Fairgrounds’ long to-do list hopes to increase use, revenues and events | SteamboatToday.com

Fairgrounds’ long to-do list hopes to increase use, revenues and events

Routt County Fair officials are hoping several key upgrades to the fairgrounds could further increase its use and eventually attract more events like pro rodeo and concerts.

A grant application the Routt County Board of Commissioners is set to review Tuesday describes the current conditions of the Hayden fairgrounds as “fair,” adding that it’s “not living up to its potential.”

On Monday, Fair Manager Noel Neal presented to commissioners her vision for the future of the fairgrounds and the long list of projects she feels are needed to realize that vision.

“For the future, we’d love to see a lot more events at the fairgrounds — get our rodeos back,” Neal said. “Currently, that is not possible just for the shape of the arena, the bucking chutes.”

The fairgrounds does not sustain itself financially, and commissioners have often looked at the roughly $400,000 in general fund expenditures each year to support the fair as less than ideal. But Neal said the upgrades she outlined should allow them to generate more revenue in the future.

While there have been significant improvements at the fairgrounds — most notably the addition of a recreational vehicle park that is making more money each year — some of the projects on the list were outlined in a 2010 master plan for the fair.

The three main projects are to renovate the currently inoperable bathrooms on the north side of the grandstand so they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replacing the railing at the rodeo arena and to add heat and insulation to the Lockhart Barn to make it usable year-round.

Other infrastructure upgrades are needed, as well. Joe Stepan, facilities division manager for the county, said paving part of the grounds near the midway to the arena would help with drainage and grading issues. Upgrades are also needed to electrical that serves many buildings and 24 more primitive RV spots in the back of the fairgrounds.

“If we could do some of these improvements, we’ll get more use, which also brings us more revenue so we can further improve and do more events for the community, as well,” Neal said.

In the short term, Neal said they want to have more youth rodeos and allow for roping competitions, something she said the fair board is motivated to help set up. Eventually, they want to be able to work with the town of Hayden to attract more events, potentially coordinating a rodeo with Hayden Days or Fourth of July celebrations.

“It seems like that was always the vision, but the ball has been dropped somewhere along the line,” said Commissioner Tim Redmond, who lives in Hayden.

While Neal said the fair board is ready to move forward, the problem is funding.

The fair gets a lot of its money from grants, Neal said, and the county will review an application for additional grants for some of these improvements from Great Outdoors Colorado.

When the fair put in the RV park, the county provided about $235,000 that was expected to be paid back eventually, though there are not clear terms. Neal asked commissioners if they would consider waiving this repayment, allowing them to use that money to chip away at the to-do list presented. If not, they would need to use current maintenance dollars to pay back the county and shift money meant for capital improvements toward maintenance, Neal said.

“The RV park is outperforming budget, correct?” Commissioner Tim Corrigan asked, receiving a nod from Neal, as the RV park surpassed its budgeted revenue by about $20,000 this year. “The reality is we are receiving a significant amount of annual income from the operation of the RV park, so one could maybe argue we are getting paid back.”

Commissioner Beth Melton said she, like other commissioners, has been frustrated with the amount of general fund money the county spends on the fair each year, but the argument of forgiving this loan to create more revenue generators at the fairgrounds is more persuasive.

“What I would really like to encourage is that we have a conversation and maybe put pencil to paper and say, what would a five-year plan or a 10-year plan to fiscal sustainability for the fairgrounds look like,” Melton said. “But I think that with just the concept of we’re going to generate revenue, I don’t know if that quite cuts it.”

Corrigan said it would be reasonable to have “some expectation that there’s a return on investment and not just a hope.”

Commissioners did not take any action but signaled they were open to allowing the fairgrounds not to repay the loan, as long as there is a longer-term conversation about the county’s subsidy for the fair going forward.

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