The Delaware County Board of Commissioners recently took action to help improve the Delaware County Fairgrounds, which is set to host the 75th Little Brown Jug this year.
At their Feb. 3 meeting, commissioners first passed a resolution authorizing “the county administrator to approve and execute zoning applications and other petitions in support of the redevelopment and improvement of the Delaware County Fairgrounds,” the legislation reads.
“As you know, there’s a lot of activity with the bed tax funds and looking at new buildings, including some zoning and alley vacations and things like that,” county Administrator Mike Frommer said. “This will allow when we get those applications the ability for you guys to review for a week and give any comments or feedback, and we can execute them as not to delay their progress.”
“I know there had been a number of legal issues with subdivisions and alleys that were platted, and there are owners of different parcels, so this really helps move those sorts of projects along faster,” said Commissioner Jeff Benton. “It makes a lot of sense.”
Later in the meeting, Commissioner Barb Lewis brought up making improvements to the grandstand.
“Speaking of the fair, I was speaking with (state) Rep. Rick Carfagna and he wanted me to bring before you today a request for a local match,” Lewis said. “He and (state) Rep. Kris Jordan have been working with the fair board and the agricultural society, and they have requested funding of $1 million a year or $2 million for two years from the fiscal year 2021-22 capital budget, and it would be for grandstand improvements. They have asked that we give a $300,000 match per year from the bed tax — a total of $600,000 for two years that would come from the bed tax. This is what those moneys should be going for. They wanted something in writing.”
“It’s a recognition from the state that this is important to the whole state, not just Delaware County,” said Commissioner Gary Merrell.”
“All three of us support it,” Benton said. “The grandstand is in desperate need of improvements, and if we can get the state to invest $2 million over two years, that would go a long way towards fixing it. It needs new restrooms, a new elevator. It’s been neglected for decades, and it’s the centerpiece of the Jug, and all the harness racing we do there. It’s an important facility at the fairgrounds.
“I know they’ve got it in their plans, and if the state can help us achieve that sooner, it would just be wonderful,” Benton continued. “Using bed fund proceeds to fund the match makes sense, too, because that’s what they’re intended for, and the grandstand is a very high priority use of the bed tax funds.”
Voters approved a 3% hotel bed tax specifically for infrastructure improvements at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in March 2016.
The board sent a letter to the state representatives pledging matching funds up to $600,000 over two years from the levy. They noted the Little Brown Jug, which marks its 75th anniversary in 2020, attracts more than 40,000 spectators as well as 25,000 more to see races earlier in the week.
“The fairgrounds grandstand is an iconic structure in Delaware County and in the world of harness racing,” the commissioners wrote. “Originally built in the 1940s, it has been maintained and modified in piecemeal fashion over the decades, but is now in need of a major upgrade for safety, structural and accessibility reasons. Estimated to be a $4.2 million project, the upgrades would address a host of existing problems by: providing ADA-compliant accessibility in the restrooms; installing underground electrical wiring and transformers with AC (rather than outdated DC) power; replacing old cast iron sewer lines; replacing wood flooring where possible with concrete; replacing deteriorated vinyl railings with newer, more weather-resistant materials; installing a modern security system; and ensuring the grandstands as a whole are structurally sound.”
The letter concludes, “This board wholeheartedly supports this project and sincerely urges the state to allocate the funding necessary to ensure that the Delaware County Fairgrounds grandstand can safely continue on as a highly visible contributor to the history and economy of this county.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.