In typical Rawhide hijinks fashion, characters from Scottsdale’s Old West replica town blasted space for their new home on the Gila River Indian Community Thursday.
The official ground-blasting signifies the start of construction for more than 30 structures that will become the new version of the 1880s-era town and 8,000-seat arena designed for rodeos and horse-related activities, as well as other events.
Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse in Scottsdale will close Oct. 31 and reopen in early December at the new digs, said Dale Gutenson, general manager of the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority.
The arena may open as soon as September, he said.
The Gila River community, which purchased the building facades, the antiques and fixtures, and the name of the longtime Scottsdale tourist attraction for an undisclosed sum, also plans to add replicas of an American Indian village and a 19th century Mexican village, as well as several cookout areas along with more bells and whistles.
"We want to make it better, and we have the area and the accessibility," said Gov. Richard Narcia.
Narcia said Rawhide enhances the community’s economic development plans for Wild Horse Pass, which already includes a 500-room luxury resort and conference center, golf course, spa, equestrian center and casino.
"(Rawhide) is a fit for our community and for the state of Arizona," Narcia said. "It’s our intention to make Wild Horse Pass a destination for the nation and the world."
Rawhide will be a huge draw for international visitors, said Kristen Jarnagin, spokeswoman for the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort.
"It did wonders for the (Fairmont Scottsdale) Princess," Jarnagin said of the resort closest to Rawhide’s Scottsdale spread. "It will do wonders for us."
Rawhide also will be a major attraction for Valley people looking for a fun family activity, and that may sell them on choosing the resort for an evening out or to host a big event, she said.
"The local market still perceives us as being so far out," Jarnagin said. "IKEA has helped."
The Tempe furniture superstore is five miles and five minutes from Wild Horse Pass on Interstate 10, which runs through the Gila River community just south of Chandler.
Jarnagin said business has boomed since IKEA opened and sofa shoppers discovered the resort during furniture buying sprees.
Rawhide’s former owner also endorsed the town’s future quarters.
"I’m excited to think that Rawhide will continue in the great outdoors, where it was meant to be," said Jerry Hirsch, who sold Rawhide to the Gila River community and the land under it to a local development group.
Hirsch owned the property from the early 1980s until he sold it to local oil company VIP in 1998.
When the property — and its owner — slid into bankruptcy four years later, Hirsch, who still held a lien on the property, got it back.
This time, he said, he sold the theme park outright.
"My heart will always be in (Rawhide)," Hirsch said. "But there is no possibility of getting it back."