Committee making plans for fairgrounds' post-Extension futureThe Davison County commissioners will get some help finding income at the Davison County 4-H fairgrounds. The County Fair Board has set up a subcommittee to determine why the county is not getting more use — and rent — from the multipurpose building at the fairgrounds.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
The Davison County commissioners will get some help finding income at the Davison County 4-H fairgrounds.
The County Fair Board has set up a subcommittee to determine why the county is not getting more use — and rent — from the multipurpose building at the fairgrounds. The subcommittee’s work became especially important recently when the Cooperative Extension offices were moved from the fairgrounds to Mitchell Technical Institute’s north campus.
The committee’s purpose, Fair Board Chairman Tom Greenway said, is to get people to use the building and to generate additional income to run the facility.
Commissioner Denny Kiner said the fairgrounds complex at 3200 W. Havens Ave. was designed to be a showcase for the county 4-H program.
“It’s doing its job well,” he said, “but our expenses far exceed any revenue we get from it.”
County records show that 2010 operational costs for the complex were $77,227, while rental income was $14,510. In 2009, those figures were $83,332 and $18,878.
The commissioners have expressed varying degrees of concern about the deficits being run up at the fairgrounds.
Empty buildings are a sensitive issue with the commissioners, who were criticized in the past for wasting money on the largely empty Tower Building — the old Methodist Hospital on Miller Avenue — which the county purchased in the early 1990s and demolished a year ago.
The county paid $1.65 million to build the fairgrounds complex between 2000 and 2002. It made the final $125,715 payment on the building this September.
It now owns the complex free and clear, and it’s mostly empty.
This month, as part of a statewide reorganization plan, the South Dakota State University Extension Service moved from its offices at the fairgrounds to a new regional service center at Mitchell Technical Institute.
That left the fairgrounds with only a secretary — who will manage rentals at the fairgrounds complex and assist the county’s yet-to-be-named 4-H adviser — a part-time nutritionist, and maintenance personnel.
Extension’s move to MTI was unexpected and poorly done, said Commissioner Jerry Fischer, who called SDSU’s handling of the matter a “slap in the face” after the county’s long-term relationship with the Extension Service.
The commissioners felt they were poorly informed about SDSU’s plans during the transition, which was also turned out to be ill-timed for the county.
Prior to the Extension announcement, the commissioners committed to buying the Central Electric Cooperative building at 1420 N. Main St. in Mitchell at a cost of $575,000. That building, which Central Electric is vacating in favor of a new building, will provide offices for Davison County’s community health nurses.
Fischer, worried the county was taking on another albatross like the Tower Building, opposed the purchase of the Central Electric building and pushed to build new nursing offices at the old Tower Building site. He also noted that buying the downtown site would take property tax revenues off the books.
The other commissioners disagreed with Fischer’s view that the nursing offices could be built inexpensively, and they saw the well-maintained Central Electric building as a better deal for the county and a better location for the nurses and the clients they serve.
The commissioners also felt that moving the nurses to the old Extension office wasn’t practical because of the site’s remote location just west of the city.
“Ideally, we would like to be centrally located, since some of our clients must walk to the clinic,” Community Health Nurse Shannon Tobin said, “but we’ll go where the commissioners find space for us.”
Not planned to turn profit
Commission Chairman John Claggett said that moving some personnel from the fairgrounds to the Central Electric building might be a sensible option at some future date.
The current fairgrounds complex was built after an Aug. 5, 2000, microburst destroyed the old 7,680-square-foot meeting hall, and about 18,000 square feet of livestock space.
Commissioner Fischer, the only member still on the commission who voted to build the new fairgrounds complex in 2000, said the pre-disaster facility was antiquated and needed replacing. The windstorm just hastened that decision, he said.
The new complex features a 10,500-square-foot meeting hall and a 15,000-square-foot activities center.
The purpose of the new facility was to serve the needs of the county’s agricultural community, Fischer said.
“It was never designed to be a money maker.”
It has remained true to that design. The complex has never turned a profit, Auditor Susan Kiepke said.
Tom Greenway, who was on the Davison County Fair Board when the old buildings blew down, said the original facility was modest by comparison and its users weren’t expecting a fancy replacement.
“Back then the commissioners thought there was a need for a better building — they wanted something that could accommodate a lot of uses,” he said. “It cost a lot of money and they never got the uses they thought they’d get.”
Even so, it has served the community well, he said, and the organizations like 4-H that get to use the fairgrounds buildings at no cost would like to keep it.
The job of the recently appointed subcommittee will be to examine why the facility isn’t being used and to suggest ways to bring more business to the complex. Its members are Barb Weber, Janelle Thiesse, George Breidenbach and Ellyn Eddy.
They will submit a report on their findings after the first of the year, Greenway said.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” there’s no doubt about it,” Greenway said. “We just need to figure out a way to get more people to use it.”
Breidenbach, retired after a career in ag lending, said his committee is gathering information prior to meeting. No chairperson has been selected as yet for the group.
Getting rid of the fairgrounds is not an option, he said.
“There are auction sales and many other events that would fit out there,” he said. “Granted, there’s a deficit, but there are ways to increase income and decrease costs.”
“We’ve been exploring options,” Claggett said, but he prefers rental options that stick with the county’s present no-alcohol policy at the fairgrounds and options that do not compete with area businesses.
Commissioner David Weitala said it might be necessary to loosen the liquor policy to increase revenues at the site. He said the commissioners should also consider selling the property outright. “It would make a great implement dealership,” he said.
“Whatever option is chosen,” Claggett said, “We’ve got to do something.”