The County Board received preliminary plans from the Hoisington Koegler firm to make Graham Park (The County Fairgrounds) into a more user friendly and year-round space. The park will still retain all the functions for the county fair; however, the park sits idle for most of the year when not in use for the fair. The plan includes retaining the four sheets of ice for hockey and other uses and the buildings that house them.
Currently, the county receives only a modest income from Graham Park. A great deal more income could be generated by adding multi-purpose buildings; those buildings could be rented out for private and community events all year long. (Some buildings have already been renovated and are currently producing income from weddings, receptions, graduation parties and other events.) The County Board submitted a bonding request to the State Legislature for $10 million for planning and building a multi-purpose structure.
The concept plan submitted by Hoisington Koegler includes, landscaping for community festivals and other events plus the renovation or re-purposing of other existing buildings. The cost placed on the total plan submitted by Hoisington Koegler is $53 million. If the plan is accepted it would be phased in over a number of years as revenue from rental increases, bonding money becomes available and willing private-public partnerships contribute to the project.
The northeast corner of the park (where a county building now stands) is the potential site for a parking structure that would be part of the future transportation plans for the city. However, the indefinite nature of the transportation plans leaves this area of the park in question.
At this time, I support the planning for renovations for a number of reasons.
- The park can become a center of activity for many purposes, not just for the county fair
- The park can attract regional events to the park that will benefit businesses and the workforce in the county.
- The plan allow for the preservation of the WPA buildings (Structures that were built in the 1930’s under the auspices of the Work Projects Administration which was part of FDR’s New Deal)
- Spaces are planned for all ages to enjoy the outdoors
- The park can become a community gathering place as well as a place for urban respite
- The county fair will have a better space and multi-purpose buildings will attract more farm and agricultural shows.
To move forward, revenue must be realized, bonding must be secured, private-public contributions must be sought, a careful plan must be agreed upon, and support from the general public must be garnered.