Expo center plans progressing

Lincoln County is slowly moving toward a decision on whether to build an expo center at the fairgrounds. The Lincoln County Public Property Committee Monday night discussed the bylaws for a proposed Expo Center Organization, looked at revenue projections for a new facility and considered the costs of architectural services for the project.
The plans for a new structure at the fairgrounds got on the fast track last summer after the grandstand was damaged by a wind storm. The grandstand was demolished prior to the 2012 Lincoln County Fair, leaving the county and the already-established fairgrounds marketing and user group looking at alternatives for a replacement.
The County Board last November voted to support the creation of an expo center organization to manage and promote the fairgrounds. That new organization is still a work on progress.
According to a draft of the organization’s bylaws, the county would retain ownership of the fairgrounds property – and the expo center, if constructed – and lease it to the organization. The county would consider selling the fairgrounds to the organization if and when the organization had sufficient funds to make the purchase. The county would initially continue to pay the insurance costs for the fairgrounds. That cost could be shifted to the organization pending its ability to pay.
The organization would be responsible for marketing, fundraising, maintenance and policy development for the fairgrounds. The group would also plan and implement improvements, with the approval of the county.
A subcommittee of the fairgrounds user group met with a consultant to come up with revenue projections for an expo center. The projections indicate an ability to generate revenue from events.
“The costs for events turn out to be about 54 percent across the board. It seems like there could be a pretty solid cash flow,” said Art Lersch of UW-Extension, who has been working with the fairground users ground throughout the process.
Using the example of a big-name music act, expenses are estimated at around $60,000. By selling 3,000 tickets (half of what the proposed expo center would hold for concerts) at $42 each, revenues would be $126,000.
The cost of the expo center has been estimated at $7 million. The county will receive $1.2 million in insurance money toward a replacement for the grandstand. Where the rest of the funding would come from is yet to be determined. The more immediate concern is paying for architectural services, expected to cost at least $100,000.
Agra Industries of Merrill has gotten involved with the project on a volunteer basis. The company produced a concept plan for the expo center and is doing to legwork to solicit proposals from architectural firms. Agra has also offered to contribute toward the project, either financially or in metal fabrication and construction services.
As of Monday, Tim Gruling of Agra reported he’d only received one architectural proposal which was for very comprehensive services at a much higher cost than what the committee had expected. Gruling said he was confident that other firms would respond after carefully considering the project.
“When we ask them for a number we can hang our hat on, they want to make sure of that number,” he said.
The expo center architectural cost is on the agenda for Friday’s Lincoln County Finance Committee agenda. Public Property Committee chair Bill Zeitz said he’ll request that the finance committee lay the matter over for a month to allow for more information to be gathered. He added that he hopes to see the county move forward with the expo center plans.
“At this point I’d like to see a commitment from the county that they’re looking ahead with a vision for something substantial that will have a positive impact on the county,” he said. “I hope the county would be excited about it.”
County Board chair Bob Lussow cautioned that the county board has not yet voted to proceed with building an expo center.
“You’ve got to get to the county board before you go ahead as far as you have,” Lussow told the committee. “I think you need to concentrate on getting an agreement that the Lincoln County Board can approve.”
Zeitz said he doesn’t see anything firm coming out of the committee until April.
“We need numbers for the building, without that you can’t move forward,” Lersch added.
The Public Property Committee will meet again on March 20 and the Fairgrounds User Group will meet again March 21.

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