OAKLEY -- A grass-roots effort to establish an event center here catering to equestrians and agricultural activities occupied the spotlight Tuesday when supporters gathered at Oakley's City Hall to tout the project's merits.

A near-capacity crowd filled the council chambers to hear those spearheading the push describe an array of uses for such a facility and emphasize the financial bonanza it could mean for the city.

"We want money here and the equestrian community is definitely one that can bring it," said Oakley resident Nancy D'Cruz, noting that horse shows typically draw hordes of out-of-towners who spend hundreds of dollars on lodging and food during the multiday events.

She and other members of the loose-knit group calling itself PACE -- Promoting Agricultural Community & Equestrian -- opened the two-hour meeting by citing the need to preserve what's left of Oakley's rural character.

A multiuse center could accomplish that by giving local 4-H clubs or youth in the National FFA Organization organization a place to show livestock, they said.

Families who lack the space in their own backyards also could avail themselves of the space to grow their own produce, keep chickens and raise other farm animals for meat.

In addition, the center would be a logical place to hold farmers markets and wine tastings featuring local grapes, proponents said.

As for East County's horse enthusiasts, a venue that includes an arena along with acres of open space where equestrians could compete would fill a big need among those who must leave the area to participate in shows, they added.

D'Cruz said she would have to travel to Rancho Murieta in the Sacramento area if she wants to show her gelding, the closest horse park for those who want to show Arabians and earn the points needed to move on to regional and national events.

Other centers are in Woodside, Elk Grove and Fresno, all a considerable distance from East County.

"Why can't we bring people here? We have so much to offer," said Oakley resident Tami Daniels, who owns a horse boarding facility in town.

Young people could use the venue to gain riding skills that will serve them well in future endeavors, she added, recalling that the scholarships her daughter received from Fresno State University's equestrian team while she was on it financed most of her tuition.

A center also could be a site for polo games, barrel races, clinics on various aspects of horsemanship -- it could even serve as a temporary base for the Royal Lipizzaner stallions in the offseason when they're not performing, D'Cruz said.

"The sky's the limit," she said.

The amount of money that events like these infuse into local economies is eye-opening: D'Cruz cited a 2011 analysis of the economic impact that a proposed equestrian park would have on Sonoma County, which estimated that the complex could generate anywhere from $65 million to $300 in revenue.

And the facility doesn't have to be limited to equine and agricultural events: Advocates mentioned Civil War re-enactments, car shows and dog events as alternative uses.

Former Oakley Mayor Bruce Connelly suggested PACE consider a 55-acre area at the northernmost end of Sellers Avenue that the city has talked about eventually turning into a park.

He cautioned members not to expect the city to finance the project, however, noting that employees still are taking furlough days.

"It's going to take a lot of funds from other sources," Connelly said. "You're going to have to sell it to the community as well."

Bethe Mounice has seen that done: When she was living in Texas she served on a committee that succeeded in persuading the residents of Brazos County to pass a bond measure for the construction of an exposition center.

"You build it, they will come," she said.

Asked whether he would back the project, Mayor Kevin Romick said he'd be willing to help PACE members where possible and offered them free use of the city's Second Street building known as the "White House" for their meetings.

He advised them first to decide where they want the arena and how much land they would need before presenting the project to the entire council.

PACE also should apply for nonprofit status so it can start pursuing grants to fund the undertaking, Romick said. The group has no estimate yet on how much such a center would cost.

Councilman Randy Pope told the group it could count on his vote, noting that he'd like his children to experience the facets of rural life that PACE is promoting as they grow up.

And Councilwoman Diane Burgis advised the meeting's presenters to marshal supporters who are willing to act on the wish list.

"You need to have doers, not just great ideas," she said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/Rowena Coetsee.

STAY INFORMED
Future planning meetings and other information on Oakley's proposed equestrian and agriculture center will be posted on PACE's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/PACEOakley.