Campaign starts to show support for fairgrounds events center

TUESDAY, SEPT. 18, 2007

Kootenai County residents and businesses need to show the County Commission they want an 80,000-square-foot multiuse events center at the fairgrounds by getting out their pocketbooks and donating.

The Kootenai County Fair Board kicked off its campaign Monday to raise $5 million to prove the interest in the events center. The center is touted to boost the economy, especially in the winter, and keep big trade shows and other events from turning to Spokane where larger facilities, such as the Spokane Arena, are available.

If the fundraising campaign is successful, the fair board and some business people hope that the Kootenai County Commission will put a $14 million bond issue on the November 2008 ballot to fund construction of the events center at the fairgrounds off Government Way.

“Spokane is constantly knocking at our door,” Lisa Adlard, of Funtastics, told about 35 people gathered to launch the events center campaign. “That’s not what we want to do. We want to be a part of Kootenai County and keep the money here.”

Adlard’s Great West Gym Fest has grown to 1,780 youths but the event can’t get any bigger because there isn’t a place in Kootenai County with enough space.

It’s not just a problem for gymnasts. Soccer clubs, auto dealers, 4-H directors and local builders all spoke about the lack of room to enable groups to host large indoor events where North Idaho’s erratic weather isn’t a limiting factor.

This year car dealers dropped an idea for a new car show because they couldn’t find enough indoor space to show off the autos.

“It would be a huge shot in the arm for us to hold an event like this,” said Rita Sims Snyder, of Coeur d’Alene Honda.

Commissioner Rich Piazza said there’s a need for an events center and the fairgrounds is a good location. Yet he wants to know that there is enough community support, especially with all the other large projects residents have contributed to lately, such as the Kroc Community Center, new Coeur d’Alene Library, and Boys and Girls Club in Post Falls.

“It’s key to us to know whether people really want it or not,” Piazza said, adding there’s no reason to put something on the ballot if people don’t want it.

He would like to see a community survey, other than the one conducted during the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo because Piazza said that’s a skewed audience.

Of the people surveyed during the August fair, 67 percent said they would financially support the project.

Businessman Merlin Berger who is leading the fundraising campaign, said the next step is finding if that means people are willing to donate $5 or $5,000.

The idea for an events center isn’t new. The fair board has kicked around the proposal for more than a decade and had a study and architectural rendition done in 1993. It’s a trend that’s happening across the West as small county fairgrounds look at additional ways to use their space and bring in more money.

The idea became more realistic when the city of Coeur d’Alene agreed last year to provide sewer service to the 80-acre county fairgrounds. The fairgrounds is an island of county land surrounded by the city and was unable to expand because no septic system space was available.

Earlier this year, the fair board hired a Washington State University professor to conduct a market study. The results showed instead of improving the existing buildings that a large events center was needed, said Fair Manager Chris Holloway.

Holloway said the vision is to build an 80,000 square-foot building that could be reconfigured depending on the need for the event.

A group could use the entire space for the auto show or the center could be divided into three separate sections where different events could happen at the same time.

“It’s just so multi-functional,” she said. “You could have everything from theater in the round to a trade show. We just found a real need in the community.”

The proposed design is modeled on an events center in Medicine Hat, Alberta. The board has been working with Ron Edwards, a past president of the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede Board.

“This is a facility that will start from the grassroots,” Holloway said. “The community needs to show the need for the building and that they would like to see it built.”

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