EL RENO — Expanding the Canadian County Fairgrounds to meet the needs of the future could cost as much as $47 million, but is necessary, officials were told Monday.
Charlie Kolarik, a spokesperson for Populous, a Norman-based architectural firm, said for the Canadian County Fairgrounds to compete for events that are now going to places like Grady County, Shawnee and Oklahoma City, the facility would need to expand.
The current facilities, located in El Reno, sit on about 14 acres of land. Kolarik and Joe Feldman, who represented Conventions, Sports and Leisure of Minneapolis, said the property is not large enough for expansion and is land-locked.
Some of the property around the facility is owned by the El Reno School District, which lends the property to the fairgrounds during its peak season.
However, at least one piece of property owned by the school that has been used in the past for overflow parking, is now being converted into an athletic complex.
Both Kolarik and Feldman said the county’s current site is not sufficient.
To compete, Feldman said the county needs between 120 and 150 acres of land. That much property is not available at the current location.
An expansion and relocation are the best options available, the two said.
Feldman said Canadian County is losing a variety of events because it does not have facilities that can handle them.
He pointed out that equine shows are going to places like Shawnee and Grady County because they have modern facilities with ample space.
Canadian County’s fairgrounds were built in 1951 and sit on 13.8 acres of land with 43,000-square-feet of livestock stalls and show area, as well as about 8,230-square-feet of indoor exhibit area.
The facilities do not contain modern amenities that are needed to draw events to Canadian County.
“You are no longer just serving the fair, FFA and 4-H,” said Feldman.
The study states, “Existing events at the fairgrounds are outgrowing the venue and are leaving the county. Those events are transferring their economic impact and tourism dollars to surrounding counties and communities that have been investing in the modernization and expansion of event venues.”
The two experts said the new fairgrounds should be large enough for expansion, and be close to major highways, such as State Highway 66 and Interstate 40, to draw visitors into the community.
“This facility has served you well, but what about the future?” Feldman said.
Dirt floor-oriented events, such as livestock shows and horse shows, are among the events that could produce additional revenue for a new facility.
In addition, a variety of trade shows and meetings, banquets and graduations could be held in the facility.
Currently, there is no capacity for that, said Feldman.
Kolarik said their proposal calls for the facility to be built in phases.
The first phase would require the purchase of at least 110 acres of land, and would include construction an events center, show barns and a covered arena. A second phase would require at least 50 additional acres and would include another show barn and an enlarged events center.
Parking also would be available for trucks and recreational vehicles.
Kolarik said the estimate for constructing the first phase of the new fairgrounds ranges from $38,950,984 to $47,518,789.
“You want to build for today, but also plan for tomorrow,” said Feldman.
The benefit of the new expansion, financially, is the possible addition of $4.45 million into the county’s economy each year.
Kolarik said if the county does not invest in the future, it takes the chance that shows will go to other sites.
“This site has less than 50 percent of the space that is recommended,” he said.
District 2 County Commissioner Dave Anderson said he is glad to finally have the studies in hand.
Work on the studies began more than a year ago.
“It is an exciting presentation. The information really creates as many questions as answers. The obvious thing is how are we going to pay for it and where will it be located. Those are unanswered questions and I am interested in answering that,” Anderson said.
The experts offered several options for funding the projects, including the use of a sales tax, property taxes, the creation of a tax incremental financing district, a hotel tax and liquor taxes, among others.
In addition, there was the suggestion of a number of private sources including grants and donations, equity partners, rental fees and naming rights and sponsorships.
The next step, Anderson said, is to engage the public and get a feel for support.
“This is an excited room, but 140,000 people haven’t heard about it yet, so we will begin the process of engaging the public, getting feedback from cities, school districts and ag groups who will be some of the major users of the facility and see where the issues are,” he said.
Several FFA and 4-H programs were at the meeting to hear the results of the study.
At least one person in the audience, Daniel Pugh, read a statement prior to the presentation arguing there was no need to move the facility.
Pugh said there is history in the location and there are options for purchasing nearby land to expand the site.
“There is property that could be bought,” Pugh said.
He said El Reno is an easy drive from most Canadian County towns and the fairgrounds should remain in the county seat.
Anderson said it is likely that the facility will move, but probably not from El Reno.
“Frankly, I don’t expect it to move from El Reno,” he said. “There are lots of potential sites in El Reno.”
An estimated 160 people attended the meeting.