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Plans For New County Fairgrounds A Long Way Off

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In the near future, visitors to the Alachua County Fairgrounds can look forward to an old restroom with a renovated roof. But if all goes well, visitors may ultimately be attending the fair on new land, with new restrooms, a new livestock area, a covered arena and other features.

But, said Gina Peebles, assistant county manager for Public and Administrative Services, although the initial renderings for the fairgrounds have been drawn up since 2012, for the project to break ground by January 2017 hinges on two factors.

Concept Plan for new Fairgrounds, drafted in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Gina Peebles)

First, the commission must decide to add the fairgrounds project to its proposed project list for the ballot initiative to reauthorize the “Wild Spaces Public Places” referendum, approved in 2008.

Once that is done, the matter can be placed on the December 2016 ballot. If voters reauthorize it, the fairgrounds project can begin as much as a year and a half earlier than currently planned.

Secondly, the commission will have to wait until 2018 to receive funding from the county’s tourist development tax. The current estimate for the proposed fairgrounds, based on the 2012 plans, is $14 million, Peebles said, and is expected to be paid for through a combination of tourist development taxes and the general economic development budget.

In the meantime, since a large portion of the near $1.2 million allocated toward restoring the current fairgrounds will not be used, the board can discuss if it wants to allocate that amount toward the new fairgrounds and put the money in reserve until construction can begin.

However, Commissioner Ken Cornell said that once work begins on the fairgrounds, priority should be given to the agriculture community during the first phase.

“What has happened in the past is that the scope of the project has been expanded to include other activities, such as a potential civic center, auditorium, and amphitheater,” he said.

Based on the 2012 renderings, Peebles said the new fairgrounds layout will have a livestock area, midway and administrative office space.

Upon completion of the new county-owned fairgrounds, the commission can approve a “land swap” with Plum Creek Timber Company. This, however, is also contingent on the results of an appraisal for both the current fairgrounds and the 1,200-acre plot Plum Creek wants to trade.

Those results will likely come by the end of December.

Commissioner Mike Byerly said the commission wants to move the fairgrounds from its current site because it is old, substandard and needs repairs. He said it would be better used as a business or industrial park.

While the Alachua County Commission recently voted 4-1 to spend $12,000 to $15,000 to make minimal repairs to the fairgrounds’ restrooms, it nixed spending the originally proposed $1.2 million to renovate it on its current site. Instead, it will focus on taking the steps necessary to build the fairgrounds somewhere else. 

About Emily Braun

Emily is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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