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You are here: Home Opinion Paula I. Bryant Back to the drawing board

Back to the drawing board

We expect several mouths were agape Thursday afternoon when senior associate J. Paul Lewis of Dewberry presented the board of supervisors with a master plan for the Halifax County Fairgrounds – complete with its $18.3 million price tag.

The master plan, which calls for improving the property and turning it into a year-round all-purpose venue for entertainment and special events, was not what supervisors thought they were going to get and not what they had asked for, according to ED-3 Supervisor Bill Fitzgerald.

Their reaction – total silence – told the story.

County Administrator Jim Halasz said the study, which cost $45,000, is expected to go straight back to the drawing board.

After supervisors bought the fairgrounds for $3.5 million in 2007, they requested development of this master plan, but supervisors said it was their understanding the architectural and engineering firm would evaluate the almost 250 acres of land and advise the board on its best use – possibly as a business or industrial park.

If it were found to be marketable for industrial and economic development, then supervisors were ready to advise the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority it was their’s for the marketing to an industrial or economic development prospect.

That’s the understanding Bill Fitzgerald said he had. “Tom (West) and Wayne (Conner) had this understanding too,” the ED-3 supervisor said this week. “It appears somewhere that this charge or focus was changed, and I don’t know who changed it.” 

Earlier the supervisors had sought input from a citizen committee that offered ideas and suggestions for how the property should be used.

Serving on that committee were representatives from Halifax County Department of Tourism, South Boston Speedway, school board, board of supervisors, Heritage Festival, ag committee and the fair.

As soon as the retreat ended Friday, the county administrator and supervisors scrambled to pull out the original contract with Dewberry to see exactly what charge was given the firm concerning the master plan for the fairground’s usage.

“I certainly would like to get to the bottom of this. That report they gave was not what I had expected, not at all,” the surprised ED-3 supervisor said this week.

Dewberry’s study just showed “one vision for how the property can be used,” the county administrator said.

In the Thursday presentation, supervisors listened as the Dewberry architect envisioned the redevelopment of the fairgrounds property for concerts, festivals, conferences, weddings and other special events.

The master plan further calls for costly expansions and improvements to the exhibit hall with 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, relocating the midway and improving parking and upgrading water and sewer are all included in the costly master plan “pipe dream” for the fairgrounds.

The majority of the study is based on the continuation of the county hosting the county fair for years to come, but what it falls short on is the possible economic, business and industrial development potential for the fairground acreage that supervisors had expected and thought they had sought.

The county shares a good working relationship with Dewberry, but since the focus seems to have gotten away from what board members wanted from the study, the whole project now appears to be headed back to the drawing board.

As supervisors begin budget talks facing needed improvements to the county courthouse which judges have deemed unsafe, a cramped sheriff’s office in desperate need of additional space, a new telephone system for the emergency dispatch center, new buses for the schools and the list goes on and on, there’s no wonder supervisors are distancing themselves as quickly as possible from the suggestions proposed in this fairgrounds master plan.

We agree, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.