Fair board focuses on improvements
The dilapidated condition of a number of buildings at the Hill County Fairgrounds has fair board members searching for ways to finance their repair.
Some buildings need new paint, others new roofing, and a select few need to be torn down entirely and rebuilt, fair manager Tim Solomon said. In an effort to devote more of the Great Northern Fair Board's budget to the maintenance of the buildings, the board is discussing ways to generate additional revenue during the fair and cut spending for some events.
"As fair manager, I'm looking for ways to improve the fairgrounds," Solomon said. "I'm looking for ways to generate revenue for the improvements."
The fair typically breaks even each year, Solomon said. The carnival and food booths usually generate good income, but are offset by the costs of the rodeo, demolition derby, night shows, and other acts, all of which cost more money than they bring in. The result is that there is little cash left over to pay for building maintenance, he said.
Among the neediest buildings at the fairgrounds is the arena, fair board members said during a meeting this week.
The structure is made of both wood and metal. The high humidity inside the arena during events has damaged the interior, Solomon said.
"It's worthless to keep throwing money at it," he said during the meeting. "You don't want to take a welder down there because he wouldn't know when to quit. At some point you have to start over."
Fair board member Julie Strauser agreed. "The arena is literally falling down around itself," she said. "If a horse ran into it, it would fall over."
Earlier this year, the county tore down the former grandstand at the fairgrounds. An engineer's assessment found the structure to be failing. The grandstand was replaced with bleachers, which seat 700 fewer people.
"As for a permanent solution - I look at these as a temporary thing until we can get something a little better," Solomon said.
The age of the buildings at the fairgrounds has made them obsolete, he added
"All the buildings are very old and all are in dire need of repair," he said. "Most of the buildings at the fairgrounds are older than the people that come to see the fair."
During the fair board meeting, members outlined some options for increasing revenues and slashing expenses. Among the ideas discussed were switching from a Pro Rodeo Circuit Association rodeo to a National Rodeo Association event, changing acts for the fair's night shows, and selling exclusive rights to a beverage distributor.
The suggestion that the fair should switch from a professional PRCA rodeo to an amateur NRA event was hotly contested by Strauser.
"You're taking a step back if you go NRA," she said. "You don't have the quality of the stock, the quality of the contestants, or the quality of the show."
An NRA show will cost the fair board less for stock, and may draw larger crowds, countered fair board member Jacob Lorang.
"I've talked to a number of people in Havre who belong to NRA," he said. "If you have them for contestants, you might get a larger audience. You're going to get friends and relatives to come watch."
For the last five years, the fair has hired award-winning stock contractor Ike Sankey for the rodeo. Fair board members agreed that Sankey has done an excellent job at the Great Northern Fair, but his fee of $23,000 may exceed the board's budget.
Solomon said an NRA stock contractor could be hired for about $12,000.
Strauser pointed out that the fee would not include timers, judges, entertainment, announcers, and other personnel needed for a rodeo. All of those are included in Sankey's fee, she said.
"In the end, it might be a couple thousand dollars difference," she said. "And for me, that's a small price to pay for the quality of the show you get with PRCA."
The board agreed to get bids from both PRCA and NRA contractors before making a decision.
The board also discussed resurrecting the fair's talent show. The show was replaced several years ago by hired acts, which are a strain on the fair board's budget. Because the night shows are free, the acts do not generate any income.
The board also discussed awarding exclusive beverage rights to one distributor as a way to generate additional revenue. Now, both Coke and Pepsi pay for advertising and to have their products sold at the fair. Fair board members said they believe it may be more profitable to accept bids for exclusive beverage rights because of how successful the distributors are at the fair.