Some in Canadian County are throwing rocks at the county commissioners for purchasing land for a new fairgrounds.
They’re wrong to do so.
The commissioners voted unanimously to purchase 50 acres that pretty much sits at I-40 and U.S. 81. They have an option to purchase another 50 acres if the need arises.
At $25,000 per acre or $1.25 million, the move has become an easy target for critics. But land prices paid in the area near Radio Road are very much in line with what the commissioners are doing.
Can you find a better location in Canadian County than U.S. 81 and I-40? Traffic coming and going in all directions. Access will not be a problem.
In my mind, commissioners were thinking long-term with this decision.
A portion of the county use tax is being used for the purchase of the land. It will also be use tax that funds the building of a new fairgrounds complex. Commissioners have said there will be no tax increase sought for this project. With a use tax that brings in $160,000 per month there’s no need for a tax hike. The fairgrounds can be built in phases.
There is also the very real possibility of more partners joining in to create an even more impactful development.
El Reno Mayor and Acting City Manager Matt White told commissioners and the fair board he wouldn’t fight them as long as the fairgrounds remained in El Reno. White appears to have succeeded in keeping it in El Reno. And to his credit, Commissioner David Anderson has said all along the fairgrounds should remain in El Reno. Anderson is correct in saying the fairgrounds needs a community behind it.
Canadian County and El Reno should be considered allies. Economic development tools that don’t rely on tax increases can be utilized to move the project forward.
Public-private partnerships can do tremendous things in helping to create jobs and a stronger tax base. With the kind of access U.S. 81 and I-40 provides, there should be little doubt about the kind of development this site can attract.
Let’s see where this project leads before calling it a waste of money. It could very well turn out to be a story of investing dimes to create dollars. It could very well turn out to be a tremendous job creator.
This opinion space has argued over the years that Oklahoma should consider replacing the county commission form of government with a county manager format. I’ve argued we’d be better off electing leadership and hiring professional management.
But in this instance, we’ve seen true leadership.
Hats off to Anderson, along with Commissioners Jack Stewart and Marc Hader for having the political courage and vision to pursue this fairgrounds project in what is truely a reasonable and responsible manner.