Jefferson County to try and preserve youth activities at fairgrounds

County Manager exploring public/private partnership

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/4/20

The Jefferson County Commissioners have directed county staff to pursue options for the fairgrounds that would allow the preservation of youth, equine and agricultural activities that currently take …

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Jefferson County to try and preserve youth activities at fairgrounds

County Manager exploring public/private partnership

Posted

The Jefferson County Commissioners have directed county staff to pursue options for the fairgrounds that would allow the preservation of youth, equine and agricultural activities that currently take place there.

The commissioners offered that direction, which also calls for preserving the fairgrounds as a place where county residents can house their livestock in an emergency, at the end of a four hour-plus long meeting that saw dozens of residents give passionate pleas to the commissioners to save the fairgrounds.

The vast majority of those comments were focused on the need to preserve the fairgrounds for youth activities like Westernaires and 4-H. The commissioners noted that their recommendation was a response to the particular importance residents seemed to be placing on those activities over others that take place at the fairgrounds.

In a presentation to the commissioners, County Manager Don Davis explained that a plan for preserving the fairgrounds could come involve allowing Jefferson County Open Space to purchase the fairgrounds and then partner with a private community group to manage the day-to-day operations of the facilities there.

“We believe that’s a viable path forward to preserve those (youth, agricultural and equine) activities in Jefferson County, because of how important we heard that was, and that we could partner with the community on possible solutions,” said Davis. “So that’s what we are recommending going forward.”

Such a plan would allow the fairground’s $1.8 million budget to come off the books of the county’s general fund as the county is seeking $12.5 million in cuts to its budget.

Friends of the Fairgrounds

Davis’ recommendation came after Robin Driggers, a Morrison veterinarian and leader of 4-H activities, told the commissioners she is a member of newly formed group called Friends of the Jefferson County Fairgrounds that wants to preserve the fairgrounds by taking over operation of the it via a public/private partnership with the county.

“As you finalize recommendations, please allow us to bring forth a business plan to consider running the fairgrounds in its entirety, by entering into a contract with Open Space and the county,” Driggers said to the commissioners.

Driggers said funding of the fairgrounds would come via “continued events income as well as sponsorship and grants not open to government.”

But while Davis said such a plan would likely allow the county to maintain space for youth activities, it would likely mean that the fairgrounds would no longer be able to be used for many of the 1,200 events a year that currently take place around the facility.

That’s because many of those events, which range from professional wrestling shows to the annual Jefferson County Public Library’s used book sale, are not compatible with the Jeffco Open Space founding resolution which requires that activities taking place at properties managed by Jeffco Open Space relate to outdoor recreation.

Tom Hoby, the director of Jeffco Open Space, echoed that concern, but noted it could be possible for such activities to continue at the space under a public/private partnership.

“We will need to figure that piece out as we move ahead,” he said. “If we want to preserve the whole package how do we do that and allow for some of the uses like VW bug shows and pinball shows to be held there that would be a key component for the nonprofit to be looking at.”

Davis also said that even a public/private partnership would not be able to save the entire fairgrounds given the cost of maintaining the whole facility, and proposed that any effort be focused on saving the facilities most vital to youth, agricultural and equine activities. Facilities that are not be able to be maintained could be converted to other county uses, such as centralized DMV office, as the county continues to look for potential cost savings.

All three of the commissioners expressed support for Davis’ solution, even though it would likely mean both the size of the fairgrounds and the amount of activities it could offer would be reduced.

“Unfortunately whenever you want to save money it doesn’t come without reducing services but I think this an innovative solution,” said Commissioner Casey Tighe. “At the end of the day we’ve got to figure out this budget challenge but if we can keep a big piece of the fairgrounds together that makes sense.”

However, Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper said that while trying to “create a plan that addresses the issues (residents) care about makes sense,” citizens ultimately need to understand the deeper county budget issues that have put the fairgrounds, and myriad other county services, in jeopardy.

“I think another piece of this too is where do we continue to look at ongoing funding for the county,” said Dahlkemper. “And unless we have that solution solved, we are going to be right here next year and the following year and the year after that. So I would say that you help us find that path forward and that means we’ve got to talk about TABOR, we’ve got to talk about a continuing revenue source. And we’ve got to do a better job of communicating where those dollars go and how they support the values we care about.”

Davis said the next steps would be to form a fairgrounds taskforce to look into a private/partnership.

The fairgrounds will honor all event contracts in place for 2020 but is not currently taking any reservations for events beyond the end of the year.

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