Woodward, Okla. —
Woodward County voters will soon decide whether to adopt a new half-cent sales tax to pay for proposed renovations to the county fairgrounds.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday for voters to cast their ballots on the measure. The renovations, which include construction of a new 60,000 square foot expo center and other improvements, are estimated to cost around $12.4 million.
COUNTY LEADERS SAY UPDATE NEEDED NOW
Several county leaders believe that a variety of issues at the county fairgrounds show just how needed the renovations are.
With the "newest" building at the fairgrounds being 60-years-old, Woodward Chamber of Commerce President C. J. Montgomery said "the time is now to take the next step."
County Commissioner Tommy Roedell said, "Our current facilities are needing more and more repairs all the time. We currently don't have a facility with heating or air conditioning. I've been out there times when it was either very hot or very cold and it's just uncomfortable for people that our facilities don't have any kind of climate control."
Bill Fanning, co-chairman of the district 4-H and FFA livestock show, said, "During the district livestock show, the barn west of the arena building where lambs and goats go is terrible. It's an old, out-dated barn, and it needs remodeled desperately. The wash racks in there don't work; it drains out across the parking lot. It's just in horrible condition."
In addition to these problems, these county leaders say the current facilities are inadequate for the size of the events for which they're used.
Fanning said the district livestock show "fills that space up in March. We have about 1,500 animals entered typically each year and we don't have room to house that many right now."
Ira Smith, with Smith and Co Auction and Realty, agreed with the need for an expansion of the current fairgrounds facilities.
Like the district livestock show, Smith said the Northwestern Electric banquet as well as the Friends of the NRA banquet have both outgrown the facilities. With an upgrade, he said the fairgrounds would be able to accommodate their needs once again.
As an auctioneer who's been involved with agriculture business at fairgrounds throughout the tri-state area since the 1980s, Smith also said he has observed how bigger fairgrounds would benefit other agricultural events held at the facility.
"Number one thing I've noticed is we need a bigger facility that can house more, both people as well as physically more," he said. "With the ag crowd, the livestock crowd, the horse crowd, pretty much any time you're dealing with something agriculture related, it's physically bigger. We've outgrown that facility quite some time ago and right now I don't think we're seeing near the potential of the fairgrounds because we don't have the facilities to house it."
So more than just accommodating current events, county leaders believe an increase in size to the fair barns and other proposed updates will help Woodward County to attract new events.
"This would open up numerous new events that we'll be able to compete for that previously we've been unable to do, such as national horse and cattle organizations, larger agribusiness shows, large RV shows, things we're unable to right now," Montgomery said.
Smith stated, "I travel Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas and see these large agriculture shows we're missing out on, and with this upgrade we'll be able to attract those shows here. Right now we're missing out on those opportunities."
But for Montgomery the limitations of the current fairground facilities mean more than just missing opportunities, they point to Woodward County failing to uphold it's regional responsibilities.
"Woodward is a regional trade center, a regional hub, and we believe its our responsibility to provide those venues for regional events. Right now there are events passing through Woodward to other areas that are able to facilitate their needs, and we need to make Woodward their final destination," Montgomery said.
MANY TO SHARE IN COSTS AND BENEFITS
For those with concerns about the renovation costs, Montgomery said that the project's approximate $12.4 million price tag is "a liberal estimate."
"Those close to the project do not expect it to cost that much. We list $12 million because we'd prefer to be at the upper end than to underestimate its cost," he said.
He also explained that the half-cent sales tax that will go toward repaying cost of construction is only temporary.
"After the building has been paid for, a tenth-penny sales tax will take over after that to fund maintenance and staff," Montgomery said. "If we're going to have a world class facility it will need to be maintained."
The Chamber president went on to say Woodward residents will not be the only ones footing the bill.
"The best news is the cost of a project like this will be shared by in large Woodward's multi-county trade area. The 65,000 to 70,000 people who live nearby and come to Woodward to shop our businesses, who will also benefit from the traffic brought to the area by the fairgrounds as well, will also help pay for it," he said.
Smith agreed, saying, "It may cost a decent amount of money, everything nowadays costs quite a bit of money, but the people brought into town by the new fairgrounds, even though they don't live here, will help pay for the renovations with the things they buy. The architectural firm advising us expects about one-third of the cost to be paid for by out-of-town revenue."
In addition to local businesses that will benefit from the added traffic, youth organizations such as FFA and 4-H stand to benefit as well.
"We have the premiere district livestock show, we fill that thing up in March, so these renovations and expansions will be real helpful for our show," Fanning said, noting "We'd have adequate wash racks and we'd have room to house the animals."
He went on to say just how important livestock shows are to youth groups like 4H and FFA.
"All the profits from our premium auction go back to 4H and FFA. Our premium auction raised $242,280 last year, that's huge. We raised more than Enid's district livestock show, so it's a big event," he said.
"These renovations undoubtedly benefit the young people of our community," Montgomery agreed, but added, "That's just the tip of the iceberg for how they'll help out Woodward. Renovations to the Woodward County fairgrounds will enhance our growth, and they're our next logical step."