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Fairgrounds master plan perturbs county supervisors

Halifax County Supervisors are disturbed and disappointed over the master plan for the almost 250-acre Halifax County Fairgrounds that Dewberry of Danville unveiled last week during the board’s strategic planning session held at Riverstone.

Calling for $18.3 million in 11 proposed phases, the master plan envisions costly expansions and redevelopment of the fairgrounds property with its primary purpose being to host concerts, festivals, conferences, weddings and other special events.


In addition to water and sewer upgrades, the plan also includes the addition of an automotive museum, new entrance gates, entry sign, food pavilions, a Heritage Center, History Village, a circle plaza with center stage, new ticket pavilions, first aid station, public toilets, expansion of the equestrian show area, relocation of the midway and improved parking.


Instead of making the property an expensive state-of-the-art fairgrounds, supervisors said they were expecting the plan to focus on how it could be used to promote economic and industrial development by attracting jobs to the county.


A portion of the understanding of the project in the contract between the board and Dewberry reads: “The county wishes to develop the remaining undeveloped land for light industrial and or commercial use in mixed development.”


In the county’s request for proposal for the fairgrounds master plan, the scope of services also included “Suggested divisions of the fairground property to provide a variety of developable tracts to be used for a variety of uses, such as light manufacturing, industrial, tourism/entertainment and or commercial uses, among others.”


Several supervisors were quick to express their surprise and dismay after Dewberry senior associate J. Paul Lewis presented the master plan that cost the county $45,000.


ED-8 Supervisor W. Bryant Claiborne declared county money will not be used to pay for the fairgrounds master plan presented Thursday afternoon.


 “I was quite perturbed with it,” said Claiborne. “We were all shocked. I don’t know where they got the idea we just wanted to focus on the fairgrounds. We were expecting a feasibility and viability study on the possibilities of how that land could be used. When that property was purchased, it was bought for bringing jobs in here and for the betterment of the county.


“Why would we want to put $18 million in developing a fairgrounds. That’s stupid. Dewberry should have known better than that,” Claiborne added.


“They’re not going to get paid. They’ll have to take us to court for that,” he said. 


Supervisor Chairman Tom West, who served on the steering committee offering ideas and suggestions on how the property could best be used, said he was expecting the master plan “to give us a rough plan designating an area set aside for the fairgrounds and using the rest for economic development.”


West agreed with Claiborne that all of the supervisors were surprised when the master plan was revealed.


ED-3 Supervisor William Fitzgerald said he had the understanding the firm was charged with evaluating the land and advising the board on its best use.


“Tom West and Wayne Conner had this understanding too,” Fitzgerald added. “It appears somewhere that this charge or focus was changed, and I don’t know who changed it. I certainly would like to get to the bottom of this.


“The report they gave was not what I had expected. Not at all,” he said, adding, “All it did was point out the shortcomings of the fair.”


ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman said he believes “the study missed the mark on the purpose,” and having a “year-round event place” for the county is low on his priority list.


“It (the master plan) was all about dressing up the fairgrounds and making it an all-year event place. That’s just not a priority item for me. What we do with the fairgrounds is not as important as what we do with the whole site,” he added.


“I was basically disappointed,” the ED-4 Supervisor said.


County Administrator Jim Halasz, who was hired after supervisors had contracted with Dewberry to perform the study, said it appears the board is ready “to go back to the drawing board” to find other economic and industrial development uses for the property.


“I think the fairgrounds study showed one vision for how the property can be used, and now we need to explore other visions,” he said.



Project phasing

The construction and renovations of the project shown in the master plan were separated into phases.

• Phase One: The creation of an outdoor activity area will include the installation of new water and sewer to serve proposed camping sites. Cost of the outdoor activity area is estimated to be $201,700, while the cost for the water and sewer installation is estimated to be $1,204,000.

• Phase Two: The renovation and additions to the exhibit hall was ranked with the second highest priority. With an updated exterior and the addition of a catering kitchen, this space could be rented out for functions including weddings and banquets. The estimated cost for phase two is $2,573,750.

• Phase Three: New entry sign, entrance gate and roadway enhancements - $455,000.

• Phase Four: New food pavilions and circle plaza with center stage - $835,000.

• Phase Five: Amphitheater enhancements with entry plaza - $4,005,000.

• Phase Six: Equestrian show expansion - $222,500.

• Phase Seven – History Village and second entry plaza - $532,000.

• Phase Eight – New ticket pavilions, public toilets, first aid station and security station, $615,375.

• Phase Nine – Midway relocation/enhancements and parking enhancements - $3,150,000.

• Phase Ten – Livestock exhibit enhancements and relocated tractor pull - $1,558,750.

• Phase Eleven – Automotive museum/event center - $2,980,000.