The Delaware County Agricultural Society is seeking a 15-year renewal/continuation of the county’s 3% hotel bed tax, which was approved by voters in March 2016.
Agricultural Society President Tom Wright presented a slide presentation at the Delaware County Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday. Ag Society and Delaware County Fair Board members filled the seats at the morning meeting to show their support of the request.
The Delaware County Fairgrounds were originally in Powell, Wright said. In 1933, it was moved to Delaware, with the county owning the back of the grounds and the city owning the front. Events were originally housed in tents. The grandstand and track for harness racing was originally built in 1938. The majority of the facility’s buildings were built in the late 1930s and 1940s, he said. In addition, there was a swimming pool on the grounds where the current offices are.
Nowadays, many of those same facilities are showing their age and looking tired. In time for the running of the 75th Little Brown Jug, the grandstand is getting a $4.2 million facelift with matching funds from the state, with the help of state representatives Rick Carfagna and Kris Jordan. And funds from the bed tax have been used to date for capital improvements and infrastructure, such as water lines and drainage.
Wright said the Ag Society has prepared an ambitious three-phase plan to “grow this fairgrounds. We want to be that focal point in the county. We want to be the best fairgrounds in the state.”
Weather permitting, dirt will be turned next week on a new Agriculture Center at the site of the former Junior Fair Building (razed in 2019), Wright said. Other projects include year-round horse barns, a covered arena for multiple kinds of shows, sidewalks on Pennsylvania Avenue, and improvements to the Coliseum. The intent is for the fairgrounds to attract and book enough events that it will need a marketing manager.
In all, the Ag Society estimates it needs to make $42 million in improvements over the next 15 years. From May 2016 to July 2018, the countywide tax collected more than $3.7 million, exceeding original estimates, The Gazette previously reported.
“We’re just trying to be proactive and set ourselves up for success,” Wright said.
County Administrator Michael Frommer added the amount need to make all the proposed improvements at the fairgrounds over the next 15 years could end up ranging from $35 to $60 million, depending on how efficiently projects are managed, as well as potential cost increases.
“There’s so many buildings that need to be upgraded to be next-generation,” said Commissioner Barb Lewis.
“I don’t think the request for 15 years is out of line,” said Commissioner Gary Merrell. “I applaud the work you (the Ag Society) did.”
County Commissioner Jeff Benton said the 15-year tax extension would mean the fairgrounds wouldn’t have to rely on future commissioners, and that the current revenue stream should be able to provide funding for the projects.
“I know how important the Little Brown Jug is,” Benton said. “It’s an international event, drawing people from Australia and Canada. This will transform the fairgrounds to attract other events.”
If commissioners vote to place the bed tax renewal before voters in an upcoming election, the formal language would be “Renewal/Continuation Of The Excise Tax On The Lodging Of Transient Guests For The Benefit Of The Delaware County Fairgrounds.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.