By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – A town hall meeting to discuss county issues drew a handful of Riverton-area residents Thursday night where most of the discussion centered around the possible relocation of the Fremont County Fairgrounds.
Fremont County Fair Manager Barney Cosner spelled out the need for new fairgrounds facilities in an opening statement. He noted that structures at the present site were originally built in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and geared to fair and animal production uses and were only used once a year. He said today’s reality has turned the fairgrounds into a year-around multi-purpose facility that last year hosted 815 events in addition to the county fair. He said the Fremont Center at the fairgrounds is the largest open space building in the county and, as such, is in high demand for groups and organizational events. He said the Fremont Center and Heritage Hall are the only facilities that are winterized for year-around use but that Heritage Hall is very aged with maintenance issues.
“The opportunity the Major’s family has presented to the county, to utilize that acreage north of the hospital and along Cooper Road for the fair and future growth of Fremont County is an opportunity to grow the county, opportunities that were not available before,” Cosner said. “We only have a limited opportunity to draw in conventions, new money and new people where we could show off and showcase Fremont County. The Major’s property would allow us to do that.”
Not surprisingly, there was opposition. County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger said he was worried that a new fairground facility would not pay for itself, and stress the county’s budget. County Assessor Tara Berg said she was worried that usage fees for a new facility would increase and not be affordable and that a larger facility would mean higher maintenance costs.
Resident Chuck Lanham questioned where the money would come from to build a new fairgrounds. “If there is such a demand for this (for multi-use space) why is the private sector not stepping up,” he asked. “Has anyone gone out and asked the community is this something the county needs?”
Wendell Manka said a proposal for a remodeled fairgrounds was overwhelmingly rejected four years ago by county voters and he said he’s heard no talk that would support a new fairgrounds. “How can we even think about building something like this. It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Heritage Hall should’ve been torn down years ago. The Fair has no business being in the convention business. If we need that convince private enterprise to do it.”
Landowner Craig Cooper, whose farm is adjacent to the Major’s facility, said he thought a fairgounds would not be a good use for the Major’s property citing access, traffic, costs, noise and dust among other issues.
Commission Chairman Doug Thompson thanked everyone for their comments and he said the idea of a new fairgrounds “is just a conversation at this point, no decisions have been made.”
Thompson said the reason county officials are embarking on a countywide tour is to gather input on issues such as the fairgrounds. “The time to start talking about what we want and how to get there is now even though revenues are down,” he said. “It’s nice to have a vision and have discussions. We need to hear during this planning process what the public wants.”
The commission chairman also noted that, “whether we like it or not, the fairgrounds is a multi purpose facility.” The question he said that needs to be answered is, “do we want to carry those purposes with it if we move it.”
Addressing the audience, Thompson again reminded those in attendance that the meeting was just the beginning of a conversation. “We want to do the groundwork and discuss it,” he said. “Does it needs to move and what needs to be in a new facility?”
Thompson said the property has also been suggested as the location for other county facilities, such as a future justice center. “What else could be there? There’s a wide range of things. It doesn’t mean it’ll all go there or that we are championing any one project. This is an opening conversation.”
County Clerk Julie Freese addressed the fair supporters at the event and told them not to be discouraged. “Please don’t take everything as a negative, you need to come up with a plan, figure out what you need to have wherever, and that might help people understand.”
The county officials will host another Town Hall meeting next Wednesday in Lander.