Nebraska state fairgrounds demolition under way

2010-04-06T17:31:00Z Nebraska state fairgrounds demolition under wayBy ART HOVEY / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
April 06, 2010 5:31 pm  • 

In their glory days, they all hosted their share of famous and infamous fair events.

The Open Air Beef Arena provided the roof over the heads of Herbie, Babakanoosh and other pampered champions in the 4-H Market Beef Show.

Ag Hall, one of State Fair Park's few air-conditioned settings, kept the August temperature cool enough for the butter sculpture featuring Chimney Rock, the state Capitol and the downtown Omaha skyline.

The Open Air Auditorium accommodated a standing-room-only audience that could only gasp in 1988 when U.S. Senate candidate Dave Karnes flubbed one of his lines in a debate with Bob Kerrey and declared that the state needed fewer farmers.

And now the glory days are over.

In the early days of April, salvage crews are pulling the roofs off these and almost a dozen other structures that covered hundreds of thousands of square feet and anchored the fairgrounds for decades.

Strips of insulation flap in the breeze. Fugitive nails and screws threaten tires. Twenty-foot-long sheets of metal clatter to the ground.

Janice Crewdson, who presided at the fairgrounds post office for 12 years, has a hard time looking at real estate in transition.

"It's very disheartening," she said Tuesday. "I've been upset ever since I knew the fair was moving, because I've gone out there for probably 50 years."

Buildings that buzzed with people as recently as September are already reduced to steel skeletons and soon will be gone entirely.

Think of the normally dignified Great Uncle Ned in his underwear.

"So far, everything seems to be kind of on schedule," said Stan Tatro of Stan's Recycle and Salvage in Geneva, "if there is some kind of schedule with these things."

Creating empty spaces is a step toward the University of Nebraska-Lincoln occupying the fairgrounds and turning some 250 acres into a research and technology campus.

As the new home for the fair takes shape in Grand Island, university spokeswoman Kelly Bartling is expecting big structural changes of the opposite kind in Lincoln. The university's flagship campus sold salvage rights for just under $80,000.

"I would say, looking at the list of timelines, that the majority will be removed by the end of the month," she said.

Bartling acknowledged that change is hard for some.

"Some people are sad to see buildings being moved from the fairgrounds," she said. "I think it's good news that many of them have found another life and other uses elsewhere.

"And it signals moving forward into a new chapter of that area, on to Innovation Campus. So it's a mixed sentiment, I think, among people."

Crewdson, a relatively new member of the Camp Creek Antique Machinery and Threshing Association, is happy the former Cheney post office will be moved to the group's grounds near Waverly.

Beyond that, "it's hard for me to envision the modernistic buildings" and the switch from a 100-year-old tradition to what she hears described as "a cool campus."

Tatro has the contract to dismantle the Swine, Sheep and Goats Barn, the Open Air Beef Arena, Ag Hall and the Children's Petting Zoo.

"We have to have them down by the 28th of April," he said.

The idea is for all the important pieces to be intact.

"It's a little more time-consuming to do it that way," he said. "It's way too good of equipment to just throw it away."

The state of flux being created north of Lincoln's downtown area carries pluses and minuses.

The removal of the Swine, Sheep and Goats Barn and others north of the Bob Devaney Sports Center will be a plus for parking -- unpaved, though it may be -- for future Cornhusker and other university events.

Meanwhile, the 150 to 160 race horses that would have been stalled in the same area at the start of the Lincoln racing season May 14 will be headed for the east end of the fairgrounds and temporary accommodations in 4-H livestock barns.

Through an agreement with the university, racing is scheduled to stay where it is through 2012, said Judd Bietz, director of operations for the Lincoln Race Course.

"We don't believe racing will go away," he said. "Racing in Nebraska has got a rich tradition and there are a lot of people who love racing and a lot of folks in this part of the country that will not allow it to go away."

Reach Art Hovey at 473-7223 or ahovey@journalstar.com

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