Public weighs in on fairground swap

Commissioners delay decision, ask Hulett and Moorcroft to bid on relocation

(Sarah Pridgeon photo) Attendees at Thursday’s public hearing listen as officials address questions raised regarding the proposed fairgrounds swap.

(Sarah Pridgeon photo)
Attendees at Thursday’s public hearing listen as officials address questions raised regarding the proposed fairgrounds swap.

By Sarah Pridgeon

 

At a public meeting hosted by all three entities involved in the proposed fairground land swap, the County Commissioners did not make a decision on whether to move forward. Instead, they will give the other two municipalities in Crook County the chance to challenge Sundance’s offer.

“For the other towns to be considered, it would mean they would have to present a proposal at least as good as Sundance’s,” said Commissioner Jim Hadley.

Should Hulett and Moorcroft choose to make an offer, said Hadley, they would need to offer a land donation worth at least $300,000 to house the new fairgrounds, take responsibility for grant writing and offer a representative to present the grant proposal to the State Lands and Investment Board.

As no official representatives from Hulett or Moorcroft were in attendance to discuss the proposal, a letter will be sent to each town inviting them to bring their proposal to the next meeting of the commission.

The public meeting was held on Wednesday to allow the County Commission, Crook County School Board and Sundance City Council to hear comments from the public before deciding whether to proceed with the swap. Many members of the community spoke positively about the economic benefits of the swap and the opportunities it might bring.

At the close of the meeting, the commissioners considered whether to take action and ultimately decided to wait until their next meeting to allow the other municipalities a chance to present proposals.

The decision was made in response to several comments from the audience questioning whether Sundance is the best and only choice to reconstruct the fairgrounds. Moving it to another spot in the county, said commenters, would cover some of the cost of building a new complex because arenas already exist in both Moorcroft and Hulett.

Delaying the decision

“Right now we’re at an impasse until we decide whether we’re going to do the trade or not. We can’t find out if we’re going to have enough money from the sale of the land of the grants and we can’t decide where we’re going to put it,” said Hadley during the meeting.

“I call upon the other two commissioners to decide.”

Commissioner Jeanne Whalen expressed her approval of the idea of going to another town because, she said there are more rural kids in the Hulett and Moorcroft areas, though she was not aware of what land options might be available. She questioned whether the swap should be opened up to the other towns before a decision was made.

“I think we’ve had enough comments about it that we should explore that,” she said.

Though Hadley argued that it will not be possible to begin investigating the possibilities until the commission makes a decision, his fellow commissioners were not willing to do so.

“I’m not going to make a decision before our next meeting,” said Commissioner Kelly Dennis.

Trustee Tracy Jones reminded the commissioners that there is not an “endless clock” to make the decision, as construction of the new school is on its own timeline. Senator Ogden Driskill also pointed out that grants are not sure deals and can take a while to secure.

Whalen again questioned whether to open the offer to the other municipalities and suggested sending both of them a letter.

“You guys are my boss, what do you think?” she said, to a resounding “yes” from the audience.

She requested that County Attorney Joe Baron include a request for details of land ownership and whether the town can provide utilities in the letter. She noted that she is open to a 100-year lease agreement or similar option and that she is not as opposed to spending county money on the new fairgrounds as Commissioner Kelly Dennis.

Addressing the public’s concerns

During the meeting, all comments from the audience were addressed by the officials hosting the meeting. The first concern was whether the appraisals of the current fairground site that were performed on behalf of the school board are accurate.

“Those appraisals were done by outside appraisers,” responded Superintendent Byron Stutzman.

“We hired them as a school district but they are independent appraisals.”

Hadley added that the appraisals will not necessarily be the final price paid for the land. If the entities agree to proceed with the swap, negotiations will take place with the ultimate goal in mind of putting enough money together to rebuild the fairgrounds.

The fair board addressed the concern that increasing the size and scope of the fairgrounds could lead to unaffordable maintenance costs. In response, Judy Hutchinson commented that fixing problems with the current fairgrounds would be expensive in itself.

“We do have problems with the fairgrounds and [fixing them] will be a major expense that is going to come out of our pockets…because it’s tax money, and that’s our money,” said Judy Hutchinson.

On behalf of the Crook County Fair Board, Hutchinson also spoke of the need to use the fairgrounds for more than just the fair. It is for the whole community, she said, and should be multi-purpose.

“We do have some major problems down there that are going to have to be addressed. The opportunity is here, the money is grant money and not our money,” she said.

“This fairground has a history and that’s what has made it very tough for all of us and it will continue to. Right now we’re on 16.5 acres, we would move to approximately 30 acres. We’d have a clean slate.”

The possibilities for the new complex are almost endless, she continued, explaining that the board would like plan long term and with multiple purposes in mind. The board has visited other facilities over the last two weeks to see what works and doesn’t work, which could be incorporated in a new site or in upgrading the current one.

The Fair Board will support whatever decision the County Commissioners make, Hutchinson concluded.

In response to another comment, Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Lenz and Baron confirmed that using grant funds will not remove local ownership of the fairgrounds. Once the money has been given, said Baron, the property will belong entirely to the county.

“I would be writing the grant on behalf of the county and the deed for the land would go from the city to the county,” added Lenz.

“All those funds for the fairgrounds would be for the county.”

Opinions from Officials

The meeting was turned over to the officials on the stage to give each a chance to voice their thoughts about the proposed swap.

Whalen shared her concern that the proposed site for the new fairgrounds is close to the industrial center being constructed by Croell Redi-Mix.

“I would feel horrible if one of our children was run over by one of these trucks because it’s going to be an industrial area,” she said.

Lenz, Baron and Council Member Sheryl Klocker confirmed that a walking path towards the new location is already in progress, the city having been working on it for a year.

“My comment was that the county is not going to spend a lot of money on this and I stand behind it, but I really want to hear what the people of the county want,” said Dennis.

Hadley re-affirmed that he is in favor of the swap and thinks it would be a good deal for the towns and county to have an upgraded facility that hosts more events.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not have the county finance it,” he said.

Hutchinson assured the crowd that the fair will go on, no matter what happens.

“Even if it’s in a tent, we’re going to have a fair and we’re going to have fun,” she said. “We’re not going to give that up.”

Until a decision is made, she added, no upgrades or repairs will be made at the current fairgrounds.

Fair Board member Peggy Boardman stated that, though she lives in Moorcroft, she does not believe the fair should be moved away from the county seat. Fellow board member Ted Rosencranz noted that the current facility has “major issues” and said he is not opposed to moving the fairgrounds to another part of the county.

“I’m just afraid that we’re going to miss out on a huge opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. If we don’t jump on it, we’ll look back in five years and say, why did we not take them up on that?” commented Council Member April Gill, expressing her support for the swap.

Stutzman reminded the audience that the swap is an opportunity to have the football field close to the schools and build a better fairground.

“Does it have to be on the fairgrounds? No, there are other options out there, but this is the closest to our school grounds and, in my mind, the best option,” he said.

Stutzman and Trustees Ken Rathbun and Tracy Jones also explained that situating the new school building on the current football field was a decision made after great consideration, partly because it would allow a whole new building and partly to facilitate a new football field with a useable track.