Talks on moving Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds quiet since momentum last fall
JANESVILLE--Discussion on moving the fairgrounds has waned since last year's record-setting Rock County 4-H Fair renewed talks about moving the fairgrounds to a more spacious location.
A single-day attendance record on opening day last year helped fuel discussion about moving the fair to a site in Evansville. That prompted some fair organizers to criticize Janesville officials last fall for not doing enough to keep the fair in Janesville.
Janesville in December pitched an idea to move the fairgrounds to the site of the shuttered General Motors plant, which excited fair organizers.
Since then, however, city, county and fair officials say they haven't talked much about the idea.
“I can't even predict what really could happen,” fair board President John Quinn said. “I think people have to get their ducks in a row and get things on the ground before the fair board can make a conscious decision about what they want to do. I don't think we're really any closer than we were a year ago.”
The not-for-profit Southern Wisconsin Agricultural Group has proposed the fair move to its site on the east side of Evansville, where it is planning an education and innovation center.
SWAG recently started its fundraising campaign with a goal of $15 million for the first phase of its project.
SWAG Executive Director Nicole Reese said the first phase would include:
-- An ag event area with three multipurpose buildings, a show ring and a campground.
-- A building that would include 20,000 square feet of exposition space and 9,000 to 12,000 square feet of Blackhawk Technical College training space.
SWAG's plans do not hinge on whether the fair moves, President Mike Larson said.
Most fair-related people Quinn has talked to agree SWAG's concept of ag education is great.
“The biggest complaint about it is location. That's what I hear,” he said.
Clinton residents and others in the southeastern corner of the county don't like the idea of moving the fair to Evansville, he said.
“They'd rather see it in Janesville, the epicenter of the county,” he said.
SWAG hasn't told fair organizers what it charge to host the fair, Quinn said.
“That's a private entity. They're going to have to make money,” he said.
Former Janesville Assistant City Manager Jay Winzenz said late last year he was “planting seeds” with his GM site proposal after meeting with company officials and touring the plant. He recently left the city for a job in Eau Claire.
City and fair officials initially were excited by the idea. The GM site has been in limbo for more than five years, languishing in standby status imposed by a national labor contract between GM and the United Auto Workers that expires in 2015.
Quinn said he doesn't think having the fair at the GM site would be in the city's best interest.
“It's an industrial infrastructure. It would be real hard to tear all that down and not put industrials back in,” he said.
Janesville City Council President DuWayne Severson and the city's management information specialist Maggie Hrdlicka said the city has not been involved in any other fairgrounds discussions since Winzenz's proposal.
The city's new five-year strategic plan has more than 400 tasks, including having the city manager's office take the lead to “facilitate discussions with the Rock County 4-H Board to keep the county fair in Janesville.” The estimated timing for the tasks is listed as 2016, and Hrdlicka said she wasn't sure why that year was picked.
“It's (the fairgrounds) definitely something that we would like to keep in Janesville,” she said.
Severson said he would love to keep it here.
“I think whatever can be done to keep the site in Janesville would be a great benefit,” he said.
Decisions will fall to the fair board, which guides the independent, nonprofit fair organization, and the Rock County Board Agriculture and Extension Committee, which oversees the county-owned fairgrounds.
Quinn doesn't see a move in sight because nobody has a place ready for the fair to relocate, he said.
“I can't go and hold a fair on a piece of blacktop or a cornfield,” Quinn said.
He couldn't make a decision about Evansville or the GM site without more details, he said.
“I have to see something. Show me, and we'll talk.”
COUNTY MUST FIND NEW FAIRGROUNDS MANAGER
JANESVILLE—Rock County will be looking for a new person to manage the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds after Randy Thompson announced this month he would be done Dec. 31.
Thompson is the main contact for people renting out the fairgrounds near downtown Janesville and handles event contracts. He also manages capital projects for the grounds, said Alan Sweeney, member of the county board agriculture and extension committee, which oversees the county-owned fairgrounds.
The Rock County Fair Board runs the fair, but the county rents out the fairgrounds for auctions, car shows, craft sales and weddings nearly every weekend of the year.
Thompson managed the fairgrounds as the UW Extension dairy and livestock agent. After retiring, he continued in the role through a contract with Manpower.
The county is indebted to Thompson continuing to manage the fairgrounds after retirement, Sweeney said, and replacing his knowledge of the fairgrounds is going to be the county's biggest challenge.
County officials said it was too soon to say how they would go about filling the position. County administrators and the ag and extension committee will begin the discussion in the coming weeks.