By Tim Farley
A prominent Yukon banker has labeled a potential $8 million investment for the first phase of a new Canadian County fairgrounds the “most ridiculous waste of money.”
Randy Wright, president of Yukon National Bank, believes county commissioners and the county fair board should use the money to “fix up what they have.”
“It’s a waste of time and a waste of money,” Wright said.
Attendance at this year’s county fair was down and so were the number of agriculture and craft exhibitors, county officials have said. Attendance has been declining for several years, the officials said.
“They need to clean up and fix up what have,” Wright said. “They don’t have the attendance or the entries like they used to.”
District 2 Commissioner Dave Anderson attributed the lack of entries in all categories to the late start in distributing the entry books and forms to the public in advance of the fair.
County Fair Board Secretary Ted Mittelstaedt, who has been with the county fair board for more than 30 years, is responsible for disseminating the books.
“We need to do a better job of getting that information out,” Anderson said.
Mittelstaedt did not return telephone calls for comment.
“The entries are half of what they used to be,” Wright said. “We need to figure out how to make it grow. We need to build up the promotion (of the fair). By law, you must have a county fair but does that mean spending $47 million on a white elephant? I don’t think so.”
County commissioners have estimated they could spend as much as $47 million on a new fairgrounds after all phases are complete. Commissioners have narrowed their site selections to property at Interstate 40 and Highway 81 and to another location along State Highway 66. The land along SH 66 is currently owned by the county. The property at I-40 and Highway 81 is owned by the Jensen family and is the county’s leading candidate for a new fairgrounds.
Wright stressed that the county fair is a “dying event with no promotion.”
Instead, he said, county officials should examine the possibility of promoting new events, such as an equestrian program at Yukon High School.
“If you have something that’s taking off shouldn’t you take off with that instead of focusing on something that’s dying,” Wright said.
Anderson took exception to the “dying” comment.
“I don’t believe our fair is dying,” he said. “I do acknowledge we had a down year. FFA enrollment at the schools in the county has increased and I think they would utilize a better facility. If we had a better fairgrounds we could draw more events.”
District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader said a larger fairgrounds could draw small to medium-sized events that are currently held at the State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City.
“I could see those events being attracted to the Canadian County fairgrounds at a lower cost,” he said.
A new county fairgrounds is critical because of the “logistical nightmare” the current facility provides, Hader said.
“Everyone thought the county had more property than they do, but that (property) belongs to the city (El Reno),” he said.
Some of the land near the county fairgrounds has bee developed into a youth sports complex by El Reno, which owns the property. Other land around the fairgrounds can’t be developed because of flooding issues, the commissioners have said.
Anderson acknowledged the issue surrounding the property at I-40 and Highway 81 should be resolved in the next 30 days. He also said El Reno city officials have “brought to the table” ideas commissioners are exploring. Anderson declined to provide details.
El Reno Acting City Manager Matt White could not be reached for comment.