By Tim Farley
EL RENO – Canadian County commissioners approved a contract with an architectural firm to evaluate property at Interstate 40 and Highway 81 as a site for the new fairgrounds and its potential for commercial development.
Populous, with an office in Norman, is a global architectural design firm that specializes in creating environments and venues which draw communities and people together.
The property at I-40 and Highway 81 is owned by the Jensen family of El Reno. The work completed by Populous would be presented to the family for its review. If the Jensens approve of the plan, the new fairgrounds would be placed on their property, the commissioners indicated during their Monday meeting.
“Part of the scope of work involves working with the city (El Reno) and the Jensen family to identify pipelines and how much property would have to be involved,” District 2 Commissioner David Anderson said.
The county will pay Populous $24,822 for the Jensen site plan study. A schematic design would follow later depending on the site commissioners choose for the fairgrounds. A second option for the fairgrounds is land located east of the juvenile justice center along Highway 66. The county already owns that property.
“This first phase is a step we need to take to explore a potential site,” Anderson said.
Brad Tipton, a longtime Canadian County extension center agent who is now retired, was excited the commissioners were moving forward with the project.
“This is the right step to let the experts get involved,” he said. “We want to get the best facility the county can come up with. Either way, this is a golden opportunity. Once the experts are on board, let them do their fact finding.”
Renovating or moving the fairgrounds has been a source of controversy for several years as livestock shows reportedly have outgrown the current fairgrounds facility. However, critics of the plan to move the fairgrounds contend the shows are not well attended and there is no reason to spend millions of dollars.
Money from the county’s use tax would provide funding for the project, which fair board members mentioned during Monday’s meeting. Fair board members said the location is the only detail preventing the project from moving forward.
In 2016, the commissioners contracted with market study and economic analysis consultant Convention Sports and Leisure Intl., (CS&L) to investigate “market opportunities and economic impacts specific to the Canadian County Fairgrounds.
The fairgrounds, located in El Reno since 1954, does not meet modern accessibility and code requirements, the CS&L study found. A new and improved fairground complex is projected to make the grounds more competitive and increase revenue with more traffic.
The study found that larger events are going to other counties.
After analyzing CS&L’s study, Populous recommended a relocation of the fairground site, stating that the recommendations by CSL could not be accommodated at the current location. Populous stated it would create an increased truck and trailer traffic through local neighborhoods and the school sports complex, among other issues with remodeling or expanding the fairgrounds at the current location.
Populous recommended a minimum of 110-120 acres of land to allow for “future growth and expansion of the event campus over time,” the study reads.
Their conceptual site plan recommended a location with highway or interstate access and would require construction of “critical mass in order to functionally operate and generate a sustainable level of events and community economic impact.”