With a history of battling over matters of joint interest, there were some uncertainties about whether the City and County Commissions tour of the EXPO Center, at Kenwood Park, would produce any results. At the end of a two hour congenial meeting, there was agreement that the EXPO Center served important functions, but there was not agreement that the present location was optimal. At issue is whether the City will renew its lease with the County; the City owns the land that the EXPO Center sits upon while the County owns several buildings, including Ag Hall, five barns, Tri-River Stadium, the 4-H Building, and Kenwood Hall.
City Commissioner Trent Davis repeatedly urged that if the County was going to fix the buildings, then fix them all the way. He encouraged the County to submit plans for an optimal facility. This might include creating one large indoor arena that had stables attached to it through covered walkways.
Mayor Kaye Crawford said she “agreed with Dr. Davis” and urged the County to “do it right” when making improvements. She noted that much of the public liked having the EXPO Center where it was currently located. She suggested that the County could get voters to fund improvements, if this was put on a ballot. County Chairman Monte Shadwick said that he was also open to the possibility of bonding, to pay for improvements.
City Commissioner Karl Ryan said it is important for the EXPO Center to stay in its present location, adding “I think the community expects it to stay here”.
Livestock and EXPO Center Director Rick Lamer said that he only rents out the Tri-Rivers Arena for three or four days a year, despite the $150/day rental fee. He said it is used for two nights of “demolition derby” and for one rodeo. Lamer says he receives several inquiries a year, but renters want an enclosed arena. Tri-Rivers Arena had once been a baseball field, where the great Mickey Mantle once played. The City gave Tri-Rivers Arena to the County in 1976.
Discussions about the possibility of demolishing the arena, as well as the old Salina Municipal Pool, to create a space for new development seemed to gain traction. City Manager Jason Gage said the City’s strategic plan had long envisioned some kind of hotel connected with the now Tony’s Pizza Events Center.
Commissioners appreciated their interactions with Stacie Lundquist, from Brookville, who represented multiple equine associations and Kim Norwood, representing the Tri-Rivers Fair. Lundquist noted that the 1924 Ag Hall had a “sister” building in Ardmoor, Oklahoma, which had been improved multiple times over the decade. She said that many equine groups appreciated the affordability of the EXPO Center, though she noted that the quality of the facilities were lower than some other locations. Norwood suggested inside wash racks and better access for those backing up trailers.
County Commissioner Jim Weese voiced the concern that “putting a lot of money into the facility” may have a “teeter-totter effect of pricing” current renters out of being able to use the facility.
City Commissioners seemed to wrestle with the duel use of the EXPO Center buildings. The 4-H Building and Kenwood Hall are routinely used for community events and may be rented out for private affairs, such as weddings and auctions. The Dexter Cattle Show will rent several barns and Ag Hall, for the 200 head of livestock, next week . . . and will also rent the 4-H Building for meetings, educational classes and communal meals. Last year, the Dexter Cattle Show rented the EXPO Center for the first time and were happy to discover that the Kenwood Cove aquatic park is nearby. They subsequently decided to rent the EXPO Center for two additional years. Since this show brings in ranchers from across the United States, participants will need multiple nights of lodging and will support area businesses.
Discussions turned back to a failed measure years ago to create a new EXPO Center, south of Salina, with a then reported $24 million cost. That matter was soundly defeated. County Commissioner Robert Vidricksen suggested that for $500,000 to $1,000,000, the public might accept a “fix-up” of the present property.
Vidricksen said the County’s costs for financing the EXPO Center were a matter of public record. He said that the County pays $340,000 in expenses and generates $85,000 in revenue from operation of the EXPO Center. County Administrator Rita Deister said the County has operated the EXPO Center as a “community service”.
County Commissioner Mike White said that they’d “hashed and rehashed” what to do. He said he wished the City Commission would either evict the County, or agree to a 20 year lease, or say that use of the property should go to the highest bidder. Shadwick echoed that sentiment, saying that then, the County would make a business decision about what was best for the County to do next.
City Commissioner Melissa Rose Hodges noted the “disparity” of what was outlined in the County’s report and what was being proposed at Monday’s meeting. She noted, “there’s a lot of land here” and wondered if the buildings are configured in the best way”. She said she’d “philosophically would like to see the EXPO Center remain in the center of the City”.
Summing up, Weese said “it is exciting we are talking”. Since each entity is in the middle of preparing budgets, it was suggested that the next meeting may occur sometime after August 15th.