Chris Van Horne, NBC 5 Fort Worth Reporter
Horses and horse shows are a big part of Fort Worth's economy, and upgrades and additions to Will Rogers Memorial Center mean more money for the city.
After nearly 18 months of construction, the Will Rogers Memorial Center's multimillion-dollar expansion is finally open for business.
The $32 million Equestrian Multi-Purpose Building at the Will Rogers Memorial Center will now help the city bring in tens of millions of dollars each year with new horse shows.
Horses and horse shows already bring in millions in tourism to Fort Worth each year. But the loss of some shows in recent years forced the city to act and stay competitive.
"We've lost some shows through the years to Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but we're gradually regaining them," Mayor Betsy Price said.
The Equestrian Multi-Purpose Building already brought in the Appaloosa Horse Club's National Show/Youth World Championship Show for 2013 through 2017. Fort Worth won out over Tulsa, Okla.
"That's going to bring in $10 million to Fort Worth each year for five years, so it's big business," said Kirk Slaughter, the city's director of public events.
The Appaloosa Horse Club's World Championships also signed on for another five years in Fort Worth.
Such big shows need a bigger space, as well as a space that provides more than just a good show arena. The new expansion's lower levels can be used for parking, but most of the time will house up to 740 horse stalls, with new wash bays and access to an expanded tunnel system.
The tunnel system may not be something visitors see, but it's very important to who run shows and compete.
"It provides an avenue specific to the competitors where they're away from the general traffic flow of cars, trade show vendors, general spectators -- so they know, 'I can leave here and can be at competition arena in "x" minutes to maximize my ability to show my horse,'" said Dan Wall, executive director of the National Reining Horse Association.
The NRHA brought its third North American show -- the Cowtown Classic -- to Fort Worth last summer in part because of the new improvements.
"Fort Worth realizes, in order to be competitive, they need to make some improvements, and they're well on their way to doing that," Wall said.
Parking can once again be added on the upper level of the building, but it will have two large warm-up arenas most of the time. Wall said it's important for the horses to get themselves warmed up prior to showing, and the additional arenas will provide that need.
While NRHA brought a new event to Fort Worth, other horse associations say they're now able to keep them there. Organizations such as the American Painted Horse Association, which is based in Fort Worth, now don't have to worry about finding a new home in the future.
"If you reach the ceiling and you can't expand, you have to look elsewhere," said executive director Billy Smith. "We have no need to expand or go anywhere else. We've got the room here we haven't had here in the past."
City leaders promise more improvements to keep the city competitive in attracting shows. Slaughter said Fort Worth is already master-planning a way to add more vendor space. And new RV parking and hook-ups are being installed and should be open this summer.
"We're going to deliver," he said.
The Region 9 Arabian Horse Association Championships, which runs Thursday to Sunday, will be the first show to use the new facility.