If all goes as planned, by the end of the month, the Merrill community will have a brand new 20,000 square foot, $1.6 million Expo Hall and Community Enrichment Center to call their own.
Construction of the facility began last fall, and the construction schedule continues to chug along on-time, estimated completion is set for June 15.
According to City Administrator Dave Johnson, the Enrichment Center and Expo hall will be fully operational within one week of work being completed and will then vacate the Enrichment Center’s current home in the basement of City Hall.
“We knew something had to change with the enrichment center,” he said.
“During fire drills we had to carry our seniors upstairs at city hall and obviously, that’s just not safe. We now have expanded parking for the center as well as the entire building being handicapped accessible. “They deserve something better than what they had in the basement of city hall and now they will have a center they can come to and enjoy.”
The 6,000 foot fully air-conditioned center will feature staff office space as well as a craft room for the sale of crafts and classes on crafting, a craft shop for the creation of crafts, a sewing/quilting room and a conference/reading room.
The 14,000 square foot expo hall will be open to the public at a rental price of $450 per day, $350 for the second consecutive day and $250 for the third consecutive day; with $250 deposit. By doubling the deposit, renters will then garner use of the full sized commercial kitchen attached to the hall.
One more item city and center staff will be working on adding to the expo hall, is a removable rubber track to circle the perimeter of the hall’s concrete floor; for walking and other exercise activities.
Both the Enrichment Center and Expo Hall will have exclusive entrances. If the expo hall is rented or being used, the entrance leading from the center to the hall will be locked, according to Johnson.
Even though the hall has yet to be completed, events have already been booked through 2018, including: a gaming convention, MHS prom and Peppermint events as well as a Silver ‘M’ Club reunion.
Although Johnson and city staff believe the hall will provide a necessary purpose in the city, the facility hasn’t come about without its share of critics. In fact, many such critics have questioned the need for an Expo Hall with the existence of the Merrill Area Recreation Complex (MARC.)
“The MARC is designed more for recreational and athletics use and is under ice 6 months out of the year,” is Johnson’s answer.
“So it can only be used for public events the other 6 months of the year. There aren’t any windows at the MARC either. The Expo Center is not only open year round but has plenty of natural lighting and can accommodate most any type of event. The Expo Center isn’t meant to compete with the MARC, but to complement it. They are both there for the community to use and enjoy.”
When the building is finally completed, it will mark yet another goal fulfilled from when the city first took aim at taking possession of the Lincoln County Fairgrounds.
In fact, it was during a Lincoln County Public Property Committee meeting in July of 2014, when Mayor Bill Bialecki and Johnson were given the floor to speak. That night, Bialecki indicated the city could change the entire face of the then-dilapidated grounds, specifically mentioning the replacement of the grandstand and a possible expo center.
“Some have suggested the city take over the fairgrounds” Bialecki stated during his presentation.
“We have a pretty darn good track record of getting things done these last three years and I think we could create a good enterprise down there at the fairgrounds. I know we can get the job done, and we are asking you guys to hand it over, “The quality of the events we do have at the fairgrounds are slipping ever since we lost the grandstands in 2012,” he explained.
“With the insurance money for the grandstands, we can get the job done over there. If this transfer were to happen, my first priority would be getting a new grandstand structure built. I would like to see this transfer happen within the next year and if that was the case, the city would have a new grandstand up within the next year as well, and maybe some type of center or hall for events and so on later down the road. Our goal here is to get our fairgrounds back to the viable condition they once were, and once again attract the events and crowds they once did.”
And now three years later, Bialecki’s conceptual vision for the grounds has come to fruition with a new grandstand (finished in 2016), a renovated cattle barn and now, a new expo center.
“Its a great feeling to be successful in accomplishing everything we set out to do,” Johnson adds.
“We promised to replace the grandstand and we had a brand new 3,000 seat grandstand within a year of taking over the grounds. We said we wanted to take down the Schultz Building due to the condition it was in and within a little over a year we did just that. And now here we are finishing up an expo center that can serve as a safer home for our seniors and the Community Enrichment Center.”
Of the $1.6 million price tag on the building, all but $350,000 has been covered by donations from several organizations including the Bierman Family Foundation, Bader Foundation, Greenheck Foundation, and Judd Alexander Foundation.
According to Johnson, the remaining $350,000 will be absorbed into the city budget.
Check out the photo gallery below for a sneak peak at the new facility on Sales Street!