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Issues At The Celebration

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration takes a great deal of pride in listening to suggestions from ticket holders and then putting those suggestions into action in the way of improvements around the Historic Celebration Grounds.

When you’re dealing with a 100-acre physical plant that includes over 85 individual structures, it’s a big job to make sure everything is maintained correctly.  Many times, people coming to the events help point out where repairs or changes need to be made.

Two issues that seem to get as much attention as the rest of the issues combined are the West Grandstand of the outdoor arena and the cooling of Calsonic Arena.

“These are our top two issues,” said Celebration CEO Ron Thomas.  “Whether it’s emails, notes, or items in the suggestion boxes, there’s no question what’s on people’s minds.”

The tough part for Thomas and the Celebration Board of Directors is that there is not a satisfactory solution to either one of the two problems.

“Cooling Calsonic Arena sounds easy,” added Thomas.  “Just add the air conditioning.  In reality, it’s a very costly undertaking to add the hardware, but even more expensive when you talk about the monthly energy costs.  Since we are not underwritten by the state, those costs would have to be passed along to customers and that would take us out of the running for many of the events we host.”

An in-depth study about adding air conditioning to Calsonic Arena was conducted in June 2002 by a mechanical engineer to determine the size of equipment needed and the estimated operating costs.  According to their report, the main arena would require 400 tons of air conditioning while the warm-up area would need 75 tons.  The total cost of installed equipment is estimated to be between $750,000 and $1-million.

While that one-time investment is large, it pales in comparison to the costs of operation and maintenance.  The same study concluded that these costs would range between $15-25,000 per month; depending on how many hours the building is cooled each month.

Unlike other state or government-owned facilities, Calsonic Arena has to generate enough revenue from the events it hosts to cover its costs.  The costs mentioned above would have to be passed on to those organizations that rent the facility.  The Celebration Board of Directors determined that the costs would escalate to a point that few organizations could afford to book their events in the arena.  While Calsonic Arena and The Celebration Grounds hold a competitive advantage over many of the other equine facilities in the area, this rise in pricing would have a negative effect on maintaining current events in the building and attracting new ones.

Calsonic Arena currently has 16 fans that help move the air throughout the building.  These fans, combined with other ventilation, help keep the building cool in the summer months.

While Calsonic Arena has been around for about 16 years, the West Grandstand of Celebration Arena has been in place for over 50 years.  When it was constructed, the average size of each person was smaller than it is today.  People are taller and wider than they were in those days.

As people have grown, the width of the seats has also grown.  The Celebration has done a pretty good job in keeping up with the width of the seats.  It’s the depth of each seat that has show officials running into a stone wall.

“Because of the way that grandstand was constructed, we have no way of giving any relief on leg room,” said Celebration Chairman John T Bobo. “We’ve tested permanent chairback seats as well as other options.  We just can’t produce any more leg room than what’s there, but we are always willing to listen to suggestions.”

A complete re-build of the west side appears to be the only answer that will alleviate the leg-room issue, but that carries a substantial price tag that ticket holders have yet to say they are willing to swallow.  Feedback from the west grandstand shows that legroom issues only come into play during 2-4 nights of the show.

“It’s a little frustrating that we can’t wave a magic wand and take care of these two issues,” said Bobo.  “We’re always in the market for creative ideas to fix these problems and our staff members do a wonderful job in taking suggestions and applying them to the problem.”

The Celebration staff will keep listening to suggestions and trying to find answers to the two issues that have been on the front burner for quite some time.

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