Plans to spend $1.188 million to renovate the auditorium/ exhibit hall building at the Alachua County fairground have been canceled as the county proceeded with plans to swap the fairground land with land owned by Plum Creek.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to only renovate the bathrooms attached to the hall at a cost of only $15,000.
“The idea is to spend as little as possible to get out of the site and into the new one,” said County Commissioner Mike Byerly.
Alachua County is negotiating swapping the 100-acre county fairground land for 1,200 acres currently owned by Plum Creek. The land, known as “Parcel E,” would create a larger conservation area by connecting Newnan’s Lake Conservation Area and Balu Forest.
The new fairgrounds would be located by the Leveda Brown Environmental Facility.
According to Alachua County Attorney, Michele Lieberman, the deal will be a no cash land exchange. This means there are certain restrictions that apply to the process because there will be no sale and an option for sale does not have to be made public.
The county cannot swap the fairground land until there is a new fairground facility, and the current land can be marked as surplus. Gina Peebles, Alachua County assistant manager, presented the county’s plans to move the fairgrounds to land near the environmental facility.
The county fairgrounds are currently used to host the Youth Fair and the County Fair.
Peebles said the bathrooms and the hall have been leaking for many years. She noted that some of the vendors and fairgoers have complained about the leaks and could even point out where they are.
According to Peebles, the county could begin construction in September 2018, and construction would take about 18 months.
The majority of commissioners’ discussion surrounded the timber on Parcel. Plum Creek has offered to swap the land under the conditions they could clear-cut about 800 acres worth of timber determined to be “merchantable,” meaning salable. Some commissioners said debating the conditions on the contract at the meeting was premature because they do not know the value of the timber yet.
“We know [the new fairgrounds site] is going to be in surplus in 3-5 years, so it’s okay to operate under that assumption,” said County Commissioner Hutch Hutchinson.
Three appraisals will evaluate the value of the current fairgrounds, the timber value and the value of parcel E. The value of parcel E will be determined based on whether or not Plum Creek clear cuts the timber, or if they thin out some of the timber. The appraisals are expected to be completed on Dec. 15.
The county staff has not yet walked the land, but in a letter issued by the county to Plum Creek today, is requiring a field tour prior to the swap.
Over a hundred concerned residents packed the City Commission Auditorium in a meeting that lasted from 6 p.m. to midnight Thursday evening. Attendance was so high that many needed to watch the meeting from an overflow room downstairs.