Suggested fairgrounds renovations estimated at $7.6 million

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson David Fortner of Populous talks about suggested renovations for the Curry County Fairgrounds master plan during a public meeting Tuesday night at the fairgrounds. About 40 citizens attended the meeting. The master plan will be discussed again during the commission’s May 18 meeting in Grady.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

It’s not the number of buildings in the Curry County Fairgrounds that needs addressing. It’s how the county uses them.

That’s the view of a firm hired to make suggestions on a master plan for the fairgrounds, explained in a public meeting Tuesday evening.

“Whoever designed this 20, 30 or 40 years ago had a clear idea of what they were doing,” said David Fortner, from the Knoxville office of Populous, which works on buildings for large public gatherings. “We’re just adding onto it.”

The total cost of suggested renovations was estimated by Populous at $7.6 million.

“We’re going to look for grants and phase it out,” Curry County Manager Lance Pyle said, noting the changes could take a decade or more and phases would be decided based on available funding.

The plan will be discussed again during the commission’s May 18 meeting, which will be held in Grady. The county holds one regular meeting annually in each of the communities incorporating the county.

Suggestions brought up were focused on transitioning from a focus on fairgrounds to a focus on year-round events.

Fortner said the county shifted in that direction when the Special Events Center opened last year.

Fortner said fairgrounds are a popular choice for booking events because they have plenty of parking and a mix of indoor and outdoor facilities.

He broke the proposed changes down into three categories:

• Revenue enhancements: Fortner said for various events, vendors travel in recreational vehicles. He said some of that lodging business could go towards the county if it would create an RV area with water and sewage hookups.

Another suggestion was inclusion of a 200-stall building for the care of horses, with rental fees providing another source of income.

Residents said they were concerned about RV parks and horse stalls being undesirable for users because of proximity to a railroad crossing.

Gloria Wicker said there are avenues to go through to request trains not blow horns at the crossing, but said any horse stall would have to be an enclosed building with covered access to the special events center.

She cited previous horse shows where rain was an issue in transporting horses to arenas.

• Stewardship: Most of these renovations were policy and could be done in-house. Suggestions included a survey of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a mission statement for the events center and fairgrounds and an emergency management plan in case the building is ever needed to deal with fallout from a natural disaster.

• Betterment: These improvements, Fortner said, would include additions like canopies and signs. He said the current fairgrounds can be confusing without clearly marked entrances and exits or interior displays pointing visitors to specific facilities.

“If you come here a lot, it’s not an issue,” Fortner said. “But if you’re out of town, you don’t come here (and it’s confusing when you arrive).”

Another idea the group explored was a road to connect the two parking lots, but Fortner said it wasn’t functional because any road would go right through space set aside for fair vendors.

Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said while the fair was crucial, he didn’t like the idea of making that the sole reason to scrap a common-sense project.

“Do we want to work for that one week,” Bostwick asked, “or do we want to work for the other 51 and make that one week workable?”