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Stephens County commissioners are looking at ways to expand the Stephens County fairgrounds to attract bigger events and keep the events it now hosts, but funding may be difficult.
On Monday, commissioners met with Mike Anderson, director of the Stephens County Fair & Expo Center, and Ken Shaw, representing Hope Construction, for an update on options they are considering.
Shaw, who is volunteering his time to examine ways to improve the Fair & Expo Center, told commissioners that raising the roof of the canopy just south of the Stephens County Arena is a possible option.
Raising the height about six feet would create enough clearance for horseriders, he said.
The clearance now is 13 feet.
County officials want to add about 400 animal pens to accommodate bigger events.
The fairgrounds brings in about $6 million to the community every year, but a bigger facility could increase that income to about $10 million, according to Anderson.
Dee Bowen, District 3 commissioner and board chairman, said his main concern is funding.
The fairgrounds does not have a steady source of income and no sales taxes or property taxes are set aside to support the facility, Bowen said.
While the Fair & Expo Center does make money on room and pen rentals, it doesn’t offset expenditures, which include about $30,000 in monthly labor costs, he said.
If the fairgrounds isn’t allowed to upgrade, whether through a tax or bond issue, the fairgrounds could lose some events it now hosts, Bowen said.
“We might as well lock the gates,” he said. “All we’ll have at that point is the free fair and the stock show.”
Darrell Sparks, District 1 commissioner, said room rents have never been raised, and Bowen said increasing fees would drive events away. Some people complain about the $25 rentals for stalls, but Bowen said the fee is low compared with rentals at some other fairgrounds.
“The fairgrounds was built for the community to enjoy,” Bowen said. “We need to remember that.”