Town hall opens doors for talk on fairgrounds

The announcement Kestrel Aircraft Co. was coming to Superior is good news for the city and Douglas County. The planned location of the company's aircraft assembly plant -- adjacent to the Richard I. Bong Memorial Airport on a portion of the Head ...

The announcement Kestrel Aircraft Co. was coming to Superior is good news for the city and Douglas County.

The planned location of the company's aircraft assembly plant -- adjacent to the Richard I. Bong Memorial Airport on a portion of the Head of the Lakes fairgrounds -- has left many questions unanswered for various groups that use the fairgrounds for any number of activities.

Getting some of those questions answered is one of the goals behind a town hall meeting planned for next week.

County officials hope to meet with 4-H clubs, the Curling Club, members of the Great Northern Classic Rodeo, Superior Speedway, Head of the Lakes Fair, horse and beef organizations, and other groups that call the fairgrounds home to begin a dialogue about the future of the fairgrounds when Kestrel Aircraft begins building its assembly plant next year. The dialogue begins at 7 p.m. Monday at the Amnicon Town Hall.

It's a chance to learn what's going on with the fairgrounds and how organizations will be affected, and how the county can address the needs and concerns of the various user groups.


Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn stressed involvement by the various user groups is critical as the county and Kestrel move forward.

"When we announced Kestrel here a couple of months ago, I had a lot of people come up to me and say 'we support this project at the fairgrounds, but what about the user groups. What's going to happen to all these groups that use the fairgrounds,'" Finn said. "We haven't forgotten about them, but we haven't got all the answers yet."

Finn said he can't promise county officials and University of Wisconsin-Extension will have all the answers Monday night, but he's hopeful the dialogue with the user groups will start the process of finding those answers.

"This is sort of the beginning of opening up the lines of communication and asking for partnerships to try to work on some things," Finn said. He said Monday's meeting is just a kickoff to open the lines of communication and start the process of finding solutions to the changes anticipated in the near and distant future.

"When this process was going through with Kestrel, one of the big things that we wanted to make sure we did was make sure we let people know what was going on," said County Administrator Andy Lisak. "We kept the Head of the Lakes management group and also kept the Curling Club informed of what was happening. And now it's really time to talk to all the different user groups that utilize the fairgrounds to let them know what's going on in the near and distant future."

At the start of the town hall meeting, Lisak will provide a timeline for the changes expected. There are no changes expected this year. While the annual fair runs later this summer than it has in past years, it is scheduled to run Aug. 14-19, said Joan Wimme of UW-Extension.

The Great Lakes Northern Rodeo, an entity expected to be among the first affected in 2013 because plans for the Kestrel assembly plant include construction on the site of the horse arena, could still take place Labor Day weekend this year.

No changes will take place until March 2013, when the city's Redevelopment Authority sells the property to Kestrel on behalf of the county. None of the buildings on the fairgrounds would be affected by the sale, and the county secured license agreements with the county to allow user groups to continue to access the facilities there.


From the user groups' perspective, Wimme said, it's important to hear from the county.

"There's been many rumors floating around about what's happening and what's not happening and when," said Wimme, who works with 4-H and other user groups. "I think this will put everyone on the same page ... I think we just need to know where we're at."

They are rumors Supervisor Mark Liebaert has heard first hand.

"Because of the lack of information, we're getting too much bad information out there," Liebaert said. "... We have to get the record straight on what's going on out there."

Wimme said Monday night's meeting also would create an opportunity to start looking to the future.

"The next step in this meeting is to talk about what we're going to do in the future," Liebaert said. And he's hopeful the ideas will come from the various user groups and could result in better solutions than the county can offer now at the fairgrounds.

"We would be having this conversation anyway at some point in the future because the fair as it was wasn't working," Liebaert said. "It was going downhill and the county was having trouble getting management on the fair ... it wasn't sustainable the way that it was."

In fact, last year a task force that spent about a year evaluating the future of the fairgrounds made two recommendations to the county: Market the fairgrounds for economic development or invest in the property to make necessary improvements to make it a decent recreational facility.


Now, with the opportunity for 600 new jobs landing in Superior, Liebaert said it's the county's turn to keep its promise to the groups that use the fairgrounds and start looking to the future -- one in which most groups can still use the fairgrounds facilities for years to come while exploring new opportunities for the future.

"I hope the groups look at it as an opportunity," Liebaert said.

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