The Lancaster County Super Fair, held annually at the Lancaster Event Center, is getting smaller, at least its schedule.
Everything else discussed Wednesday at the annual meeting between the Lancaster County Board and the Lancaster County Agricultural Society Board centered around growth, with the bulk of that talk focused on a long-proposed coliseum that could follow expansions planned in conjunction with the upcoming 2020 National High School Rodeo Finals. The early, early estimate for coliseum construction costs was in the $60 million range.
First, the small stuff. The 2018 Super Fair will be a consolidated affair, compared to previous events. Rather than spreading the animal competition over 10 days, the Event Center will host the Super Fair from Thursday, Aug. 2, to Sunday, Aug. 5.
This doesn’t mean that the Ferris wheel is getting packed up after one big weekend. The midway will remain open for six additional days, Ag Society board member Jamie Bauman said. What will change substantially are the animal exhibits.
“We’re going back to four big days of 4-H and FFA that we all know and remember,” Bauman said at the start of the meeting at the Event Center.
That means that open livestock competitions are no longer connected to the Super Fair, but it doesn’t mean that there won’t be the potential for open shows, Ag Society board members assured exhibitors who questioned the decision during public discussion.
“I would love to see down the road if we can work with groups to have a stock-type show,” board president Kendra Ronnau said. “If we can get this expansion.”
The expansion she referred to is a potentially substantial one, the third phase of a master plan that has resulted in $40 million annually pumped back into the county economy, according to an economic study that the LEC staff cited during presentations that focused on the potential benefits of a new coliseum and fifth pavilion on the center’s grounds.
The Event Center is often at maximum capacity for the myriad events hosted at the multi-use facility at 4100 N. 84th St., director Amy Dickerson said.
And in 2020, the center is set to host the first of four national high school rodeos that will be bigger than any event that’s ever taken place there, the Super Fair included.
Improvements centered around the upcoming rodeos will get underway soon, and financing has been secured. In January, after the Event Center announced that it landed four upcoming National High School Finals rodeos (2020, 2021, 2026 and 2027), Dickerson discussed the possibility of a $3 million upgrade, which would include a 3,500-seat, covered grandstand and a thousand more campsites with water and electrical hookups.
Now that the rodeo contract has been signed, the LEC has started receiving funding through lodging tax proceeds approved by the Lancaster County Board. The campground will be the first project, with the grandstand being completed nearer the start of the rodeo, which Dickerson said is expected to draw about 50,000 people to Lincoln over the course of the 10-day event.
But public or private funding for a grander project was on the minds of board members and staff Wednesday. Dickerson said that the improvements represent the first part of the final phase of the center’s expansion.
County commissioners and board members listened to presentations about market studies and surveys, where the message was echoed that now is the time to expand.
“We need to bring this to the public, and this is a public place,” Dickerson said, and she wanted them to know, “we’re at capacity.”
What wasn’t mentioned initially during the presentations was the cost of adding a coliseum. County commissioner Bill Avery asked for a preliminary estimate of a bond number that would be presented to taxpayers. JoAnne Kissel, a planner with Clark Enersen Partners, said that the homework isn’t done on that yet.
“We’re probably 80 percent of the way there, Bill,” Dickerson said.
“Give me 80 percent of the number,” Avery said, drawing laughter from the full meeting room.
Dickerson said that a hypothetical number of the cost of the project was floated in a survey about the project sent to county residents. Those who were surveyed were asked if they would support facility expansion and potential funding of a project that would cost between $60 million-$70 million.
There was an aversion to a property tax solution as the sole or primary funding source for the coliseum and pavilion expansion, said Chris Peterson, a public affairs consultant who conducted the survey. When asked if they would support a property tax hike that would increase their bill an average of $3 per month, 66 percent of respondents said they’d be less likely to support it, Peterson said. Respondents were similarly frosty when asked if they’d vote for an average $1.50 property tax increase or a mix of a $1.50 property tax combined with a sales tax hike and private donations. He said that respondents were most receptive to an occupation tax increase or a hypothetical private donation of $3 million that financed the first 5 percent of the project and went from there.
Kari Price, with the Star City Llama and Alpaca 4-H Club, asked Peterson if the survey respondents were told about the Super Fair being restructured to four days, and he said they had not. Price said that she has had four children participate in open shows, and, to qualify for national shows, they’d likely have to travel out of state now.
Ronnau said that now is also the time to start talking to the public about the benefits of expanding the Event Center. A resident within the Norris Public School district, she was one of several who brought up the defeat of a $9.5 million bond issue a day prior.
“Whatever the number ends up being, it’s a lot of money,” she said of the potential expansion project. But then she listed many of the events that have already been held there.
“It’s a lot of bang for your buck,” she said.