PINETOP-LAKESIDE — A number of community leaders, companies and even city governments have engaged in conversations regarding a possible conference center for the White Mountain Region. Thus far, even though many agree that it is needed, when the price tag is revealed and the data gathered, there is no commitment.
But on May 17 a plan was unveiled on social media that has people doing more than just talking. The Discover WMAZ Event Center Facebook page was launched providing invitees and others with a video of a facility mock-up which is projected to be a reality in 2022.
Cyndie Shaffstall, local author, entrepreneur, marketer, marketing-data analyst, business manager and Chairman of the Board for the Pinetop-Lakeside Chamber of Commerce has been incubating a plan that will be the catalyst for regional economic development – a 15,000 square foot event hall to be used for sports tournaments, banquets, conferences, trade shows and seminars — and it is a private venture.
Shaffstall has been assured “by people who understand what I am doing” that there are grants available for the project, but money from private sources is also being invested and those parties will share ownership. The video presented on the Facebook page and elsewhere is also serving to invite investors to be part of the project. Shaffstall is also a partner in Hidden Star, an organization dedicated to providing start-up help and business assistance to disadvantaged and minority entrepreneurs across the country.
The organization which is already formed is the Discover WMAZ Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB). The video on the Facebook page enables viewers to take a tour of the proposed facility, inside and out.
“I am currently working on a number of projects,” said Shaffstall. Her main focus is the business plan, the feasibility study, getting the investors in place and then deciding on one of six pieces of property to put the event center on. She is also meeting with architects and general contractors to acquire bids for Phase One.
Phase One of the project begins with entering the front doors of a structure filled with floor-to-ceiling windows. In the middle there will be a large reception desk with six administrative offices behind it. One of the offices will be an exclusive lease for the CVB and two others will be for the Pinetop-Lakeside Chamber of Commerce. Both entities will not be charged for their spaces. The other three offices will be used by event center management staff.
The building will be WiFi-enabled and have charging stations for devices placed every ten feet in the common areas.
The outside walls of the building, along with the hall areas, will provide information on local events, hotels and shopping.
To the left of the reception desk and offices there will be standing kiosks which local merchants can rent by the day, week, month or year. There will also be two permanent kiosks in the lunch area.
Twenty break-out rooms which can accommodate 25 to 50 people will be along the front and back walls. There will be a third smaller, multi-use locker room and lockers for men/women and families at the end of the breakout rooms. The rooms will have collapsible stadium seating supporting events seven days a week.
A five year commitment has already been secured for the catering kitchen and its services which is located on the left side wall; a five year commitment has also been secured for the indoor/outdoor bar which is located along the back wall with a sandwich counter next to it.
The designated open seating area will be used by the catering kitchen, bar and the coffee/ breakfast/ sandwich bar, but there will be additional seating as you exit through the back doors. The sandwich bar will accommodate people who are at conferences and in classes, and there will also be in-house catering.
Beyond the extra seating area, there are steps which lead to the covered and lighted amphitheater which will be wired for sound and will seat 2,000 people. Each level will be wide enough to do a dinner theater with a two-top and room for wait staff.
Coming up next on the left side is the wooded wedding area which is just past the outdoor portion of the bar. There will be separate banquet seating with a stage and a dance floor. There will also be an alternate indoor room for weddings, should there be inclement weather. A beautiful water feature will be beyond the amphitheater to abate sound between the two areas and their events.
Shaffstall said that Phase II will include bike paths and free bikes to make sure the facility is connected to the community – connecting businesses.
She is working on the business plan and included in the plan will be a hospitality training certification program. It will be open to White Mountain neighbors to improve the level of customer service in the entire area.
“I went to the towns three years ago and had three meetings,” said Shaffstall. “One was a joint meeting with Show Low and Pinetop and I told them the first step was to have a Convention and Visitor’s Bureau – that is who is promoting the area.”
“We will need an event planner and the second step,” she continued, “is the website, and it is 60 percent done.”
Shaffstall said the website has a menu for visitors and for event planners. She describes it as “visitor-centric” with information which includes everything to do in the White Mountains — because people visit all over the Mountain.
Putting the video out on Facebook, Shaffstall said her hope is that people will get excited when they see it. “I want people to say I will raise my hand; I want to be involved.”
Those that have stepped up as advisory board members thus far are Rica Giradi, HomeSmart Professionals; Cheryl Giradi, El Rancho Restaurant; Sylviana Giradi-Stebbins, My Sister Can’t Cook Catering; Austin Vallery, Home Inspections, Barbara Bruce, White Mountain Independent; Robert Kastelic, Torreon Living Magazine; Pamela Harp-Arlaud, Washington Federal; Evan Lehr, The Lodge Sports Bar & Grill; Mechelle Martinez, Pinetop-Lakeside Chamber of Commerce and Mark Kahlich, WestCo Development.
Shaffstall’s final words on the Facebook invite say, “Let’s get this party started.”
The video for this project can be viewed on Facebook at Discover WMAZ Event Center.
DISCLOSURE: Reporter Barbara Bruce was involved in the 2015 project for America’s Best Communities Grant and became a member of the advisory board for Discover WMAZ Event Center after the interview for this article.