HURON — When a fire destroyed the livestock complex at the South Dakota State Fair fairgrounds Oct. 31, 2020, it marked the end of a structure that held the position of event showcase for nearly 40 years.
Now plans are coming together for a new, expanded livestock complex that will replace the former building after organizers spent seven months fundraising the last portion of the estimated bill that will come with its construction.
“We’ve been very fortunate. People have exceeded our expectations as far as meeting the goals,” Jim White, chairman of the fundraising committee for the project, told the Mitchell Republic.
The proposed new livestock building, known as Dakota Events Complex, or the DEX, was originally estimated to cost around $19 million. To fund the construction, Gov. Kristi Noem requested the South Dakota Legislature appropriate $12 million in one-time funds for the project. Coupled with the estimated $3 million to $5 million insurance money from the old building coming, the fundraising committee was left with an approximately $4 million goal to round out the funds.
“At this point we’ve met and exceeded the $4 million,” White said.
White declined at the time to give the exact amount raised so far by the committee, but he said the committee was still accepting donations and donations were still coming in. The requested funds from the legislature and the insurance on the old building have also been approved and secured, White said.
The planned new structure was conceived having 200,000 square feet of space and would include two, full-sized equestrian areas and seat up to 7,000 fans. That would make it a one-of-a-kind venue for hosting local, regional and national events.
Current specifications listed on the South Dakota State Fair Foundation website predict a DEX with approximately 150,000 square feet of space and 5,000 seats for spectators. It is still expected to have room for the two full-size equestrian arenas and the capacity to host larger livestock shows, concerts and more.
The cost for the new building also may change from the original, White said. In the time since the old building burned, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted global trade and was a factor in driving up the prices on construction materials and labor. But the new building is still expected to be considerably larger than the previous.
“There’s no question (the new building will be larger). The old building was about 96,000 square feet,” White said. “But with the cost overruns coming into play, there will probably be some adjustment. The new building was originally at 200,000 square feet and we anticipate some adjustment as we move forward.”
During the fair, it is expected the DEX will house the open class beef and open class 4-H beef exhibitors, while the open class sheep and goal exhibitors will be moved to the existing 4-H Livestock Complex. That will allow for species-specific barns across the fairgrounds, something that is preferred by exhibitors, and also address livestock transportation issues at the fairgrounds.
The successful securing of funds means the DEX is likely to become a reality before the 2022 South Dakota State Fair. That’s good news, White said, as the old building was heavily utilized and organizers have had to adjust to accommodate exhibitors and events during this year’s fair. Some creative scheduling has helped take the edge off not having the old building available for use this year.
“I think the big trick this year is the 4-H programs that they normally have in the beef complex. Our leadership has done a great job of bringing in those kinds of activities ahead of time, so those are not actually involved during the fair itself,” White said. “So we’ve been able to accommodate that type of activity with the planning process that we’ve had.”
“When it comes down to it, what the beef complex did for the state fair we just can’t replace until we have the DEX back in force. In the meantime, leadership at the state fair have done a tremendous job of acknowledging that we can’t do it the way we used to.”
— Jim White, fundraising committee chairman for the Dakota Events Complex
But a new, modern facility is still the ultimate goal, and there will be no true substitute for that until the DEX is up and running.
“When it comes down to it, what the beef complex did for the state fair we just can’t replace until we have the DEX back in force. In the meantime, leadership at the state fair have done a tremendous job of acknowledging that we can’t do it the way we used to,” White said.
The 2020 fire forced the hand of state leadership to come up with a relatively fast solution to losing one of its premiere venues at the fairgrounds. It was disheartening to see the old building destroyed, White said, but that also opened a door to constructing a new facility that should serve the exhibitors, performers and visitors to the state fair for years to come.
“It was an extension cord to the concession stand that they found was the cause of the fire. It was something as simple as that. And you just have to acknowledge when things like that happen you have to put it behind you and look to the future,” White said. “We’ve been fortunate to have people think positively about this.”
White said a groundbreaking ceremony for the DEX is tentatively planned for Thursday, Sept. 2 at the South Dakota State Fairgrounds. That will mark an exciting moment that looks to a future where the DEX will help visitors and exhibitors, especially youth, get the most out of their state fair experience.
“About 14,000 young people use the facility throughout the year, and we continue to use that as a basis as we move into the future. We’re really excited about the opportunities for young people here,” White said.
The committee is still accepting donations. Those interested in making one can reach out to the South Dakota State Fair Foundation.