Will it be an economic boon to the region at a time when timber jobs are drying up or merely a pipe dream that will eventually end up on the scrap heap, like so many other grandiose projects pitched before it?
Will the equestrian-centered project provide fun and leisurely activities for horse lovers, as the developers say, or will it cause traffic jams and noise pollution for surrounding landowners?
Where will the water for the massive development come from, and will it suck dry other water sources that people living in the area depend on?
Those are just a few of the questions surrounding the proposed Pegasus Equestrian Resort & Venue that were debated at a Douglas County Planning Commission hearing Thursday evening.
The ambitious project is being proposed by brothers Quinn and Drew Millegan, investors who live in McMinnville and operate the Woodworth Contrarian Fund hedge fund and Millegan Brothers LLC, among other ventures. The multi-disciplinary equestrian venue would be located on just over 2,800 acres near Metz Hill Road and west of Interstate 5.
“We’ve been looking for a site for more than 10 years, up and down the west coast, including Washington and California. And then we found this … It’s perfect,” Drew Millegan said earlier this week.
Plans call for five indoor arenas, outdoor grass and sand arenas, a dedicated combined driving course, an equestrian cross-country course and four full-size grass polo fields for equestrian competitions. The project also features a $35 million, 150-room hotel resort and spa facility with restaurants, meeting rooms and convention facilities.
The Millegans have said there will be an initial investment of $120 million on the project, and once up and running it is projected to bring in $130 million in annual revenue.
About three dozen people showed up for the hearing. Of those who stated a position on the proposal, those who supported it outnumbered those opposed by more than three-to-one.
Kelley McGuire of Oakland said she is a horse breeder and trainer, and currently all the horses she sells go to California or Washington because there is no market here. The proposed equestrian center would change that, she said.
“They are what we need. I am all for this,” McGuire said.
Other speakers echoed those sentiments. They said the development would bring badly needed money and jobs to the area.
An economic analysis found that the construction phase of the resort would provide more than 1,500 jobs total, including more than 800 at the job site. Once the work is done, the venue would employ about 500 workers — half of them full-time — the analysis determined.
The analysis, performed for a similar proposal by ECONorthwest, a consulting firm based in the Pacific Northwest that specializes in economics, finance, and planning, determined that the total benefit to the region would be $250 million a year in hotel stays, restaurant meals, day trips and other expenditures associated with the venue.
The Millegans point to several unique advantages of the site, including its proximity to the interstate, its size, its beauty and its low elevation and moderate climate. The property also contains a private airfield with a 5,100-foot runway capable of accommodating smaller planes.
The Millegans said they intend to generate much of the power needed for the venue on-site. They said they are exploring a variety of sources including solar, wind, geothermal and biofuel, which could potentially turn horse manure into energy. The Millegans also said they are looking at putting in potential vineyards and opening a winery/distillery on the property.
The Millegans, along with their father, J.W. Millegan, defended the proposed development at Thursday’s hearing. The three said they intend to be good stewards of the land, good neighbors and a helping hand to other area businesses.
“We don’t want to crowd out existing businesses, we want to support them,” Quinn Millegan said.
The three also said that if the Pegasus Equestrian Resort is not approved, the land could be developed in a much more deleterious way, including large-scale subdivisions built at the site.
“Pegasus will defend the land against subdivisions,” J.W. Millegan said. “We don’t want McMansions.”
Those opposed to the project were not swayed.
Shelley Wetherell, who was representing the group Friends of Douglas County, questioned the viability of the proposal.
“There’s been some other major ventures that never came to fruition. You never know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Wetherell also said that a previous proposal to develop that land, called Heaven’s Gate, could not get the water permits it needed, and said there were “no assurances” that the current proposal could either.
Then there was the issue of the airstrip on the property. Wetherell said plans call for $3 million worth of improvements to go into the current airstrip.
“So how will this airport be used, and by whom?” she asked.
Wetherell later asked that the Planning Commission leave the record open for more arguments and testimony. After some discussion among the commission and staff, the hearing was continued and it appears no decision will be made for at least a month.
This is not the first time the Millegan family has tried to build a large-scale equestrian center.
In 2012, J.W. Millegan announced plans to build a 325-acre equestrian center west of Salem called the Wallace Bridge International Equestrian Events and Competition Venue. An economic study commissioned by Millegan at the time estimated the venue would cost $100 million to build, provide 1,000 construction jobs and another 500 permanent jobs at the facility itself.
The venue would draw an estimated 100,000 visitors each year, according to the study.
However, the project got entangled over a conservation easement that Millegan tried to have moved by means of a land swap. The request was denied and Millegan eventually dropped the plans for that development.
In August 2019, Drew and Quinn Millegan announced plans to build an equestrian resort in Siskiyou County, just south of the state border in California. J.W. Millegan said he was an advisor on the project.
Plans for that Pegasus Equestrian International Resort & Venue called for a 1,500-acre development that centered around high-end equestrian events. Plans called for several hotels, three polo fields, three indoor climate-controlled arenas and at least eight outdoor arenas.
The Millegans touted the $120 million development as an economic boon for the region, saying it would provide 500 permanent jobs once completed.
“We looked for over a decade for the perfect site and we have found it as this location,” the Pegasus Facebook page proclaimed at the time.
Their plans for the equestrian resort in Siskiyou County were still on track as recently as January 2020. However, the coronavirus put an end to those plans, Drew Millegan said prior to Thursday’s meeting.
“Our closing date was March 23, 2020, and we could have gone forward, but the pandemic added a great deal of uncertainty, so we made the decision to pull back,” he said.
Millegan said they returned 100% of their investment partners’ money. He also said the only reason they went public with their plans for the Siskiyou County development was because the family was contacted by reporters interested in the project.
“In the meantime, we found a better property and better process in Douglas County, and so we never returned to the Yreka site. Life works out,” Millegan said. “We have looked at many, many sites before this one, and this is the first time we have made a land use application to move forward.”
Scott Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-957-4204. Or follow him on Twitter @scottcarroll15