County’s plan for fairgrounds comes into focus

Years of community meetings and stakeholder discussions culminated Monday with the approval of a master plan for improvements at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.

The plan will presumably guide future boards of county commissioners via recommended plans to add new livestock and equestrian facilities, improve access and parking throughout the 93-acre property on Orchard Mesa, refocus a veterans memorial on the site, upgrade the BMX track to professional grade, and add a host of new amenities.

The plan also includes the possibility of constructing a 5,000-seat indoor event arena and 30,000-square-foot exhibition hall, which would cost in the neighborhood of $40 million.

“We believe adoption of the master plan is a critical first step toward the thoughtful, long-term development of the property,” said fairgrounds manager JoCarole Haxel, who added that aging facilities on the property are “crying for attention.”

Key to the consultants’ plan presented Monday is a division of the development into three sections — the infrastructure, highway connection, ball fields and BMX improvements on the west side; the expanded livestock and equestrian facilities on the east; and the ambitious event center and expo hall in the center.

Costs for the west phase are estimated at $6.8 million, and the east phase at $7.1 million.

The county already has committed $8 million from the Capital Improvement Fund to the fairgrounds — $1.5 million in 2013, $1.5 million in 2014, $2 million in 2015 and in 2016, and $1 million in 2017.

Money for capital projects comes from funding established by Mesa County voters in 1981, who decided then to set aside a certain portion of the county sales tax to go only to capital or infrastructure projects.

Future boards of county commissioners can adjust those capital numbers as they see fit, and specific details of the improvement plan can be arranged across phases and sections.

Commissioner Craig Meis said Monday “the bits and pieces we can debate,” and that it would be up to future boards to make specific decisions.

Meis, along with Commissioner Janet Rowland, will end their terms in January and be replaced by two new members.

The commissioner who will remain on the board — Steve Acquafresca — tipped his hand on Monday about what he’ll likely support at the outset.

“I think that the east (livestock and equestrian) portion of the plan is so convincing that it should be readily adopted by a future board, with very little risk in terms of investment, and probably a good prospect for return on that investment,” Acquafresca said. “I view that east portion as coming together in the very near future.”

Commissioners adopted the master plan, but were not unanimous. Rowland voted no on the plan, voicing concerns about including the expensive events center in the proposal.

“I think it’s a huge leap to go from a fairgrounds with ag events to a $40 million investment in that central phase,” Rowland said.

“I just can’t support that events center. I think it’s a black hole that we are going to look back on and regret.”


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