Commissioners sign off on new fairgrounds plan

After countless meetings and focus groups, the release of a detailed business analysis and reams of comment cards and other community input, Mesa County commissioners last week gave the go-ahead to proceed with a new master planning process for the county fairgrounds.

Fairgrounds staff, led by manager Jo Carole Haxel, would like to have the plan approved by the end of the year, according to county spokeswoman Jessica Peterson.

Haxel’s group and other county departments connected with the planning project will have a highly detailed touchstone from which to begin, in a recent consultant’s analysis that laid out a number of possible changes and expansion ideas for the 93-acre facility at 2785 U.S. Highway 50.

One of the ideas given high priority in the analysis — an expansion of the equestrian and livestock facilities — seems to have generated interest from commissioners.

The board last week was presented with some hard numbers that showed a return on investment from a 2010 smaller-scale expansion of that area. A new 75-stall stable and an improved covered arena translated into a jump in direct spending in the community — from $1.3 million in 2010 to almost $1.8 million in 2012, according to county staff.

“If it’s a half-million that they’ve seen as an increase, for a $1 million investment, I think (the commissioners) felt like that was a pretty quick turnaround,” Peterson said.

Some of the equestrian expansion possibilities put forth in the consultant plan include the construction of up to four new barns, a new covered arena and improved hookups for the recreational vehicles big-time horse show participants often roll into town in.

That doesn’t mean everything on the wish list will be built. Peterson pointed out that project details don’t get the final stamp of approval until commissioners set aside money in the county’s capital plan.

The 2013 capital plan includes $2 million specifically for improvements at the fairgrounds, but commissioners can reallocate money if they feel the community is pushing them in one direction or another.

Commissioners sought direction from the community before beginning a new master plan process. A public meeting, along with conversations with specific stakeholders, gave them a good idea about community support for many of the proposed ideas.

Regarding the proposed equestrian and livestock improvements, 96 percent of people who responded thought it was a good idea, versus just 4 percent who were opposed. The numbers exclude people who had no opinion either way, Peterson said.

Also prioritized in the recent analysis was the possibility of constructing a new exposition hall and a 5,000-seat event center at the fairgrounds. Of those survey respondents who had an opinion on the idea, 90 percent supported it.

A third project possibility — expanding the current BMX race track — also garnered community support. Excluding people who had no opinion, 82 percent of the survey’s respondents liked that idea as well.

A final possibility, standing pat with the current facilities, earned just 17 percent support from community members who provided an opinion in the survey.

The current timeline to finish a master plan before the end of the year fits neatly with a transition happening on the board itself. Term-limited commissioners Janet Rowland and Craig Meis will be replaced with two new commissioners in January. It’s possible the new commissioners may have different opinions on plans for the fairgrounds.

“(The new commissioners) will always have the ability to go in and make changes — to both the master plan, if they really wanted to change the big-picture goals, and the capital spending part,” Peterson said.


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