Jim Cornelsen is the face of Kamloops Race Central (KRC), which is aiming to change the complexion of an agricultural community yearning for a home in its own backyard.
(And, yes, horse racing might be returning to the Tournament Capital.)
“This will be the place for people to come and play, hands down,” Cornelsen said. “Kamloops needs it.”
KRC is leasing 485 Mount Paul Centre Way and revitalizing the property, which has been predominantly vacant for about 10 years, since the Kamloops Exhibition Association’s lease expired on the Kamloops Indian Band Development Corporation land.
KRC part-owner Cornelsen, who is from Grande Prairie, arrived on May 1 and began the makeover process, along with Quesnel’s Sandra Mulvahill and other helpers.
“Anyone is welcome to rent the arenas for barrel-racing events, roping, cutting, jumping — any equestrian event,” said Mulvahill, who was busy cleaning horse stalls this week. “They’re all welcome to come here and do their thing.”
KRC began holding barrel races in May. Cornelsen said the events became an overwhelming success, with jackpots increasing and more competitors in action as races progressed into the summer.
“People were coming up to me and giving me hugs,” Cornelsen said. “I could see there was a real demand for an agricentre here in Kamloops.”
Facilities on site include a small indoor arena, a larger outdoor arena, a race track and grandstand, two horse barns and a campsite — the Copper Quarter Campground, expected to be operational on Friday.
Cornelsen said a restaurant, the Wooden Nickel, should be open by January, and there are plans to open shops on the premises. Beer gardens and live entertainment will be fixtures at many events.
The last race day on the property that allowed bettors to wager on horses was held in 2010.
Cornelsen wants to bring horse racing back to the city.
“It doesn’t matter where I go, even the lawyer working on the lease said, ‘Is horse racing coming back?’” Cornelsen said.
“Everybody is thinking about wearing big floppy hats and dresses and coming down to watch the horse races. There is nothing like the sound of hooves pounding on the ground.”
KRC will be a training centre for race horses from January to May. Cornelsen expects to have 142 horses populating two barns this season. There is room for more.
Those interested in renting campsites and stalls can call 236-425-2005.
Races are expensive to host and hoops have to be jumped through before starting gates open at KRC.
“We’re working toward that,” said Cornelsen, speaking to KTW from inside his truck on a rainy Thursday morning. “It’s quite a process. I’m working on the funding now. That involves BC Lottery, and different corporations like that have to get involved to make this happen.”
He said KRC must host at least 10 race days per year in order to access the signal required for off-track betting and it will cost about $300,000 to put on 10 races.
“I don’t know,” Cornelsen said when asked to give odds on horse racing’s return to Kamloops. “There are so many roadblocks, but I can’t see why I can’t overcome them.”
Horse racing is only one dimension of KRC’s plan. The vision includes breathing life into the agricultural community and providing family-friendly entertainment.
He is exploring glamping (glamorous camping) options that may attract business from those riding the Rocky Mountaineer.
“That’s just talk at this point, though,” he said.
For now, Cornelsen is focusing on KRC’s main revenue streams, which include the 34-site campground, and, “getting the market gardens going, where people can come down, buy some fresh vegetables and maybe do some Christmas shopping, play some chess on some outdoor tables, have a beer while the kids have some hot chocolate and go for a hay ride out on the track.”
Tom Goode owns the Horse Barn, a hub for many in the region’s agricultural community. The business is a stone’s throw from KRC.
“Anything that goes on over there to bring the public over does increase business,” said Goode, noting the property has been sparsely populated for the last decade.
“It’s going to help everyone in town — restaurants, hotels. People spend the night. They buy food here. They go to the liquor store, buy some beer, or maybe the new cannabis store. If something breaks on their trailer, they need a light or new brake or a new tire. They go to the tire shops or the hardware stores. They don’t just show up here for a bag of horse feed.”
User groups such as BC High School Rodeo are certain to stage events at KRC, said the organizational’s national director, Fritz Maier, noting he’s shocked the facility has been dormant so long.
“I’m surprised there hasn’t been more equine-involved people out there making a stink about that,” Maier said. “Right now, there’s basically nothing in Kamloops. It used to be a kingpin.”
Travelling rodeo caravans are great for business, Goode said.
“It’s starting to fly out there,” he said. “Everyone I talk to is really happy.”
Ally Borrowman stands to be the new campsite’s first tenant. She has been renting space on the property for about a month, waiting for the campground — which Cornelsen said will have a laundromat, showers and access to Wi-Fi — to be completed.
The Prince George transplant wants to run a coffee shop on site while completing her education in Kamloops.
“I don’t know him from a hole in the ground, but Jim has been working his ass off for us to be able to have ourselves a home,” said Borrowman, who lives in a trailer with her chihuahua-pitbull cross, Tikka.
“This will be a place where people can get together, see what your horses can do and spend time together with your family and friends.”
Cornelsen was looking for a place for his son to excercise horses. He came across the race track in Kamloops and saw an opportunity.
“One thing led to another,” Cornelsen said. “This is huge. It’s going to be something else. It’s going to be the place to come. It’s a dream to see people have something to come to.”