State budget cuts mean the National High School Finals Rodeo will not be coming back to Springfield.
Illinois Department of Agriculture officials notified organizers this week the state could no longer afford the $1 million annual cost of hosting the event, which was scheduled to return to the Illinois State Fairgrounds in 2012 and 2013.
The 10-day event has rotated among sites every two years. This would have been its third time in Springfield since 2000.
“It’s certainly not a reflection on the rodeo’s merit,” Agriculture spokesman Jeff Squibb said Thursday. “It’s simply a reflection of the state’s fiscal situation.”
Squibb said Agriculture’s $31.5 million appropriation from general revenue is down 30 percent from 2007. The agency’s overall budget is about $105 million, but most of that is in the form of federal funding administered for other programs.
Unlike other non-fair events, Squibb said the rodeo paid no rent to use the fairgrounds. The Agriculture Department paid to set up and tear down the show, as well as labor costs during the show.
The state fair and other non-fair events should not be affected, said Squibb.
Beth Bacon, interim general manager of the National High School Rodeo Association in Denver, said the organization will ask for new bids for the 2012-13 finals. When held here, the show normally was held in late July.
“The state is working to recover from some unprecedented budget challenges,” Bacon acknowledged.
Springfield submitted the winning bid in 2009 for the 2012-13 events, but a contract had not been finalized, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Springfield has been the easternmost site for the finals, which also have rotated to Gillette, Wyo., where this year’s finals are scheduled, and Gallup, N.M. The rodeo was held at the state fairgrounds in 2000 and 2001 and again in 2006-07.
City tourism officials estimated 1,500 competitors and 10,000 spectators attended the 2007 finals. Agriculture officials said after the 2007 show they did not intend to bid on its return, but they relented after appeals from the city of Springfield.
Area officials unhappy
Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Tim Farley said he learned that Illinois was bowing out of hosting the 2012 and 2013 National High School Finals Rodeo when the news was posted on the website of The State Journal-Register Thursday.
“The last time we talked to them a month ago, they were still negotiating, so this is fairly new to us,” Farley said.
He said loss of the event will be felt well beyond Springfield.
“They (state government) spent millions building the facility for this rodeo, so this is really a shame,” said Farley. “Many of the people have to drive in. They are not your typical group. … This will affect the whole state of Illinois.
State Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, said he plans to look into to ways to save the rodeo.
“It seems to me the theme of the administration (is) we’re trying to run Illinois jobs out of Illinois,” Poe said. “It was about $8 million to the community and 50,000 visitors.”
The state should have looked for corporate sponsors to pay for at least part of the costs, Poe said, but he wasn’t sure anything can be done at this stage.
“What worries me is, once you issue a letter to someone like that, is it over?” Poe said. “We’ll check into it next week and see if we can figure it out.”
Springfield Mayor Frank Edwards said the rodeo’s impact on the community is huge, but spending by rodeo participants and spectators doesn’t stop at city limits.
“ As those people travel into Springfield, they’re going to stop and fill their trucks up,” he said. “They come in spending a lot of money, filling our hotels and motels.
“Whoever is getting that rodeo ought to thank Illinois. ... It hurts the whole state.
-- Tim Landis and Chris Wetterich