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New Canadian County fairgrounds land could lead to large investment

The purchase of land for a new Canadian County fairgrounds is part of a developing plan that could very well lead to “substantial” investment from the private sector, said one proponent of the concept.

Brad Tipton, former OSU Extension agent, was appointed to serve as a “liaison” between the fair board and the county commissioners as they worked toward a possible solution for the fairgrounds.

A feasibility study conducted by Convention, Sports and Leisure, a Minnesota-based firm, said the county would be better served moving away from the current fairgrounds. The 55-year-old complex rests on about 13 acres on North Country Club. While there is land nearby for expansion, the study said the ideal location would have I-40 visibility.

“This is the best location anyone could possibly hope for,” Tipton said. He was referring to the 50 acres commissioners recently agreed to purchase from the Jensen family. The land is just east of U.S. 81 and south of I-40. The county will pay $1.25 million for the land with an option to purchase another 50 acres at the same price if necessary.

The property was one of two sites being considered as a possible home for a new fairgrounds, the other being land just to the east of the Canadian County Children’s Justice Center. Tipton said even though that land is part of the county system, it still would have required purchase. And the recent development of an oil and gas well on the property made it less attractive.

Tipton said reports that a tax increase will be necessary to build the fairgrounds are incorrect. He said commissioners plan to use existing revenue in the form of use tax to build the new complex in phases. Use tax is also being used to purchase the land.

About $160,000 is generated per month from the county use tax. The tax is collected on materials from outside the county that are shipped here for manufacturing or construction.

Tipton said county financial advisers have said the initial phase of the fairgrounds can be built for $8 million to $10 million.

“And that’s only dedicating 60 percent of the use tax,” Tipton said.

Tipton said “the beauty” of the plan being formulated is the fairgrounds can serve as an “incubator” to help grow more investment, primarily in the form of private businesses. He said other government entities have been part of the discussion. Tipton declined to elaborate, but El Reno Mayor Matt White has been adamant that the fairgrounds stay inside the city limits. While the property purchased from the Jensen family is just outside the city limits, White had earlier said the city would have no problem annexing the land.

Tipton said the original feasibility study indicated motel room nights would jump from 4,200 needed to accommodate events now held at the fairgrounds to more than 19,000. That figure did not include activity that could generate even more motel and hotel stays if more development were to be created around the fairgrounds. He said new spending would jump from less than $1 million now to more than $4.5 million and again, that’s before possible new private development is added into the equation.

Tipton said the possibility exists that a tax increment finance district could be created to help spur development.

“There’s a lot of visionary things being discussed by some pretty sharp people,” Tipton said. “The main thing people need to know is this fairgrounds can serve as an incubator for more development with no need for a tax increase of any kind.

“I don’t know how it gets any better than that.”

Tipton praised the commissioners as well as El Reno leaders for what he called a “visionary” move that he believes will result in an expanded tax base for the county as well as more jobs.

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