Whether the Garfield County Fairgrounds should be expanded, kept as it is or even relocated are among the issues an economic development group has taken up.
The fairgrounds, on land donated to the county for that purpose, along Railroad Avenue in Rifle, needs a long-term vision, said Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. President Michael Langhorne at a Feb. 21 meeting in the Rifle Branch Library.
"We want to know what the community wants to see when it comes to the fairgrounds," he said. "We want to come up with a strategic plan and make sure we reach out to all the community."
Langhorne said the group knows there are those who are passionate about the fairgrounds and do not want any changes.
"From our first meeting, we've had the feeling expressed to us that it may not be in the best location and the city has grown up around it," Langhorne continued. "We just want to put forth the best scenario going forward. We know the fairgrounds are very important to Rifle's heritage. So we're not completely convinced it would be the best thing to move it."
The county commissioners, who are involved in the group's efforts, would make any final decision on the fairgrounds.
Langhorne said the group plans extensive community outreach to fairgrounds users, the Rifle community, business leaders, elected officials and citizens "so we can understand what the community feels" about the fairgrounds.
Past county fair board member Jack Pretti said for the last several years, he's thought it may be time to move the fairgrounds.
"There may be a higher and better use for that site," he said.
Current fair board president Levy Burris said the best use of the fairgrounds, and its location, is an issue that "underlies this community for the last 10 years, at least."
"Ten years ago, you couldn't even talk about moving the fairgrounds, because you had the diners and the businesses that depended on the folks that used it," he added. "Now the business development in Rifle has been south of the [Colorado River]."
Pretti said the facility should be promoted more than it is now.
"Most of the use you have there now is out of habit," he added. "There's really very little promotion, either for attendance or use."
Pretti said the input gained about the fairgrounds and its future could lead to a public/private partnership to help take the next steps.
Rifle Mayor Pro Tem Alan Lambert noted the fairgrounds is in a very central location for regional users.
"You could have folks from Wyoming come down for a rodeo, or folks in Montrose come up here," he said. "I know we have been asked what the plans are from some of the users about upgrading it."
Rifle Parks Manager Tom Whitmore recalled past attempts to market the facility as an "events center" were not well received by longtime fairgrounds users.
Burris urged the group to get input from 4-H and other groups elsewhere in the county. Whitmore said the group's message has to include the option of keeping the fairgrounds in Rifle.
Whether or not the community wants to see the fairgrounds move will gradually develop as more input is gained, Langhorne said.
The group's next meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Thursday, March 21, in the Rifle Branch Library. The public is welcome.