(Posted May 17, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
One of the largest and oldest structures on the Madison County Fairgrounds is no more. Over the past several weeks, crews dismantled the grandstand that stood on the grounds for more than a century.
The structure had sat idle for the past several years. Due to deterioration, the Madison County Fair Board closed off the grandstands’ far east and far west seating sections in 2018, then deemed the entire building off-limits in 2019 after the county’s insurance company and a structural engineer declared it not safe for occupancy.
“The structural supports were rotten at the ground… Wood that should be straight was bowed badly,” said Paul Gross, fair board president, adding that rot also was a problem six feet up in places.
The estimated cost to restore the building was $800,000.
“Even that would have been a temporary fix,” Gross said.
The decision to tear down the grandstand came as part of a new revitalization plan for the future of the entire fairgrounds, Gross explained. A civil engineering firm took a look at the property, then developed a plan that addresses everything from land use to traffic flow.
“Part of what they found is that 40 percent of our real estate isn’t being used for fair purposes or any other purpose during the year–that area used to be the track,” Gross said.
At one time, horse racing was a primary activity at the county fair. Racing no longer takes place.
“That was a big part of the decision (to remove the grandstand). Why have a grandstand facing unused property equal to 40 percent?” Gross continued.
The revitalization plan calls for using part of the former track area for hundreds of new parking spaces.
“Parking always has been a real issue. It’s probably the top complaint every year at the fair,” Gross said. “So, part of the revitalization plan is that, in the infield, we’re going to create a massive parking lot. It will provide lots more parking and improve the traffic flow on the grounds.”
The plan also calls for an amphitheater facing a stage in what is now the track area. Grass seating will be created by mounding up dirt. Bleachers will flank either side of the grass seating area.
Part of the former infield will be dedicated to space for events such as the demolition derby, rodeo, monster trucks, dirt drag races, tug-a-truck, motocross and truck pulls, all of which are on the schedule for the 2022 Madison County Fair.
Other improvements in the revitalization plan are installation of an open-air pavilion, construction of a second set of bathrooms with a shower house next to the camping area, and installation of an outdoor steer tie-out area, among other improvements.
As for a timeline for these changes, Gross said the fair board’s budget will dictate what gets done when.
“We want to do things as cost effectively as possible but, at the same time, as fast as possible. Some things we are trying to get ready for this year’s fair; some might be five years down the road. We hope to have the open-air pavilion and the mounded grass done for this year’s fair.”
This year’s Madison County Fair is July 9-16.
In the meantime, the plan is to recycle as much of the salvaged grandstand materials as possible and sell the rest for scrap. Some of the wood will be repurposed around the fairgrounds, some will be sold as reclaimed wood, and some might be made available to the public to purchase for nostalgic reasons, Gross said.
Demolition started several weeks ago.
“We could have had it done in a week, but we wanted to recycle and save as much as we could. We went the path that was clearly longer but, I think, much more responsible,” Gross said.