By Conrad Dudderar
It took more than two years of planning and preparation.
For Canadian County leaders and many citizens, the wait was worth it.
The Canadian County Expo & Event Center, 3001 Jensen Road in El Reno, opened last weekend with the Rope the Rockies’ Oklahoma Roping Championships. Construction is wrapping up on the center’s estimated $15.2 million first phase.
“I’m grateful the facility is operating,” said Nathan Smith, director of the Canadian County Expo & Event Center. “This weekend’s customers’ comments make us feel proud of the work that has been done.”
The Rope the Rockies’ Oklahoma Roping Championships was the first of many bookings already scheduled at Canadian County’s spacious new fairgrounds’ facility at Jensen and Alfadale roads.
“The customer has re-booked for 2022 and is planning on adding another event,” Smith said.
Canadian County Commissioners in June 2019 hired Smith as the director of the Canadian County Expo & Event Center. Smith’s job has been to promote the county’s new venue.
And promote he has, having been busy booking the facilities many months before Canadian County took occupancy.
There are several other weekend bookings in coming weeks at Canadian County’s new Expo & Event Center – an Oklahoma Horse Show Association show, a
Southwest Reined Cow Horse Association event and an American Kennel Club dog show.
And, for the first time in more than 50 years, the annual Canadian County Free Fair will be at a new place – moving from its longtime home at 220 N Country Club Road.
The 67th county fair will be presented Aug. 23-29 at the new multi-use fairgrounds facility, built on a 50-acre site southeast of El Reno.
“Other events are booked through the fall and winter, including gun shows, a reptile show, monster truck show, and wrestling tournaments,” Smith said.
The new Canadian County Expo Center is just south of Interstate 40.
It features a 19,000 square foot event center, 46,000 square foot indoor arena, 19,000 square foot open-air pavilion, and some 15,000 square feet of office space.
“For the taxpayers, I’ll say it makes me grateful to drive by the gas station this morning and see trucks and trailers at the pumps and in the parking lot of a hotel,” Smith said.
“As we grow as a facility, so will our events and I look forward to our restaurant owners, hotel managers and shop owners knowing something is going on at the new Expo & Event Center because their business sees an increase that weekend.”
A LITTLE HISTORY
Canadian County’s new expo center offers an option to the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City.
The facility will be able to host many other activities – such as concerts, graduations, farm and ranch expos, and more.
Canadian County in fall 2018 entered into an agreement with the Jensen family to purchase the future county fairgrounds’ property for $1.25 million. The deal was closed in April 2019.
The county has an option to purchase another 50 acres if needed for further development.
The Canadian County Public Facilities Authority, comprised of the three county commissioners, hired Lingo Construction in July 2019 as construction manager for the project’s first phase.
A highly competitive bid process in May 2020 led to a $15.24 million maximum cost for first phase of the construction project. A December 2019 cost estimate was $16.1 million.
Canadian County Commission Chairman Jack Stewart attended the opening event and was quite pleased with the “end product”.
“I’m very impressed with the job Lingo Construction has done, the design by our architect Populus and all the bookings by the center’s director, Nathan Smith,” the District 3 commissioner said. “All have done a great job to bring this together.
“This is going to be the ‘jewel’ of the county.”
A dedication ceremony is planned Monday, Aug. 23 to help kick off the annual Canadian County Free Fair.
Meanwhile, Smith thanked those responsible for making the new Canadian County Expo & Event Center a reality – leading off with the county’s elected leaders and fair board members.
“Without the commissioners, Marc Hader, Dave Anderson and Jack Stewart, this facility and its vision would not exist,” he said. “They put in the work and have continually supported our staff with solutions.
“Some specific folks whole have consistently lent a hand include Brad Tipton, Ken Carpenter, Kim Kaes, and Justin Atkinson.”
The new center’s director credited Lingo Construction, specifically Jacob and Stan Lingo as well as Ray Hurst, for continually having “our best interest at heart.”
“We are better because of them,” Smith said.
He also thanked facility staff members Charlie, Christ, Louise, Jose, and Mandy, for putting in “long hours” preparing for the opening.