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Conyers' Georgia International Horse Park is showing it has something for all

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Editor's note: This is the final installment in a two-part series examining the economic impact of the Georgia International Horse Park. The Cherry Blossom Festival, scheduled next Saturday, is one of the largest events held at the horse park each year; however, it is just one of several events held there throughout the year.

CONYERS -- The Georgia International Horse Park is a popular site for festivals, fundraisers and other fun-filled events.

Perhaps the largest draw to the horse park each March is the annual Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival.

The Cherry Blossom Festival was first held at the horse park in 1997 after it outgrew its original venue on the grounds of Maxell Corporation on Parker Road. The festival is scheduled each year to coincide with the blooming of the Yoshino cherry trees, for which the festival is named.

Mother Nature hasn't always cooperated, though. A late-season freeze in 2008 resulted in a smaller crop of cherry trees. And then in 2009 the festival was cut short due to freezing rain and strong winds.

Even so, vendors and entertainers still look to the Cherry Blossom Festival as a major event. Jennifer Bexley, director of the Georgia International Horse Park, said the number of vendors remains consistent from year to year, with the festival attracting around 300 artists and crafters booths.

"This is their livelihood, so they understand the weather is always a factor," Bexley said.

Cold weather is generally not a deterrent for the Fabulous Fourth Festival held each July 4 at the horse park. The Independence Day celebration includes entertainment, children's activities, military displays, arts and crafts and is capped off with a fireworks display.

The fourth annual Big Haynes Creek Wildlife Festival will be held Aug. 28 and 29 at the Nature Center at the horse park. The Wildlife Festival features animal exhibits, guest speakers, hands-on demonstrations, children's activities, stage performances and arts and crafts.

According to a press release from the city, the Big Haynes Creek Wildlife Festival was recently named a Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event for the month of August 2010.

The horse park has attracted another regional festival, too. In September, around 20,000 people attended Fiesta Georgia. The event, sponsored by the Lanza Group, was a daylong celebration of Latino culture, music and food featuring bilingual, continuous and live performances by national and local recording artists, vendor booths offering free product samples, arts and crafts and authentic Latino foods.

In addition to festivals, the horse park has become home to one of the larger consignment sales in the area. Laura Johns is the organizer of the Tykes, Tots and Teens Consignment Sale that is held twice a year. Johns said she started the consignment sale in 2006 with 18 consigners who set up their booths on Green Street in Olde Town. She said as the event grew, she moved to larger and larger venues.

"The horse park is my fourth stop and our permanent home," Johns said. "The horse park is big enough and we need a very large facility."

The weeklong sale, held most recently from Feb. 27 to March 6, is housed in the 30,000-square-foot multipurpose building. Johns said she had 600 registered consigners and as many as 10,000 shoppers attend the sale. During her fall sale, she said about 40,000 items were sold.

"The horse park is widely known," Johns said. "When people think of the horse park, they think of events, so it's great to have that name."

Economic impact

"The goal has always been that the horse park be a multipurpose facility," Bexley said. "To be profitable, we can't rely solely on equine events. At the same time, the equine industry is still very large in Rockdale and Newton counties. It is our biggest agricultural commodity."

More than half of the revenue for the Georgia International Horse Park -- $966,700, according to the city's figures -- is generated from events held there.

The major source of revenue is what GIHP charges for stalls during events.

"Our goal is to maximize the use of our stalls," Bexley said. "Our facility is large enough to host three separate events on one weekend."

Rental income and a portion of the city's hotel/motel tax encompass the majority of the balance.

Jennifer Edwards, director of public relations and tourism for the city of Conyers, said the most recent economic impact figures the city has received are from 2008, which show that $109.97 million was spent in tourism expenditures in Rockdale County.

"That means our county ranked an impressive 27th of the 159 counties in Georgia," Edwards said. "Since these figures are not broken down by city, we estimate that approximately 75 percent of the amount generated in the county is generated by the horse park."