After nearly four years of non-existence, the first legs of a brand new grandstand were driven into the ground on Monday afternoon at the Merrill Festival Grounds, formerly known as the Lincoln County Fairgrounds.
According to City Administrator David Johnson, the steel and aluminum components of the grandstand were fabricated over the winter at Dant-Clayton’s facility in Louisville, so now it’s just a matter of assembly.
Along with the erection of the grandstand, the city will also be installing lighting at the grandstand entrances, safety lighting beneath the grandstand and well as circuitry and outlets beneath the grandstand for use by vendors.
According to Johnson, the grandstand will measure 300 feet long and could provide weather-safe space for at least 10-15 vendors to conduct their respective business. Cost of the lighting has yet to be determined, but due to the projected costs being under $25,000 the city has opened the project up for estimates. Dant-Clayton has reportedly promised completion by Memorial Day.
While the grandstand is in the process of being erected, the restrooms on the east side of the grounds will be removed along with the former Lincoln County Humane Society building and former Jaycees Food Stand.
“Once the Humane Society building is leveled, we plan to take down the overhead power lines on the property and bury them,” Johnson explains. “Once complete, that space will be used for expanded rodeo and fair usage. Uses for the space will include more rides for the fair’s carnival as well as staging and parking for the rodeo. The Jaycees stand, which hasn’t been used in quite some time, will be removed as well and that space will be used for vendor food trailer parking.”
When the fair is over this year, work will resume in removing the Our Saviors Lutheran Church’s food stand as well as the century-old Schultz Building. That space will eventually be filled by a Multi-Purpose Building which is set to break ground this fall. Plans call for the walls and slabs to be installed through the fall, so construction can progress through the winter months of 2016-17. Last but not least, the Merrill Fire Department is currently engaged in a fund raiser to replace the existing First Aid Station on the grounds.
Construction of the new grandstand comes less than a year after the city of Merrill acquired the property.
In May 2015, the Lincoln County Board approved the sale of the grounds to the city of Merrill for $1. During a special Common Council meeting on June 5, 2015, the council voted 5-3 to move forward in accepting the county’s offer.
Within a week, Mayor Bill Bialecki formed an Ad-Hoc committee to get to work on future plans as well as a new name for the grounds.
By August a conceptual site plan had been drawn out and approved by both the Committee of the Whole and the Council. In the meantime a new name for the grounds had been selected via community vote and officially became known as the Merrill Festival Grounds.
Bidding opened for a new grandstand on Sept. 9, with the job going to Dant-Clayton Corporation of Louisville, KY, who quoted $1,149,000, for a new 3,000-seat grandstand structure.
As planned, the structure would consist of a mix of bench seating and stadium seating measuring 23” across, front-row handicap and companion in each of the five sections as well as the center section portraying a blue “M” from a birds-eye view, which was accommodated free of charge.
Aside from the structure serving the needs of various events, the price tag came in $59,000 below the $1.2 million in insurance funds which the city received from the county on Sept. 17.
On the same day, an official ground breaking ceremony was held and upon the planting of the first leg of the grandstand this past Monday, the saga of the Merrill Festival Grounds turned its first page.
The city is already looking to bring new events to the grounds.
An NTPA (National Tractor Pull Association) tractor pull, sponsored by River Valley Bank, has already been planned for July 9 and is an event Johnson and city leaders are quite excited about.
The pulls are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. with an Antique Tractor Pull followed by the NTPA event at 6 p.m. An antique tractor and engine show is also scheduled.
A single ticket purchase will allow onlookers admission to both pulls.
“It’s nice to see this moving forward,” Johnson said. “There hadn’t been any positive action at the former fairgrounds in decades. When the county had the property, they did nothing with it. The grandstand should have been replaced years ago, but it was never addressed. The newest buildings are at least 20 years old and the Schultz building is well over 100 years old. We are finally taking it down due to its dilapidated condition.
“The city is working miracles with the festival grounds in the very short time that we have had it. We have now raised a majority of the money needed for the Multi-Purpose building and the new Merrill Community Enrichment Center will be located inside.”
Johnson adds the city is continuing to look for ways to improve the grounds and possibilities for future events. Such possibilities including horse pulls, motocross, BMX and snowmobile races have also been discussed.