- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - As the clock ticks down toward the end of an era in Boone County, Renea Bolling is already looking for another location for the Thanksgiving weekend barrel race that will bring some 350 horses and riders to the Central Missouri Events Center.

“Being there over the Thanksgiving holiday has become a tradition for a lot of people and a lot of families,” Bolling said. “They like coming to Columbia.”

Her company, BB Productions LLC, has had two barrel racing events each year at the events center - formerly known as the Boone County Fairground - for 14 years running.

But the run will end after this year’s Thanksgiving weekend contest. A gun show in the front room of the events center coliseum and the barrel racing event in the horse arena and horse barns are the final public events on the events center’s calendar.

Even before those events have taken place, the vendors and show coordinators are searching for new venues. Bolling said the spring barrel racing contest, which had been at the events center for 14 years, already has a new home - it will be in Sedalia next year. The fall event, she said, will probably move to Topeka, Kan.

Perhaps only time will tell if closure of the events center will have a detrimental effect on the area, but county officials say the choice about what to do with the county-owned events center was basically made for them on Aug. 5 when voters defeated, by a 2-to-1 margin, a proposed eighth-cent sales tax to support the facility, other parks throughout the county and economic development, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/1u8yPmb ).

“It’s going to be one hell of an economic impact to the community,” said Kent Sapp, whose February automotive swap meet was one of the venue’s largest events of the year. “Everybody in Boone County’s going to feel it.”

Although the annual county fair - which apparently will continue, although on a smaller scale - is the event most associated with the events center property, the facility had hosted dozens of other events each year, from horse shows to gun shows and dog shows.

Vendors at the recent Boone County Draft Horse and Mule Sale were surprised to hear that the facility was going to close.

“I don’t think they realize the impact it’s going to have on the economy,” said Billy Crocker of Fulton, who operated a horse tack booth at the show. “When everybody leaves here at night, they go either to restaurants or motels. Not just for this event but other events they have.”

The Gateway to the High Country Cowboy Church has horse clinics in the arena after its weekly Monday night service. The church has had a chuck wagon cowboy cooking demonstration, a performance by the Central Missouri Mounted Shooters and the regular standbys - a cowboy band and cowboy-hat-wearing pastor Dale Larison.

“Now the challenge is to find another place with our limited funds and limited options when it comes to horse arenas and a place for up to 200 people to meet,” Larison said. “We will definitely miss that great facility.”

The barrel racing promoter, the draft horse and mule sale vendors, the gun show operator and others such as Sapp and his automotive swap meet had hoped the county could find a way to keep the doors open. But the Aug. 5 ballot box directive was firm.

“The voters were pretty clear,” said Northern District Commissioner Janet Thompson. “The message was, ‘Don’t spend our money’ ” on the events center.

Bob Davidson, Boone County facilities maintenance chief, is putting together a plan to shut down and secure the 134-acre property and its buildings. Most, if not all, of the property will have to be fenced, with cameras installed to provide monitoring. Sprinkler heads will have to be removed to allow draining of the sprinkler system in the indoor coliseum, methanol will be added to the ground-source heat pump system to keep it from becoming “slushy,” water lines will be drained and the utilities will be disconnected except for one circuit to operate the security cameras.

The estimated cost to shut down the property is $40,000, Davidson said. However, that might change because he hasn’t asked for bids or quotes on the still-developing work list. The coliseum will be completely shut down and off-limits. Davidson said he’s not sure what the Boone County Fair Board will work out with the county commission for use of the grounds and whether the fair board will be able to reconnect utilities for a five-day fair.

Fair Board President Jeff Cook is confident that the 2015 fair can happen at the property.

“We’re planning on having everything that we normally have,” he said. The board will have to work out the details for utilities and where to have the youth home arts and ham show and the ham breakfast - which in the past took place in the coliseum.

The Fair Board has already booked a few 2015 grandstand events, including the truck and tractor pull, and Cook has talked to the carnival vendor about coming back but doesn’t yet have a signed contract. Cook said Thompson suggested that the Fair Board forge partnerships with University Extension and University of Missouri properties to use for livestock shows and similar events, but that would probably eliminate the possibility of having a carnival.

“In the back of our minds, we’re hoping that something will happen that we can end up using the coliseum,” Cook said. “At this point in time, we can’t count on it.”

Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said last week that he was still puzzled about why hoteliers and restaurateurs did not rally behind the August sales tax proposal in light of the commission’s indication that the events center would close without the dedicated revenue stream.

“They didn’t seem to be concerned,” Atwill said. “And that’s significant.”

The county has paid TAG Events LLC to manage the events center since October 2011 in a profit-sharing “reverse lease” agreement. The county has paid $200,000 in each of the past three years, plus half of the utilities.

Davidson said the shutdown process likely will start soon. Fencing and cameras need to be in place “long before the place is shut down,” and when the fire suppression system is disabled in the coliseum, “you’d better be ready to lock the doors and walk out.”


Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, https://www.columbiatribune.com

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