Look for improvements to WestWorld of Scottsdale ahead of the 2018 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in January, as the city continues to develop a long-term plan for the sprawling event space. 

That plan should include insights on what to do with the massive tent on the site, near Loop 101 and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard. The Scottsdale City Council has delayed removing the tent, which some bemoan as an eyesore but event-planners put to use multiple times each year, including during this weekend’s Goodguys Southwest Nationals car show. 

Scottsdale leaders spent more than $50 million a few years back to improve and expand WestWorld, one of the city’s biggest tourism engines. The council approved spending $879,500 more last month, in part to help the growing Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction stay ahead of an increasingly competitive market. 

Councilman Guy Phillips compared WestWorld to a growing business, saying the city must continue to invest. Other supporters stressed the reported $167 million economic impact Barrett-Jackson creates annually when car collectors from around the world descend on Scottsdale.

But one council member wasn’t sold.  

“It seems to me, we have very sharp pencils and a lot of financial rigor in looking at the returns for our investments except when it comes to WestWorld — when it is a matter of faith that it is a good thing and that if you build it people will come,” Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said shortly before the council approved the latest spending.

She added, “We need a master plan around WestWorld and we need to know where we’re going.”

What to do about the tent

City leaders largely agree that a long-term plan is what WestWorld needs most. 

Earlier this year, they called for a plan that details events held there, creates a strategy to attract more events and locks in a long-term agreement with Barrett-Jackson.

Scottsdale City Manger Jim Thompson has been tasked with developing the plan, which should go to council in March.

The plan is expected to look at parking, the lay of the land and any changes that are necessary to keep users, from equestrians to car lovers, happy.

Most critically, it will look at the massive tent — larger than two football fields — that sits off Frank Lloyd Wright Blouevard. It’s been billed as the largest clear-span tent in North America. But many just call it ugly. 

“For far too long the residents of north Scottsdale have had to live with a giant eyesore in their backyard,” Fred Green, president of the nearby DC Ranch HOA, said last spring when the council again opted to delay bringing the tent down.

City leaders hoped a buyer would swoop in to purchase the tent, offsetting the cost to take it down. So far, that hasn’t happened.

The city estimates it will cost $2.6 million to remove the tent and restore and regrade the area. Rather than remove the tent, which brings in rental income during Barrett-Jackson and other events, the council opted to keep it another year. 

Barrett-Jackson CEO Craig Jackson is paying the city $100,000 annually to keep the tent, saying it makes sense to retain it until the fabric needs to be replaced in the coming years.  

He also has pressed the city for a plan on what to do with the area once the tent goes away.

Brian Dygert, general manager of WestWorld, called the tent an asset to the venue and the city that has brought Scottsdale to where it is now. But ultimately, he said simply, “It’s a tent on a parking lot. That’s what it is.” 

“The tent had always been intended to be a temporary structure. The city needs to decide if we keep using it until it’s truly done, or if we spend the money and dissemble it,” he said.  

According to Jason Rose, who represents Barrett-Jackson, Jackson has purchased a tent himself in preparation for the city tent eventually coming down. The new tent is shorter and doesn’t fit the current venue layout, he said. The improvements recently approved by council, including electrical work and curbing, will help cater to its size.

Barrett-Jackson already erects several temporary tents each year for the auction to connect the city tent to the Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center, Rose said. The new tent would be included in the prep work when the city tent ultimately comes down, he said. 

‘Alleviating some of the sticker shock’

Scottsdale City Manger Jim Thompson said a master plan around WestWorld would take time, and he didn’t want to delay movement on three improvement projects.

Jackson agreed.

“I would love to have a master plan,” Jackson said in October. “In the meantime, I have an auction coming up in a few months.”

He reminded the council that the city tent’s future was limited and that two of the projects will need to happen when the tent comes down.

“We are trying to be proactive to work with the council, the city, to try and alleviate some of that sticker shock when that day does come,” Jackson said. 

The outlay for the projects would be: 

  • $530,000 to pave Parking Lot G. Barrett-Jackson will shoulder $200,000 of the cost. An additional $12,500 would gotoward laying rubber matting on the lot for horses during the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. 
  • $160,000 to upgrade electrical components east of the tent. This would include relocating two existing aboveground electrical service sections underground.
  • $377,000 to purchase 126 portable RV pedestals to host more RVs and provide more electrical runs that can be rented to vendors at the Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center. 

Rose laid out the need for the projects in stark, competitive terms. The number of car consignors at Barrett-Jackson has nearly doubled from 800 a decade ago to about 1,700 today. Many of those additional cars wind up on Lot G,which is dirt.

“Barret-Jackson’s success has brought in a lot of copycats,” Rose said. “They stage at hotels at Kierland, at the Biltmore. And If you’re a car consignor, where do you want to put your car? On a dirt lot at WestWorld or at the Biltmore or at Kierland?”

WestWorld has grown with upgrades

On a recent afternoon, two tractors were prepping the ground at the venue’s paddock for its next event. The 2017 AMA EnduroCross Series had wrapped up, and a horse event was about to get underway.

Since large-scale renovations were completed in 2014, Westworld has evolved from a nine-month-use venue to one that’s year-round. It’s increased total events by 13 percent and attendance by 30 percent, Dygert said.

Above all, the changes provided flexibility and efficiency that allow the city to host events that weren’t possible before, such as indoor motorcycle racing, he said.

The council approved $47 million to renovate Westword in 2012. The upgrades included enclosing the equestrian center to make it a climate-controlled venue, expanding the North Hall, reconfiguring parking lots and building a show office.

By the time renovations were completed, costs were closer to $52 million. 

Dygert said the improvements have attracted more events because they made WestWorld a year-round facility. WestWorld supported 119 events in 2016 that attracted more than 800,000 attendees in all, he said. 

But the venue continues to require a city operating subsidy; it was $1.8 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

“Could you run it operationally balanced? Yeah, you could. Is that the single most important mission at the moment? No,” Dygert said.

His focus is to grow events that attract visitors.

Supporters note the economic impact that WestWorld events have on the city. The Barrett-Jackson auction alone pumped more than $167 million into the economy last year, including $1.8 million to city tax coffers, according to a city- and auction-commissioned study in 2016.


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