State, local officials eye indoor horse arena at Southwest Washington Fairgrounds


Standing in the vacant horse arena at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds Monday, a collection of state and local officials envisioned a new facility that would spur the local economy while helping to train the next generation of Lewis County equestrians.

“It’s a long time coming,” 20th District state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, said.

When completed, the officials said a 180-foot by 240-foot covered equestrian center would serve as the centerpiece of a project to help revitalize the fairgrounds.

“That’s been a dream of the fairgrounds for a long time, to have a first-rate equestrian facility,” Lewis County Parks and Recreation Administrator B.J. Kuykendall said.

As the ranking member of the House Capital Budget Committee, Abbarno secured $206,000 in the capital supplemental budget toward “site-specific study, planning, design and engineering of a covered equestrian center.”

Abbarno also highlighted legislation to help “fix the financing mechanism for the fair and the county.”

“It’s going to change the way we improve the fairgrounds,” Abbarno said. “I’m really excited about how all of this has come together.”

The facility improvements, Lewis County Commissioner Scott Brummer said, are years in the making and would allow for increased use of the fairgrounds for events year round.

According to Abbarno, one of the last conversations he had with former commissioner Gary Stamper, who died in 2021, was on a partnership between the county and state to improve the fairgrounds.

“It is about quality of life. It is about economic opportunity,” Abbarno said. “But it’s really about preserving our history and tradition. I think a lot of people forget about how important the Southwest Washington Fair is. It’s not a Lewis County fair. It really is a regional fair.”

Following Stamper’s death, Brummer has continued the fight to secure improvements to the fairgrounds, Abbarno said.

“This is a big step forward for the fair, for this community, and we are excited about it as you are,” Brummer said. “I think this is going to be a transitional moment where the fair just keeps moving in a positive direction. This is going to have a huge impact on the community at large, and I’m excited to see it come to fruition.”

While much of the excitement was on what the facility would mean for the local economy, the officials were also excited about what it would mean for future generations.

“If you don’t have kids, you don’t have a fair,” Southwest Washington Fair Association President Jerry Owens said.

Southwest Washington Fair Advisory Board Acting Chair George Dodd said the facility will provide equestrian teams “an arena where they can come and ride together as a team.”

According to Kuykendall, the facility will have indoor seating for 480 spectators and allow expanded access for 4-H events, professional rodeos and other equestrian events “year-round.”

The new facility will be a bit longer, and wider, than the current arena and will offer other enhancements, Abbarno said, including improved Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility.

“I remember five or six years ago when my mom came to visit and watch my daughter ride here, it’s not ADA accessible. It’s very difficult to get around,” Abbarno said. “It’s not necessarily the facility that we should want, or expect, in our community. And now you have all of the pieces in place, and the drive to improve it and provide access to our facility for our kids.”

“This project would enhance the Southwest Washington Fair’s offerings to the public while strengthening the financial standing of the fairgrounds with added opportunities for events,” Kuykendall said. “We believe that this project would also be a benefit to our local economy and support the local governments through increased tourism spending and heightened lodging and sales tax.”

The timeline for the project is “a little up in the air,” according to Brummer. Kuykendall said the county is hopeful design, engineering and planning will be completed in the calendar year 2025, with “construction to follow.”

Kuykendall estimated when completed, the price tag would be “seven figures.”

“We’re going to do everything on our part to make sure that the funding gets there to actually implement the structure and the plan,” Brummer said. “We’re fully committed. We sincerely appreciate the work that you have done and the funding coming from the state. It’s going to go to great use for this community.”