County Proposes Spending 1 Mil Over Three Years to Fund EXPO Center Improvements

In a hand-delivered letter, the Saline County Commission is seeking a 50 year lease on the present EXPO Center property from the City of Salina. Containing all five County Commissioner signatures, the County proposes to levy one mill each year, for the next three years, in order to complete the following improvements in those three years:

  • Conceptual design by a professional architect to enhance the appearance of the EXPO facility to compliment Tony’s Pizza Events Center.
  • Update all building exteriors.
  • Replace doors on the 4-H Building.
  • Update all restrooms.
  • Replace animal wash racks and add new drainage.
  • Upgrade the electrical in all barns.
  • Replace stalls in all barns.
  • Replace lighting in Kenwood Hall.
  • Replace lighting in Ag Hall.
  • Replace lighting in Tri-Rivers’ Stadium
  • Replace lighting in all barns.
  • Install radiant heaters in Ag Hall.
  • Suspend ceiling in Kenwood Hall.
  • Remodel concessions in Ag Hall.
  • Replace facility sound system.
  • Replace overhead doors in the back of the shop.
  • Point and seal brick in Ag Hall and the 4-H Building.
  • Replace 8 overhead doors in Barn 1.

All of these are in addition to the $519,045 in previously budgeted projects that include:

  • Adding a 160’ x 80’ covered warm-up arena
  • Replacing fans in Ag Hall and Barn 1.
  • Expanding Barn 2 showers.
  • Painting, remodeling, and landscaping the area.

County’s Offer

County Commission Chairman Monte Shadwick described the proposal as “a starting point”. He said he is not in favor of the County issuing bonds to complete the project. Shadwick said the “County has never employed anyone to do a conceptual design; we understand we (the County) need to have a master plan”.

In response to City Commissioner Trent Davis’ question, County Administrator Rita Deister said that the completing the proposed warm-up arena would be “one of the first things to be done”.

County Commissioner Mike White described the EXPO Center as a “community project that generates $3,000,000 in direct economic impact to the community”. He said the County desires “a long term lease, in the present location, or an eviction notice”. He hoped the matter would not “drag out for 12 years”. White had worked on this issue during his previous tenure on the Commission.

City Mayor Kaye Crawford said she needs to “see a drawing” (of the proposed changes) to know if the amount of money being offered “is enough”.

Tri-Rivers Fair Board’s Response

Keith Teasley, Vice President of the Tri-Rivers Fair Board described Tri-Rivers Arena as “the fair’s money maker”. He said that Ag Hall isn’t big enough for the Fair Board’s rodeo. It would not be cost effective to put dirt in the Tony’s Pizza Events Center. He said almost all the Fair Board’s income comes from the demolition derby, the rodeo, the livestock sale and a share of the proceeds from the carnival.

Tri-Rivers Arena is owned by the City, but is part of the property that is leased to the County. EXPO Center Director Rick Lamer said he finds it difficult to rent the arena. Some potential renters want it to be covered. Others want better seating. Lamer also said that the existing barns are located “as best as they can be for traffic” purposes.

Davis suggested that for the 11½ months between fairs, perhaps land around the arena could be used by motorbike riders, saying this could be an additional source of revenue. Davis suggested that those attending events might wish to see better signage of where the different venues are located.

City Commissioners Respond

City Commissioner Melissa Rose Hodges asked if the $2,000,000 in proposed funding is sufficient for the “facility we need?” Shadwick responded that the he personally is open to extending the mill levy beyond three years, if needed.

City Commission Jon Blanchard said the City and County had worked together to transfer the Oakdale and Kenwood Parks. His preferred solution is not to end the lease in 2019, but to extend it for 4-8 years. He suggested looking at the possibility of relocating the fair north of I-70, by the KOA campgrounds and near the Yesteryear museum. He questioned if the City needs two community use buildings from both the EXPO Center and the Masonic Lodge. He asked if the EXPO Center did not currently exist in its present location, “Would we build the EXPO Center here?”

White responded that the City and County work cooperatively with 30 inter-local agreements. He said there was “no way that KOA is cost effective”, adding “it is in the flood plain”.

Davis responded that one of the benefits of the present location is that there is plenty of parking for different events, such as the River Festival (held in Oakdale Park), the Fair, and the Farm EXPO. Teasley added that his patrons like having Kenwood Cove as an option for family members who may not be participating in EXPO Center events. These family members also enjoyed shopping in downtown.

When asked, City Manager Jason Gage said that a Parks and Recreation Master Plan will be completed at the end of this year or the start of next year. Engineers will begin design work on part of the River’s plan next year, but this may take more than a year to complete.

Gage said the City’s current master plan assumes that the EXPO Center would remain “in consistent use.” He said that having a convention center, near Heritage Hall, is also part of the master plan.

County Commissioner Robert Vidricksen said he’s “not looking to spend any money” if the County is only offered a 4 year lease. County Commissioner Rodger Sparks said he “couldn’t see the County justifiably spending money and be back at this (re-negotiating a lease) in 4 or 10 years”.

Blanchard countered that he was not asking the County “to spend a dime”. Blanchard circled back to the need to have a conceptual design, based on a market study. He said he is wanting to see more than a maintenance program from the County. County Commissioner Jim Weese said there’s a need to market the EXPO Center.

An EXPO Center Board?

Vidricksen proposed a joint City-County EXPO Center Board, much like the joint City-County Building Authority.

Blanchard said the “Building Authority Board works sometimes”, but commented that the County had three votes and the City had two votes. (The 28th Judicial Court has a vote as does a member-at-large so the Building Authority consists of seven board members.) Blanchard asked if an EXPO Center Board would have the same 3-2 County/City composition. Shadwick responded that Blanchard was “crossing t’s and dotting i’s” to the offer, Blanchard persisted in noting that the County has the “majority vote in the Building Authority”. Desiter responded that the County also occupies 60% of the building’s space.

Is Incurring Debt a Deal Breaker for the County?

Gage asked, “Is any form of debt” acceptable for Saline County, adding prohibiting bonding “limits the ability to go deeper”. Shadwick responded that the County Commission is split on that point. Deister added that both the auditor and County Counselor had advised that the County would have to get a vote of the people if it were to bond part of the project”.

Gage responded that it is “not uncommon for the owner to make improvements as part of seeking an extended lease”. Vidricksen said that could be a “realistic idea” the County “could expand upon”.

Gage said that assuming the EXPO Center would stay at its present location, and with plans to set aside revenues and add resources for certain improvements, the City and County “may be closer than you think” to reaching some kind of agreement.

White replied that the County “is flexible”. Deister and Gage are tasked with setting up another meeting in 4-6 weeks and bringing the two Commissions back together.

Public Comment

Fourteen citizens attended the nearly 2 hour meeting.

Stacie Lundquist, Director of the American Paint Horse Association, said it is difficult to promote a horse show 2, 4, or 6 years out–especially when the facility doesn’t have enough stalls and a warm-up arena. Some on her board are urging her to hold shows in areas that already have the wanted amenities, like in Hutchinson.

City Commission Candidate, and former commissioner, Aaron Householter said that what he heard “seemed reasonable” to him. He was “advocating for using what we already have”. He could see where an 8 year lease is “too short” and a 50 year lease is “too long”.

City Commissioner Karl Ryan did not attend the joint meeting.


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