County committee explores berm system for fairgrounds

The Lincoln County Public Property Committee is investigating a berm system, similar to what Marathon County recently constructed, as a replacement for the grandstand at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds.
With the berm system, a concrete seating structure is built into a man-made earth hill. A 2,500-seat berm system under consideration could serve as the first phase of an “expo center.” The concept of the expo center was discussed over the course of the past year, but the $7 million estimated price tag made it an unpopular option with the County Board.
The Fairgrounds User Group, made up of representatives from organizations that use the fairgrounds, favored the expo center concept because they felt it would make the fairgrounds more viable for a variety of new events. Members of that group are in favor of the berm system because it leaves future options open.
“The expo center concept isn’t going to die, but it isn’t going to happen right away, either,” said Pete Annis of the Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo. “If we build a grandstand alone, we’ll sit with something that isn’t marketable.”
Dale Christianson, president of the Lincoln County Fair Association, agreed that a berm system would be a step in the right direction.
“If you’re building in stages, a berm system is the way to go,” he said. “With a berm system you’re not tying your hands. From the fair standpoint, I think it’s what we should be looking at.”
The grandstand was torn down just before the 2012 Lincoln County Fair due to damage from a wind storm. The county received $1.2 million in insurance money to replace the grandstand, but has thus far been unable to agree on what to build.
Based on discussions with the architect who designed the Marathon County berm system, the Public Property Committee feels they can construct one on the Lincoln County fairgrounds for $1.2 million, excluding the seating. At the committee’s direction, Maintenance Director Pat Gierl has inquired about the possibility of buying seats from the soon-to-be demolished Metrodome in Minnesota. The seats aren’t for sale yet, but will be in the future.
The county is also faced with the cost of replacing or remodeling the restroom facilities at the fairgrounds, estimated at upwards of $400,000.
Public Property Committee member Jeff Hetfeld noted that the county needs to come up with a solid cost figure and a plan to pay for it, beyond what the insurance money will cover.
“The question is how much money are we short and how are we going to raise that,” he said.
The Lincoln County Board in November directed the Public Property Committee to do a comprehensive study of facility needs at the fairgrounds. The committee is looking to bring information back to the board in February.


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