While that won’t build the “impressive,” roughly $6 million structure envisioned by an architect, “it’s what we can afford,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall. “That’s the bottom (line), ... unfortunately.”
The Park County Fairgrounds has been pressed for exhibition and year-round community meeting space since 2011, when the more than 70-year-old Large Exhibit Hall was found to be structurally unsafe and demolished. The nearby arts and crafts (small exhibit) and Clover halls were found to be safe, but also nearing the end of their life-spans. That’s why commissioners and fair board members have spent the past two years discussing how to replace the entire complex of old buildings and their roughly 17,000 square feet of space.
Progress has been slow, in part because commissioners tried to line up some outside funding before settling on any plans.
The county hired an independent grant writer in October 2011 to find federal or private dollars for the project, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.
“We all had grandiose ideas of pie in the sky and money was going to come rolling in,” said Commissioner Joe Tilden. “And that just hasn’t happened.”
Commissioners formally ended their contract with Stephanie Bennett-Brown of Powell last week, having paid her $17,100 over a year and a half.
Commissioners have indicated they may try hiring a new grant writer, but have been most interested in simply moving forward.
“We’ve burnt two years on looking for funds that haven’t showed up and we don’t know if that’s going to happen in the future or not,” said Commissioner Tim French at the county’s June 24 meeting.
“This just keeps being delayed and delayed and delayed,” French added.
Last week, commissioners took their biggest steps forward to date.
Park County Fair Board President Mike Demoney presented commissioners with one idea of how the new facility could look. The concept design from Point Architects of Cody shows a roughly 29,000-square-foot multi-purpose center located just west of the current fair office building. The existing Arts and Crafts and Clover halls (north of the office building) would be removed, creating on open thoroughfare.
Point Architects’ design for the new building features a large exhibit area that can be divided in two, a kitchen, bathrooms, conference rooms, a ticket office and storage space, among other features. It also envisions re-aligning the fair’s main entrance so it lines up with North Ferris Street instead of being slightly offset.
The bad news is that, according to Demoney, Point Architects says the concept will cost “anywhere up to $6 million” to build. The good news is that the design can be done in phases.
“I know it’d be great to have the whole building right off the bat,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston, but he suggested building the largest part — the exhibit space — first and living with that for at least a while.
Commissioners agreed to commit $1.2 million of previously received state money and the $410,672 the county recently collected for the sale of the old Cody library building.
In addition, commissioners think they have a realistic chance of getting around $500,000 from the State Loan and Investment Board. Another $1 million, the commission and fair board hopes, can come from local fundraising efforts among individuals and businesses. That comes out to a roughly $3 million budget.
Hall suggested the design be pared back to the bare minimum to focus on just the exhibit space and bathrooms.
“If that’s $3 million, I think that’s where we should stop at this point with design to add on,” he said to agreement.
“If it has to be done in phases, I don’t see why there (would) be a problem with that,” said Fair Board Member Linda Brazelton. Noting that circumstances may change in coming years, Brazelton didn’t foresee phases as necessarily being a bad thing.
Board member Steve Martin predicted having a firmer plan will help with getting grants. Before now, grantors “couldn’t see what you’re wanting or needing,” Martin said.
Banners depicting Point Architect’s $6 million design are expected to be hung near the Park County Fair’s main gates this week.
“The more you donate, the bigger the facility and the more amenities it will have,” said French of the message the banners should send to fairgoers.
Commission Chairman Loren Grosskopf raised some concern that seeing the design will set too high expectations.
“Anything less than that, everybody’s going to wonder, why?” Grosskopf said.
Hall said the design shows what the county envisions if everything falls into place.
None of the five commissioners were interested in pursuing a 1-cent sales tax or a low-interest loan for the building.
The fairgrounds lost the large exhibit hall in early 2011 when a Powell engineer found the roof was failing and one of the walls was out of plumb. The engineer, Russell Taylor of Prospector Engineering Services, recommended immediately closing the hall for safety reasons and wondered if trying to repair the old building would be “a case of pouring good money after bad.”
County commissioners, taking that suggestion, had the building demolished a few months later.
A concrete slab sits where the building once did and is used as a seating area during the fair.