About $1.7 million will go toward upgrading the Howard Bowen Memorial Events Complex, which includes building brand new, partially covered grandstands to replace the old wooden bleachers that are decades old. (Eric Trent/Lynden Tribune)

State money: Playground is first, then a new covered events arena

SUMAS ­— The city is getting a facelift after being awarded $2 million in the Washington state capital budget this year. The money will go toward two new projects: 1) a themed playground and spraypark, and 2) reconstruction of the rodeo grounds and  ballfields area.

Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen said this high level of funding is pivotal as the border town ramps up an effort to bring more people into the downtown area to help drive economic growth.

“We don’t get awards like this very often,” Christensen said. “As far as I’m aware, this is the biggest amount that the state has given us. We’re all very appreciative. It really makes us feel good to get some help. Without this money we would not have been able to make this happen. Plain and simple, we wouldn’t be able to invest in our community like that. We just don’t have the resources to do it.”

If the $2 million, $288,000 will be spent on the new playground and spray park that is tentatively planned to be built next to downtown City Park. City officials would like a spring 2020 completion.

“The hope is to spark some community revitalization downtown and encourage more people to come into Sumas and do some more shopping, go see the sights,” Christensen said. “So we’re excited about that.”

The remaining $1,712,000 will go toward upgrading what will now be called the Howard Bowen Memorial Events Complex, including the rodeo grounds. Most of the money will help build a larger, partially covered grandstand, along with more parking. The current rickety wooden bleachers are uncovered and decades old.

A walk across the bleachers on Thursday afternoon verified how dilapidated the wood has become — boards bowed precariously with each step. Christensen said new seating is long overdue as the current bleachers are deteriorated from having been exposed to the elements year-round.

“[It] kind of limits us on the events we can do,” Christensen said. “Obviously on a rainy day, you’re not going to have good participation from community members if you have an event and it’s raining, because nothing is covered right now.”

Compared to just 900 seats now, the new grandstand will have close to a 2,500-person capacity.

“We’re working on some different designs,” Christensen said. “We’re going to have to put in some requests for bids and go through quite a bit of design and architectural requirements before we get too far into it.”

The facelift will also include expanding the current rodeo arena to accommodate higher-profile motorized events such as motocross, demolition derbies and monster truck shows. The last demolition derby held at the Sumas Rodeo Grounds was in 2016.

“We don’t have near the seating capacity as a bigger arena, like Lynden, where the fairgrounds are,” Christensen said. “We can’t compete with the other venues available. By doing this we’ll be able to bring out the demolition derby again and bring more events out here.”

Christensen hasn’t been in contact with motocross or monster truck shows yet, but the planned  arena should be able to satisfy requirements. Christensen is confident Sumas will be able to bring in demolition derbies at least.

Dirt and gravel are to be hauled in for a new bottom pad foundation and some pieces of the existing arena might be used in the augmentation process, Christensen said. 

“It all depends on who gets the bid, what we can reuse and what style we go with,” Christensen said. “There’s just a lot of different options.”

There is no target date for buildout of the new arena. The bidding process will likely open within the next 30 days.

“The push is to spur-on economic development by bringing more events in that will help support the local businesses, bring more people into the city limits and hopefully draw in more businesses,” Christensen said. 

Christensen thanks 42nd District state legislators Rep. Luanne Van Werven and Sen. Doug Ericksen, who were there at the start of looking into applying for money for these projects. He also praises Rep. Sharon Shewmake, who assisted both efforts after she was elected in 2018.

“I want to thank all three of them for their help in making this happen,” Christensen said. “In my visits to Olympia to talk about these projects they were very supportive. Without their representation in supporting these two projects they wouldn’t have happened.”

Eric Trent covers sports for the Lynden Tribune.