Make new grandstand large enough for future growth

Published 11:15 am Friday, January 4, 2013

“Build it and they will come,” is a kind of promise and challenge that we have heard as applied to the erection of buildings and the development of projects and businesses. Will this kind of promise, a mandate, materialize in the building of a new grandstand on the Mower County Fairgrounds?

The people developing or planning to replace a grandstand condemned by engineers and safety experts for failing to meet basic standards, have, for over a year, evaluated history, needs, finances, administration and potential usage of a first-class grandstand. Working with professional evaluations, two groups have made some proposals: The county commissioners and a Fair Board.

The coordinator of the commissioners, Craig Oscarson, at the commissioners’ board meeting of Dec. 27, presented an update of the plans evolving for a new grandstand.  The low end of around $500,000 covers demolition, removal of debris, preparation of the site, and erection of a new structure. A consensus has emerged that the lesser financial investment would provide for only 1,000 seats, which for some venues would be inadequate. A financial commitment in the $800,000 range would more adequately meet the long-term needs, including space for future events. To build smaller may mean that renovations for a future enlargement would be costly. To think in terms of the larger financial expenditure for seating of 2,000, with all amenities, is a wise projection.

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After three appearances at various board meetings where I have voiced concerns for myself and many area citizens, the bottom line is a matter of trust.  The matter of the Fire Department being asked to burn the present structure is in the domain of agencies that issue the proper permits.

Now, about the financial gap between the $500,000 currently budgeted by the commissioners (minimum), and the $800,000 figure for a more extensive project. My experience in church building projects is that in the long run, add-ons, reconfigurations and expansions are more costly than construction of the larger complete project.  To avoid future unnecessary financing for what is really needed and could be utilized starting this summer, it is crucial to begin the project.

The challenge to budgets, the here and now design by architects, the present economy that does give one more “bang for the buck,” and a structure that would attract future non-fair venues, combine to wisely say:  build larger.

A proposal:  For just one summer, one Fair season, charge for admission.  A fee or 10-day pass would be required for the privilege of all the benefits of the splendid offerings of the Mower County Fair.  A monetary contribution, similar to what other fairs ask of the attendees, would enable the building of a grandstand that would meet all the anticipated needs, now and for the future.

I repeat my first sentence: “Build it and they will come.” Don’t forget, Grandma was right when she said:  “Harry, there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Grandad, hearing her truth, added: “If you pay a little for what you get, you’ll enjoy it even more!”

Marvin Repinski is chairman of Austin’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.