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Arena backers rein in fundraising campaign

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GREENFIELD — Though they came out of the gate in July with a city-approved plan for a new show arena at the Hancock County Fairgrounds, talk of a possible new site for the fairgrounds has slowed the pace of arena backers significantly.

The group has curtailed its fundraising efforts and is looking at alternative sites for events.

In mid-December, a collective of government, civic and agriculture stakeholders met for a second time to discuss prospects of moving the fairgrounds from its land-locked location on Apple Street to the Hancock County Farm on U.S. 40 between CRs 400E and 500E or some other parcel in the county.

That group meets again next Thursday when a committee chaired by Hancock County Councilman Kent Fisk will present its findings on a proposed business and management plan for the new enterprise.

“We have some ideas on how we want to approach it,” Fisk said Thursday. “When this came up 10 years ago, they thought about what kind of buildings would be out there and what it would look like, but they didn’t figure out who was going to run it and how it was going to be managed.”

Given the variety of government, civic and agricultural stakeholders in such a project, lack of a clear direction on management doomed the previous effort, he said.

“We’re starting on (the management) end first and working our way backwards,” Fisk said.

In the meantime, however, backers of the proposed 1,000-seat show arena decided this week to put their capital fundraising efforts on hold until the future becomes a bit more certain. The arena has been in the works for more than a year. It would be built in the northwest corner of the fairgrounds.

This fall, arena proponents embarked on a $50,000 to $60,000 fundraising effort to begin drawing final design plans.

With final design plans still not complete for the 125-by-250-foot show arena, the group concluded it would be counterproductive to move ahead with so much uncertainty in the air.

“The location will affect the design and a number of other plan issues,” said Candace Trout, chair of the arena committee.

Trout said the committee will continue to accept donations for the project; however, it would suspend its official fundraising campaign for the present.

The motivation for the new arena, which would also be used for expos, fairs and concerts, lies primarily with the safety issues at the Multipurpose Arena at the fairgrounds. It plays host to everything from horsemanship events to tractor pulls. The county’s Horse & Pony Club, in particular, worries about debris from vehicles causing hazards, to say nothing of the way the floor of the arena is chewed up during those events.

Anticipating that the current considerations to move the fairgrounds will continue for several months, Trout said horse and pony exhibitors will begin seeking alternative sites for their events such as nearby public and private arenas for practices, shows and competitions.

“We’ll be doing some site visits to other counties and facilities that will help us finalize our design,” Trout said, adding that the arena committee’s further work would be beneficial whether the fairgrounds moves or not.

“These activities will help us and the (fairgrounds) committee down the road,” she said.

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