Plans for the Pegasus Equestrian Resort & Venue took a step forward Thursday evening when the Douglas County Planning Commission voted unanimously to grant preliminary approval of the project.
About three dozen people showed up at the Douglas County Fairgrounds to hear and voice arguments for and against the proposed equestrian venue.
The ambitious project is being proposed by brothers Quinn and Drew Millegan, McMinnville investors who operate the Woodworth Contrarian Fund and Millegan Brothers LLC. Their father, J.W. Millegan, is the director of business development for Pegasus. He also spoke at Thursday’s meeting.
The multi-disciplinary equestrian venue would be located on just over 2,800 acres near Metz Hill Road and west of Interstate 5. Plans call for up to 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 over five years on the project, and once up and running it is projected to bring in $130 million in annual revenue.
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.
Valerie Stallings, who is involved with the Umpqua Valley Chapter of the Oregon Dressage Society, said her group has seen such impact first-hand.
“We have a small show this weekend and we’re filled up to capacity,” she said. “We have people coming from Bend and Eugene. It’s just taken off.”
If there is that much enthusiasm and participants in a small show like that, imagine the benefit of having a facility the size of Pegasus, Stallings said.
“I think Pegasus will attract the kind of people we really want in Douglas County,” she said.
Opponents of the proposed development, including several neighboring homeowners, said they worried about traffic, noise and the effect it could have on their water supply.
“What I noticed is that people in favor of this don’t have to live next door to it,” said David Pedotti, one of those adjacent homeowners. “I’m concerned with my own water and what their pond may do to it.”
The Quinns conceded that they didn’t know yet exactly where the water needed for the development would come from, but said it would likely be several sources, including collecting rainwater and recycling. They also said the City of Drain has offered to provide water if needed.
The Millegans point to several unique advantages of the site, including its proximity to Interstate 5, 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 bio-fuel, 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 have also said that if the Pegasus Equestrian Resort is not approved, the land could be developed in a much more deleterious way, including subdivisions built at the site. About 20 years ago approval was granted for a project known as Heaven’s Gate. That project called for 200 ½-acre home sites in addition to a hotel, convention center and other amenities.
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. A dispute over wetlands scuttled that deal, he said.
In 2019, the Millegans announced plans to build a 1,500-acre equestrian resort in Siskiyou County, just south of the state border in California. The coronavirus put an end to those plans, Drew Millegan said.
J.W. Millegan has also made headlines for legal and financial problems he has had.
He filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and in 2019 was hit with a 13-count indictment filed in federal court charging him with investment fraud and tax evasion. He is accused generated more than $2.5 million in questionable trading commissions, and not paying more than $3.3 million in taxes.
Millegan has pleaded innocent to all charges. A trial date is scheduled for October.
None of that history came up at Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting.
“This is not a difficult decision in terms of preliminary approval in my opinion,” Commissioner Christine Goodwin said. “I wish you well. You’ve done a lot of work and I think you have a lot of work to do.”
Drew Millegan also acknowledged that Thursday’s vote was closer to a beginning than an end.
“This is the first step of many we’re going to have to take,” he said.