St. Paul rodeo grounds getting a facelift
In May 2017, the St. Paul Rodeo hired Cindy Schonholtz as its first ever general manager. Her duties immediately included maintaining a relationship with the city of St. Paul, who owns the rodeo grounds, and examining necessary improvements to the facility.
The two tasks were deeply intertwined as a positive relationship with the city has a direct impact on the rodeo's ability to renovate the historic grounds. According to Kevin Smith, president of the rodeo board of directors, St. Paul and the rodeo have been in negotiations to extend the rodeo's lease while the renovations are ongoing.
Once she and her colleagues got the green light on the updates to the grounds, Schonholtz asked herself an important question: "How do we modernize it, but keep the historic flavor?"
"The safety of the livestock, the participants and everyone involved is a big thing," Schonholtz said. "The chutes were really cool, old and iconic, but the layout of the back area and very small crow's nest was just not up to par. We've really outgrown that."
Renovated areas include the bucking chutes and crow's nest – both built in 1964. Newer, previously used chutes were purchased from Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyo., and the crow's nest has doubled in size and become more suitable for the kind of media coverage the rodeo receives.
The St. Paul Rodeo is the one of the largest rodeos in the country, and its Fourth of July event is the largest of its kind in the country. Making the venue safer and more modern is the focus of Schonholtz and Smith as they prepare for big crowds again in 2019.
"One of the reasons the rodeo works so well is because it's such a rural, small town, but it's close to the big cities," Smith said. "That can also take a toll for a small town and when it comes to tax dollars and education and everything like that, it adds up."
In order for to properly prepare for the event and usher in the changes made to the grounds, the rodeo — led by Schonholtz's efforts — renovated the McKay House in downtown St. Paul as well.
The McKay House will became the "home base" for the rodeo now, where officials can hold production meetings, bring in advertising clients and properly manage the rodeo from a much closer distance than their current downtown office — a rented space where Schonholtz has done much of her work so far.
"I needed a place on site to watch over everything that was going on," she said. "It turned out so good that we've decided to relocate our headquarters there. This whole town has gone through a bit of a metamorphosis since I got here and we need to as well."
The board of directors, led by Smith, wants to maintain the tradition of the St. Paul Rodeo while making changes to improve the experience, starting with the renovations on which they've already moved forward. Schonholtz said the rodeo is forming a capital improvements committee to determine what will be the next batch of changes coming to the historic site, although that could be a few years from now.
"We're going to get some experts in there to look at the whole facility and give us some guidance on where we go from here," she said. "We need to make the best use of our time and funds."
Added Smith: "We hope over some years – dealing with the city as we are – to remodel and improve the whole covered grandstand in stages. It's time. It was built in 1944."