Fair seeks to become community center
County commissioners were asked Monday to contribute financially to a reconfiguring of fairgrounds buildings so they can be rented out for weddings, auctions, craft fairs, parties, meetings, and other civic and commercial events.
“We’re hoping to create a community building on the Marion County Fairgrounds,” fair board member Brent Unruh said. “What this will do is create a large-capacity venue, basically —weddings, anything you want. There’s nowhere in the county that we can think of that has the square footage like we do on the fairgrounds.”
Key expenses would include creation of a new commercial building exit and a new heating, ventilating, air conditioning system, complete with total rewiring to accommodate six air conditioning units.
Unruh said Flamings Inc. plumbing, heating, and air conditioning and Elcon Services Inc. electrical contractors had agreed to donate labor to the project. However, materials needed by Flamings alone could cost more than $15,000.
“A few years ago, that price would have been a lot less,” he said. “The way inflation is going, I see that price continuing to rise. So we want to get this project started before it’s just not feasible for us to do anymore.”
In addition to the county and the fair board, the city of Hillsboro and the Chisholm Trail Extension District’s 4-H programs are being asked to contribute.
“It could actually bring in revenue to the community to have something like this,” Unruh said. “We can fill up the hotel. We can bring in people for the restaurants. We’d never get our money back from it, but it’d be nice to have for the community.”
With shower and kitchen facilities, it also could become an emergency shelter in case of disaster, he said, suggesting that a backup electric generator might be added.
County clerk Tina Spencer cautioned that the fair board would have to avoid making it a for-profit venture, which could subject the fairgrounds to taxation and raise questions about contribution of taxpayer money.
“We’ve had an issue in the past with wanting to do certain things at the park and lake,” she said. “Because it’s publicly funded, there are rules.”
County counselor Brad Jantz said it would be possible to use various accounting methods to document that any fees charged be solely to recover costs, although those costs could include overall maintenance.
With Jonah Gehring abstaining because of his involvement with Elcon, commissioners unanimously adopted Kent Becker’s motion that the county support the project at level to be determined later.