Weigh in on fairgrounds’ future

HANCOCK COUNTY — A week after festivities wrapped up at the Hancock County 4-H Fair, uncertainty remains about the facility’s future.

A meeting between county leaders and the 4-H Agriculture Association to discuss a proposal to build a new fairgrounds — a project that has stalled in recent months — is slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the H.J. Rick’s Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. in downtown Greenfield. The meeting is open to the public.

Commissioner Brad Armstrong said he called for the meeting in hopes of reaching a mutual understanding about the proposal, which has been deadlocked for months as county leaders have called for more detailed funding plan.

The only proposal presented publicly to the commissioners to date calls for an estimated $30 million to $40 million investment, a figure commissioners Brad Armstrong and Marc Huber say is unrealistic.

But members of the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corp., a seven-member nonprofit board that was assembled to oversee the project and gain support from private companies, are still pushing for the proposal.

In January, state legislators thwarted local officials’ efforts to pass a 1-percentage point increase to the county food and beverage tax — imposed on diners at local restaurants — to pay for a new fairgrounds. That would have raised up to $900,000 annually for the project.

Commissioner Tom Stevens, who’s also a member of the nonprofit board, has been supportive of the project and at times has clashed with Huber and Armstrong over the proposal during public meetings.

Stevens has argued the nonprofit has made significant progress on the development, saying it would be short-sighted to dismiss the group’s work.

But Armstrong said the group’s study left too many questions unanswered.

It offered no alternatives for scaled-down facilities and didn’t entertain the possibility of locating the fairgrounds to other sites across the county, he said.

The proposal called for a show arena and animal barns to support the local 4-H program as well as an exposition center to host an array of activities year round. The development would be built on more than 200 acres of county-owned farmland along U.S. 40 between county roads 400E and 500E.

Representatives from the agriculture association and county leaders have called for improvements to the existing fairgrounds, 620 Apple St., for years, saying it lacks the amenities that surrounding communities can offer, including adequate indoor performance space.

Before deciding how to proceed, Huber said he wants to see some analysis to determine whether moving the fairgrounds to the county-owned land, which sits miles east of Greenfield and away from densely populated neighborhoods, would hurt attendance at the event.

Barb Pescitelli, president of the 4-H Agriculture Association, said she hopes the county officials see the potential that a new fairgrounds could bring to the area.

A fairgrounds with year-round facility rentals, especially those that can host large events, can be an economic development-driver, she said.

“Everyone’s been overwhelmed with the pricetag (of the current proposal), but it’s a long-term plan,” Pescitelli said.

If you go

A meeting between county leaders and the 4-H Agriculture Association to discuss a proposal to build a new county fairgrounds begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. in downtown Greenfield.

The meeting is open to the public.

Author photo
Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.