Land lease, plan detail fairgrounds’ future

GREENFIELD — The Hancock County Board of Commissioners reviewed a land lease for the site of a proposed new fairgrounds at its meeting Tuesday.

The nonprofit board overseeing the project, which carries a $30 million price tag, presented the commissioners with a land lease and strategic plan Tuesday in hopes of moving the project forward. Commissioners did not take a vote, opting instead to open the matter for public discussion at their next meeting Sept. 1.

The project, also called the X-Plex because it would play host to a variety of activities year round, would be located on more than 208 acres of county-owned farmland along U.S. 40 between county roads 400E and 500E.

The Hancock County Exposition Complex Corp. would rent the property from the county; the county would serve as the landlord. The lease calls for the nonprofit board to pay $10 annually for rent and to hold liability insurance.

Members of the nonprofit also presented commissioners with a strategic plan that outlines the vision for the project, project phases, construction costs and possible funding sources.

The corporation plans to invest more than $30 million in the project, which would double the size of the county fairgrounds and add a multipurpose exposition center, two arenas and six rental barns. A large outdoor amphitheater, a grand gazebo and sizable retention pond also are planned. The corporation is looking at a public-private partnership to cover that cost.

Possible funding sources include naming rights, corporate sponsors, donations, grants, the sale of the existing fairgrounds and public funds, the plan states.

Some highlights of the new fairgrounds include a barn with nearly 200 horse stalls, a covered show arena and a multipurpose building with seating for 1,800 people, the plan states.

Commissioner Brad Armstrong said he’s concerned the listed funding options are too vague, providing no detailed plan for how the corporation would pay for the project.

“You want to lease this property, but there’s no plan for funding the construction,” he said.

Without the funding in line to launch the project, it might be best to continue to use the land for farming, he said.

But Kent Fisk, a county council member serving on the nonprofit board, said board members are in discussion with state lawmakers about potential legislation that would allow the county to raise the food and beverage tax — a tax imposed on diners at local restaurants — to help fund the project. At this time, that’s the best avenue for finding public funds to pay for a portion of the project, he said.

Fisk and Darrin Couch, vice president of the 4-H agricultural association and a member of the X-Plex board, told commissioners there are opportunities for corporate sponsors, but those corporations want to see a signed lease before pledging any dollars.

Armstrong argued it’s likely the project will be funded primarily by public dollars, so the X-plex board should have a plan in place for where those dollars will come from.

Commissioner Marc Huber said he believes that, even without a signed lease, the board can begin securing pledges for the project, especially because the commissioners made an unofficial agreement to help see the project through by leasing the land.

Tom Stevens, a commissioner appointed to serve on the X-plex board, said the commissioners asked the board to create a plan for the project before they would sign the lease. Now they have a plan and want more, he said.

“I think (the X-Plex board has) done a tremendously good job of coming up with a plan,” he said. “I just believe this is a tremendous opportunity for the county.”

Armstrong expects the commissioners to discuss the project again at their next meeting and open the floor to members of the public who want to voice their opinions.

At that time, the commissioners can choose to approve or deny the request. They also can choose to table it until more information is available.

Have your say

Commissioners were presented with a land lease and strategic plan for the new fairgrounds project at Tuesday’s meeting and will discuss the project at their next meeting, Sept. 1. Copies of those documents are available at the auditor’s office, 111 American Legion Place.

Members of the public will be invited to speak on the project at the board’s next meeting, which begins at 8 a.m. Call the auditor’s office at 317-477-1105 by Aug. 27 to be placed on the agenda to address the board.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.