Garfield County Fairground uses, fees, management, future discussed
Citizen Telegram Editor
Fresh off the 75th anniversary Garfield County Fair, the facility’s current and future uses, management, fees and other issues were discussed Aug. 15 at the Rifle Branch Library, the first of three public listening sessions held by the county.
More than 35 people took part in a 90-minute, mostly small group discussion.
Among the impressions and suggestions were that the fairgrounds is perceived as “unfriendly,” fees have forced at least two branding shows to relocate to the Mesa County Fairgrounds, the grandstands need to be larger, a better sound system is needed, and a high-quality stage would help bring in major entertainment acts.
Other suggestions were to have a small electronic marquee inside the fairgrounds, to show visitors what events are happening where and when.
“We thought it would be good to get rid of the berm and realign the parking so a truck and trailer can actually get in and out,” said county Fair Board President Levy Burris. “And it’s absolutely critical we keep the fairgrounds open until wherever a new facility is built actually opens. We don’t want to miss a year of 4-H events or any others.”
Carol McNeel of Silt said her group thought it would be “great” if a West Slope version of “The Ranch” was built in the county.
“The Ranch” is the official name of the Larimer County Fairgrounds and Budweiser Events Center, according to the events center website. It features an indoor arena, two livestock pavilions, exhibition building and other facilities.
“I think we need to think big about what we bring in,” McNeel said. “We need to keep the fees reasonable, but we could have multiple events at the same time.”
She said corporate sponsors could be sought for both the construction and events at such a facility.
“It’s like the movie, build it and they will come,” McNeel said of the famous line in “Field of Dreams.”
McNeel and others also said customer service at the fairgrounds needs to improve, although they stressed the fairgrounds staff is not to blame or be thought of as lazy.
“They’re limited by the directives they get,” said Kasey Manuppella of Silt. “That’s changed in the last three years.”
The indoor arena should no longer be used as “a party room,” McNeel added, but returned to horse uses only, “as soon as possible.”
The arena also needs to be redesigned and expanded, the kitchen upgraded and access improved to unload and load stock, she added.
Jack Pretti of Rifle said his group felt there was “a lot of problems with management” of the fairgrounds.
“If you talk to past users of the fairgrounds and ask them why they no longer come here, they’ll tell you they were discouraged and decided to go elsewhere,” he said. “The organization and structure we have now is just not usable.”
In the future, Pretti said his group wanted to see larger rodeos, business expos and conferences and sport shooting events.
“That seems like such a natural in Rifle, Colorado,” he added. “A rifle shooting range would be great, too.”
Educational events held by wildlife groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation should be sought, Pretti continued, and lamented the loss of horse racing many years ago.
“The [Garfield County] Department of Human Services is a great agency, but they built next to the fairgrounds because it was cheap land,” Pretti said. “So we lost the track. That’s still a little burr under my saddle.”
He noted the Colorado Racing Commission is now looking to expand horse racing in the state.
Gary Osier of Rifle said his group focused on the fairgrounds as just that, “not an events center.”
“So we think you should make it even more of a fairgrounds,” he said. “But we should try to get it used year-round.”
Two county commissioners were present for the meeting. Tom Jankovsky said he realized the importance of the 4-H program, having a fair and “that kind of lifestyle. It’s our duty to continue to make that a part of our county.”
Commissioner Mike Samson said the board “was here to listen to you.”
“We made a commitment to make the facility nicer for the fair, and I get the feeling you want us to do more,” he said. “But it’s going to be a tough budget year. We’re looking at $15 million less in property taxes for 2014, so having any revenue to do anything is going to be tough.”
Other fairgrounds input sessions are planned for Sept. 12 at the New Castle Community Center and Oct. 17 at the Glenwood Springs Community Center. After the comments from those meetings and the Rifle meeting are compiled, facilitator Kathy Chandler Henry will submit a report to the county.
A vision and strategic plan for the fairgrounds will then be developed by the county commissioners, to guide any further improvements, possible relocation and other operational issues.
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