The Lincoln County Public Property Committee voted last Wednesday night to demolish the grandstands at the fairgrounds prior to this year’s fair, which starts July 18.
The decision came after a June 19 storm ripped the east wall off the grandstand. It had already been decided that the area under the grandstand was no longer safe for vendors that have traditionally set up there during the fair. For the recent Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo at the fairgrounds, vendors were set up under a tent rather than under the grandstand. The same provisions were planned for the fair.
While the grandstands’ fate would have eventually come to the same end, the storm damage made the decision more urgent, said Public Property Committee member Bill Zeitz. The issue of replacing the grandstands has been discussed for years, Zeitz noted.
“The last study indicated that even if we did have all the repairs done, that structure was only going to go about another 10 years,” he said.
With the new storm damage added and the fair nearing, the committee had to immediately decide whether to repair or demolish the grandstands. To repair it would have first required a time-consuming and costly full structure analysis.
“We were in a difficult position,” Zeitz said. “We had no other choice.”
Portable bleachers will be rented for this year’s fair at a cost of $9,600, and a tent will be provided for vendors. Due to the necessity of a DNR permit related to asbestos abatement, the earliest demolition could begin is July 6, which further shortens the time frame, said Lincoln County Administrative Coordinator Randy Scholz. He said he’s working on a contingency plan in case the demolition cannot be completed in time.
“Our main concern right now is to get something in order for the fair,” he said. “The bleachers are going in there on the 17th, even if the structure is not down. I’m working on a contingency plan with the Fair Association.”
The grandstand structure was built in 1923 and moved to Merrill from Michigan in 1940.
Following the fair, the county will start looking at its options for a permanent replacement for the grandstands. Scholz said he’s working on getting cost estimates for every conceivable option.
The cost of demolishing the grandstands should be offset by an insurance claim due to the wind damage, Scholz said.