Santa Rosa County could soon have a covered arena in East Milton.

The project, which has been discussed since 2003, could be awarded to a bidder during the Dec. 10 meeting of the Santa Rosa County Board of Commissioners.

My intention for the past 10 years has been the need in East Milton for a covered arena for multi-uses, said Santa Rosa County Commissioner Bob Cole, who represents the district where the covered arena would be located. Im trying to keep it as multi purpose as possible, which is a good use of our tax dollars.

As recently as 2009 a resurgence in interest came about with discussions on a much larger facility that included a kitchen area, a meeting or banquet area, and more, but that just wasn't feasible.

"We wanted to build something we could use and afford in Santa Rosa County," said Kyle Holley, one of the participants in the various meetings concerning the covered arena. "We started out with a concept and then went around and interviewed a number of facility administrations to get an idea of what we should and should not do.

"As we looked at their suggestions and facilities like this in Northwest Florida and Mississippi we came up with this idea."

Since 2009 several organizations have been involved in developing the new equestrian center, including the University of Florida, the Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council and the Santa Rosa County Fair Association to name a few.

The covered arena is just one phase of a much large Agri-Plex project in East Milton. Additional phases would include adding 25 acres to the park that would serve as the permanent location for the Santa Rosa County Fair, which would feature an exhibition hall and other amenities.

According to the bids received for the project, a base bid of $1.2-million was received for a 250 foot covered arena, and a $1.45-million bid was received for a facility that would be 300 feet long and include a second set of bathrooms.

"This covered arena would enable a wide variety of special events," Holley said. "It would also be a key area we could insulate to aid in disaster recovery."

A presentation on the covered arena will be held Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. in the Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce Boardroom.

Holley pointed out the East Milton Park, which is where the facility would be located is already fenced in and isolated, which is a key component considered during disaster recovery. A second plus for this is due to its location to a key Gulf Power station and grid.

Commissioner Cole has already been setting aside monies from his parks and recreation budget with this project in mind and there is the possibility to work with the Santa Rosa County Tourism and Development Council and some money they have on reserve.

"When you look at a TDC budget, some of that money can be spent on infrastructure and not just advertising," Holley said. "If the TDC invests in this it could invest in a sector that is in recession."

Holley indicated during the meetings involving the multi-purpose covered arena there could be rodeos, festivals, convention and shows, concerts, and much more held at this location, which would be just off the intersection of Highway 90 and Bobby Brown Road.

The plans for the facility would be to construct the covered arena near the site being used currently during the Santa Rosa County Fair and for equestrian events by groups like the Blackwater Saddle Club.

"No one is advocating for us to borrow money on this project," Holley said. "We are hoping the project can be awarded so we can start negotiations with the bid winner and make sure the taxpayer gets the lowest price possible."

Cole said they are trying to finalize the details on the covered arena in time to present it at the Santa Rosa County Commission meeting for discussion on Dec. 10.

My approach at this point is to see if we could perhaps get TDC dollars to buy into it, perhaps some county dollars to buy into it, Cole said. If its going to be used as an emergency (distribution site), I wouldnt feel uncomfortable asking the rest of the board to put a couple hundred thousand dollars of county money into because at this point its all District 2 recreation funds.

Holley, who is a new member to the Santa Rosa Tourism and Development District, feels this is something Santa Rosa County needs to step forward and do it themselves.

"Regionally this makes sense for us and is a good use of county owned land located between two prisons," Holley said. "This also leverages how close we are to the I-10 and Highway 87 interchange.

"No one will come here and help us or change the world we have to help and change things ourselves."

Northwest Florida Daily News reporter Dusty Ricketts contributed to this story.