississippi State University, which together contributed 95.4 percent of the park’s first fiscal year budget. The city allocated $130,000 for the first three years and the county allocated $100,000 for the first four years, Miller said.
“Those were the only years that the money was guaranteed,” Miller told The Dispatch. “After that it was on an annual basis and we had to go and ask. (We said) ‘Here are the results, this is what we’re doing,’ and then they would contribute based on economic impact, the events in the community and what the budgets could afford.”
During FY 2018-19, the horse park received 31.5 percent from all three entities and covered the rest with event revenue, sponsorships and grants. The 1999-2000 budget included only 4.6 percent event revenue, according to data Miller shared with Rotary.
This means the city, county and university do not have to contribute as much as they used to, though they all still contribute as a partnership, Miller said. The city allocated $20,000 and the county allocated $41,000 to the park last year, she said.
As of May, the park has hosted 979 events total, an average of 48 per year, Miller said. Larger events bring in people from as many as 12 states, and more than 60,000 people visit the horse park per year.
Hosting a wide range of events is a “key to success” for the park, including barrel racing, garden expos, dog shows, 4-H activities, Arabian horse shows, concerts and cross-country track meets, Miller said. The park hosted many one-day shows in its early days to get the word out and started hosting multi-day shows to bring in more revenue once the public knew about it.
“Even though you might see a dip in the (number of) events, you see an increase in the revenue because people are staying in the community longer,” she said.
The park generated $43 million in economic impact from 2001 to 2018, based on a template created by Al Myles, a former MSU Extension professor of agricultural economics. It determines how much money moves through the local and state economy for each event held at the horse park, including where spectators come from, how much they spend on gas and how long they stay in town, Miller told the Dispatch.
The city received grant money to pave the road in 2004.
“From there we had Hail State Boulevard and Sunnyland (Drive) and all these other things that are developing in that area, so that’s all part of what tourism can do in an area to drive economic development,” Miller said.
The park has hosted a professional rodeo since 2003, and the Starkville Rotary has produced it since 2005. The Rotary Classic Rodeo is the club’s biggest fundraiser and “pumps about $24,000 back into the community through Rotary support of area civic groups and agencies,” according to the club website. The Columbus and Eupora Rotary clubs have co-produced the rodeo in recent years.
Starkville Rotary president Sid Salter said the rodeo is “only as good as the next one” and encouraged members to continue supporting it.
“The war horses that have helped to drive the success of our rodeo have agreed to pull the wagon one more time, but they’re going to have to have your help, my help, everybody’s help,” Salter said.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.