Reconfiguration of fair track begins
The idea has been swirling around for years, but it wasn’t until last week that the Steele County Fair began kicking around some dirt to make it become reality.
Steele County workers with excavating machines moved in on the north end of the Steele County Fairgrounds to rip out the race track as part of the fair’s “new reconfiguration area.” The large fence was taken down as well as concrete removed from the track that had been home to racing for decades.
“We’re moving dirt to reconfigure the area,” said fair manager Scott Kozelka. “As time goes on, we have to make these changes.”
In 2011, the fair board voted to reconfigure the race track, but the fair ran into numerous obstacles that prevented the project from gaining any traction. Fair president Dan Deml said lack of funding was the primary reason why the project stalled out as long as it has. “The costs were beyond the capability of the fair,” he said.
Deml said support was needed from the county, which owns the fairgrounds. While support wasn’t always readily available, Deml pointed out in the end “cooperation and working together” with the county finally pushed the project ahead.
“We are appreciative to the current county board,” Deml said. “They have been aggressive with moving forward with this project.”
Ripping up the race track has never been an easy decision for the fair board. “This has to be one of the toughest decisions the board has had to make,” said Wayne Steele, the fair’s publicity director. “To do this is really tough.”
The removal of the race track will be done in three stages, according to Kozelka. The second phase will remove the south side of the race track while the third phase will remove the east side. While officials are hoping it can be done much quicker, they are prepared for it to be a project that could last up to 10 years.
Regardless of how long the overall project takes, the first phase will be done in time for the 2019 fair, Kozelka said. The first phase will open up about 2.5 acres of land, which Kozelka will be busy in the off-season figuring out how to best utilize.
“We can’t tell you right now what is going to happen with the area because we don’t know,” Kozelka said. “We’re talking to a lot of different people about what could happen with it,” he noted. “It will all be utilized.”
With the Steele County Fair being the largest fair in the state with as many as 350,000 people attending each year, the race track has essentially caused the grounds to be land locked on the north end. Kozelka pointed out the track caused limited ability to move fairgoers from east to west across the grounds. In addition, the fair simply ran out of room to accommodate larger food vendors and commercial exhibitors with large displays.
“We don’t have room for things,” Kozelka said.
Added Deml., “It was obsolete.”
Parking will also be a primary consideration as the fair moves through the overall project in the coming years. “Lack of parking has always been a problem,” Kozelka said.
Racing hasn’t taken place at the fairgrounds since 2011. Most of the race track hasn’t been utilized in recent years.
Deml said the fair will be working closely with the county engineer to tile the area. He suggested that fixing the drainage issues may prevent the fair from cancelling future grandstand events like it has been forced to do in the past. “Hopefully with some of the things we’re doing, we can still have the events,” Deml said. “It’s not a guarantee, but it gives us a chance,” he added.
“If we want to be the best fair, we need to keep modernizing,” Deml said.
There are several revenue generating ideas being kicked around by the fair board in an effort to maximize the area that will be gained from the race track.
“This is a long range plan,” Steele said. “You’re not going to see something grandiose over there next year.”
Deml noted that whatever the fair decides to do, it will be with the best interests of fairgoers in mind. “We want to give people that come here the best possible experience,” he said. “It should be a real enhancement of the experience of being here. Because of the reconfiguration, we will have options and opportunities that we don’t have now.”
The fair will continue to provide racing events such as Enduro, Auto Cross and the Demolition Derby as part of its regular grandstand lineup.