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After seeking fair study, Halifax County supes disavow it

SoVaNow.com / January 31, 2013
Halifax County supervisors are distancing themselves from a master plan they ordered for the Halifax County Fairgrounds— at a cost of $45,000 — that includes recommendations for spending up to $18 million to renovate the site to serve as a multi-purpose entertainment venue.

Using words like “ridiculous” and “unrealistic” to describe the fairgrounds proposal, supervisors left little doubt that it has little chance of becoming a reality.

“It came as a total shock to me,” said ED-1 supervisor J. T. Davis. “I thought we wanted the plan to show how we could use the property for economic development.”

He added, “$18 million is so far out the realm of possibility that it borders on being ridiculous. I would like for Dewberry [which did the study] to come back and explain to the board how this plan got so skewed to focus on the fairgrounds rather than on economic development possibilities.”

The supervisors were first presented with the fairgrounds study a week ago, during their annual two-day strategic retreat at Riverstone Technology Park. At the time, only one supervisor, William Fitzgerald, questioned a Dewberry representative about the emphasis on upgrading the fairgrounds to serve as a year-round entertainment and special events site.

The Board first ordered the fairgrounds master plan after finding itself in disagreement with members of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority over the use of the site by a potential industrial client. The company never materialized, but the courtship revealed potential problems with using the fairgrounds as a business and industry park — the stated reason for the county’s $3.5 million purchase of the roughly 250-acre site.

The master plan by Dewberry calls for extensive improvements to transform the fairgrounds into an all-purpose venue for festivals, concerts and banquets — in addition to the annual county fair — with the work to be carried out in phases over several years.

Under the Dewberry proposal, the fairgrounds’ exhibit hall would be renovated and expanded to accommodate various events. The property would gain new signage, ticket booths, an automobile museum, an upgraded tractor pull area and amphitheater, and other amenities.

The presentation of the master plan on Thursday afternoon of last week came on the heels of a morning discussion by the Board on the fiscal challenges Halifax County faces in upgrading its dilapidated courthouse.

“Public safety is our top priority,” said Board Finance Chairman Doug Bowman, who said the courthouse renovations must come first.

Bowman said the fairgrounds project ranks very low on his list.

“I felt they (Dewberry) were more concerned with the fairgrounds than anything else. We bought the property for other reasons, since it was strategically located and had the amenities needed for attracting businesses. What I had hoped to see from the master plan was more direction on the use of the property for economic development,” Bowman said.

Board Chairman Tom West also said he did not feel that the plan addressed the supervisors’ priorities for the site. “I wanted to see an area designated for the fair with improvements, when and if we could get grants or funding, with the remainder of it to be used for economic development. We get no income generated from the fair.”

West said he had attended one or two meetings of a community input group which met with Dewberry to discuss the future of the fairgrounds site. West said he believes most of the committee members did not understand the Board’s intent for the property.

ED-7 Supervisor Lottie Nunn said this week she could not “see spending that kind of money for the project. As a child I loved going to the fair, but having grown up in hard times, I would never have considered any such expensive plan. It’s the most ridiculous thing.”

A request for proposal for the fairgrounds study was issued by the county in June 2011, with a deadline for bids by July 20, 2011. The guidelines called for “suggested division(s) of the Fairground Property to provide a variety of developable tracts to be used for a variety of uses, such as light manufacturing, industrial, tourism/entertainment, and or commercial uses among others.”

The Board of Supervisors paid $45,000 to have the study carried out. It also named the committee that offered input on the plan, representing the county administration, School Board, the IDA, South Boston Speedway, the Board of Supervisors, the Heritage the Festival, Halifax County Department of Tourism, the County Ag Committee and the County Fair.

“This is not the focus that I had expected to see from this study,” said ED-3 supervisor Fitzgerald last week when the study was first presented to the Board.



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Comments

Why do these people want so badly to convert the Fairgrounds to an industrial park site? So they can spend the $18 million to build more shell buildings and infrastructure that will sit there for years UNUSED and begging for tenants?

At least the Fairgrounds can host a little honest entertainment for County residents- or is the concept of a County Fair too antiquated and innocent for modern HC?

It's pretty obvious to this HC taxpayer that neither the Supervisors nor the IDA have any real idea what they want, but if one of them gets something in their head, no matter how unworkable, they are going to pursue it and citizen input be damned.

Comments

"Board Chairman Tom West... said he believes most of the committee members did not understand the Board’s intent for the property"

Then why, pray tell Mr West, did you and the other Supervisors not explain exactly what the Board's intent for this property WAS?

Bulldoze the whole works- fairgrounds, speedway, all of it. Bulldoze the visitors' center too. There are other things that define quality of life besides revenue and industrial parks that sit empty.

Comments

Get ride of the Supervisor and the IDA. We need thing here to attract people not another hope or dream of low paying jobs that leave anyway. Put something here that make people want to stay. Great location for entertainment. Look what the great minds have done for Halifax County......


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