Uncertainty marks future for fairgrounds usersFor 112 years, Douglas County’s annual fair — most recently, the Head of the Lakes Fair — has taken place at the fairgrounds at 4600 Tower Ave. This year could be its last on Tower Avenue.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
For 112 years, Douglas County’s annual fair — most recently, the Head of the Lakes Fair — has taken place at the fairgrounds at 4600 Tower Ave.
This year could be its last on Tower Avenue.
With about 13.3 acres of the property transferred to the city’s Redevelopment authority and a portion of that slated to be sold Kestrel Aircraft Co. in 2013, Douglas County officials met with the many groups that utilize the grounds for any number of activities to face an uncertain future.
Nearly 100 people packed into the Amnicon Town Hall to find out more about the future of the fairgrounds and the activities that take place there every year, from the fair, to racing on the speedway to the annual Labor Day Rodeo, plus 4-H, the Beef Association, horse riding organizations and a host of other activities.
“We expected a big turnout for this,” said Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn. He said while the county didn’t have a lot of answers about what the future holds for any of the groups, the goal was to provide what information the county does have and hear from the various user groups about their needs for the future.
“All of us on the county board have not forgotten about the user groups,” Finn said.
“We’re here to work with you, and I’m here to listen to find out what needs to be done,” said Supervisor Keith Allen, chairman of the Land and Development Committee.
Supervisor Mark Liebaert acknowledged that county supervisors set the fair aside to deal with the Kestrel project — and the potential for 600 new jobs in the area — with the intent of addressing the needs of the fairgrounds’ users once the economic development proposal went into the implementation stage.
“What do you all want to do?” County Administrator Andy Lisak asked.
Part of what we’re hoping gets done after this meeting is people are going to go back to their groups … and talk about ‘what our needs are,’” said Joan Wimme, University of Wisconsin-Extension youth educator who works with 4-H.
She said every single plan is likely to have pros and cons, but the groups have to decide what’s going to help them most.
“There are some things we just don’t know,” Wimme said. “It would make things easier if everything were cut and dry. It really isn’t.”
After all, while the county can identify specific timelines established for the Kestrel project, they cannot predict what may or may not happen in terms of additional development beyond 2015, when the Redevelopment Authority is slated to transfer the second parcel of 13.3 acres on the north side of the fairgrounds to Kestrel.
While county officials thought the fair could continue until then, members of the Head of the Lakes Fairgrounds Management Group were skeptical about holding the fair on Tower Avenue once the first parcel transfers and construction begins next year.
And members of the Great Northern Rodeo were uncertain it made sense to move the horse arena to another area of the fairgrounds to the south when future development could require it again.
After all, it took a lot of volunteered time and resources to build the existing arena.
Pat Loustari, a longtime 4-H leader, said she did calculate the amount of volunteer time that goes into holding the annual fair — about 4,000 hours.
Still others see the change as an opportunity.
“Talking about what we should have done or what you should have done isn’t going to get us anywhere,” said Patty Soliday of the Head of the Lakes Fairgrounds Management Group. “Let’s look to the future and let’s start planning.”
She said it will be up to individual user groups to determine what they need.
Those needs should be emailed to Wimme at email@example.com.
While some questioned the availability of land should a fairgrounds be recreated, the chairman of the Land and Development Committee took notes. The committee is likely to consider potential sites at its next meeting.
The meeting Monday didn’t allow enough time for the committee to consider sites when it met Tuesday because of open meeting laws.
“I think if we work together we’re going to have a lot more power than if we split up into our itty bitty groups,” Wimme said.
“My biggest concern is that all the different groups will work together,” Finn said.
Douglas County is planning to schedule another meeting in a couple months to get a better sense of the needs and wants of the various fairground user groups.
In the meantime, Douglas County’s Land and Development Committee will work to identify county-owned land with the potential for creating a new fairgrounds.
“We have to be a little bit patient as we work through this,” Wimme said.