Consultants present preliminary fairgrounds feasibility study report
Rod Markin of Minneapolis, MN based Markin Consulting led a presentation Tuesday night at the Lincoln County Service Center, summarizing a preliminary report of the Lincoln County Fairgrounds Feasibility Study conducted this past fall. The presentation was given as a special meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors.
As part of the study, tours and assessments were performed of the various buildings on the grounds. According to Markin, all but the privately owned food stands were assessed by K/O Architects based out of Des Moines, Iowa. All buildings were graded on a 1-5 scale, 1 being rated “Very Poor” and 5 being “Excellent” condition. The results were less than favorable.
None of the buildings were found to be in excellent condition and only 17% were found to be in good condition. According to the study, 41% of the buildings were found to be in very poor condition and in need of immediate attention. The buildings identified in the “red zone” on a graph distributed by Markin were all the restroom facilities on the grounds, First Aid/Storage Shed as well as the Schulz building.
The Sell and Steckling Buildings, along with the Our Saviour’s food stand, were found to be in fair condition, while the livestock barn and announcers stand were found to be in poor condition. The private food stands were given a fair rating, despite consultants being unable to gain access.
According to Markin, cost estimates for upgrading the buildings are relatively high.
Those in need of immediate attention (restrooms, Schulz and first aid/storage shed) would cost an estimated $1.2 million. The Schulz Building alone comes in at an estimated $870,000, while the north, east and west restroom facilities are estimated to cost over $100,000 each.
Necessary upgrades include renovations for ADA compliance as well as addressing safety and clearance issues.
Markin’s report also included recommendations for which events would be most favorable for the grounds and least favorable.
Topping the recommended list are demolition derbies, snowmobile races and tractor pulls.
“The USSA has indicated they would be more than happy to bring their snowmobile races back to Merrill if they could,” Markin added.
Markin stated concerts would be possible at the fairgrounds, but large scale concerts may not be interested due to the current design.
“I think it’s very important to emphasize the need for pro-active marketing management here,” Markin added. “These events won’t come if you sit by the phone and wait for them to call. You will need to pursue them and try to sell them on your fairgrounds. Pro-active marketing is key to successful fairgrounds.”
He also added derbies, pulls and races may not generate large amounts of income, but they would draw people to the community.
To accommodate the events, Markin recommended a simple ADA compliant grandstand structure with roof over seating, over a berm system. He also recommended a minimum 320 foot track for pulls.
“A berm system seating area is designed for concerts and festival seating. It just would not be practical in this case,” Markin stated. Suggestions for other additions include a perimeter fence to assist with crowd control at paid events and camp sites.
Recommendations for items to be addressed immediately are the restroom facilities, safety and accessibility improvements and a grandstand structure. Some long term items Markin mentioned for consideration include a climate controlled Exhibition Building for year-round use such as craft and gun shows, and camp sites.
Estimated financial impact of attracting snowmobile races, demolition derbies and a Wisconsin Tractor Pull Association (WTPA) sponsored pull would total between $175,000 and $250,000.
Tuesday night’s report is strictly preliminary. The final report will be given at the next County Board meeting on Jan. 20.
While members of city and county government were present at the presentation, no official action was taken. During brief discussion, Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson and Mayor Bill Bialecki indicated the city is still interested in a possible exchange of ownership, as long as the grandstand insurance funds are included.