Members of the County’s Expo Center committee met this week to review a draft proposal and identify strategies about how best to approach the City Commission about extending the City-held lease for the EXPO Center property.
Greg Jones, representing the Kansas Saddle Horse Association, said that the Kansas Coliseum and three other venues are no longer open to livestock shows. He noted that groups that hold events at a casino, that was built to serve as a livestock show venue, are finding the $6,000 user fee expensive. After an event, Jones reported that organizers are charged as much as an additional $500 clean-up fee.
KSHA has hosted a Charity Horse Show in Salina for over 40 years; this show raises money for local charities. KSHA also uses the EXPO Center for other events. Jones suggested that there was potential to increase this significantly; he advocated that the City extend the lease on the EXPO Center. Jones said the EXPO Center is “right on the edge of generating tremendous money for the City”.
Jones said 123 horses recently attended one KSHA show in Salina. He noted that for every horse, four or five of their human family members often attend. The humans need meals, lodging, fuel and are often interested in shopping and entertainment opportunities.
Jones noted that each show horse is often worth $40,000+. Owners are reluctant to stable their animals in unheated/uncooled stalls. He said that temporary stalls could be rented; he saw the potential for hosting 300 horses at the EXPO Center facility. With more stalls, more family members might attend.
EXPO Center Serves the Public
When asked about the reason for having an EXPO Center, both County Administrator Rita Deister and County Commission Jim Gile described it as a public service. Gile continued that the events “were like spokes in a wheel” and the driver is the revenue that comes primarily from what attendees spend out in the community.
Gile said that the EXPO Center consists of eight buildings that were occupied 300 days last year. Some events use multiple buildings, for multiple days.
EXPO Center Director Rick Lamer said that he frequently gets calls from individuals seeking to use the facilities, but the buildings are often already booked. The Bureau of Land Management will host a wild horse and burro show in the fall. Lamer said he’d recently talked to a group that held a dog show in Salina for several years. There is the potential that this group could return and would use both the Bi-Centennial Center as well as some of the EXPO Center buildings.
Gile spoke of the Dexter Cattle Show, which held its first show in Salina earlier this year; organizers liked the facilities so well that they want to book the facility for two more years. Gile said that when he surveyed license plates, 93% of the vehicles parked at the EXPO Center during the Dexter Cattle Show had out-of-state license tags. He referenced goals associated with the State issuance of STAR bonds (that are a part of the current downtown revitalization project). STAR bonds are intended to fund projects that will draw tourism to an area; Gile said that the auctions and livestock shows held at the EXPO Center draw people from outside the county as well as the state.
Revenues and Expenses
The draft report identified that in 2015 the “shows at the EXPO Center brought in $283,076 in tourism spending”. On one page, Visit Salina detailed revenue estimates from multiple events over recent years.
Revenues derived from user fees of the EXPO Center were not discussed. In 2016, the County budgeted $350,000 for the Livestock and EXPO Center. The County has placed $25,000 a year for multiple years in a capital improvement fund.
The draft report states the County has set aside $215,453 for future capital improvements. The report also states, “Saline County has committed itself to keeping the EXPO Center”.
Potential capital improvements include replacing air conditioning units in the exhibition halls and fans in the animal barns, landscaping, burying electrical lines, and erecting a warm up barn. Mayor Kaye Crawford said City Commissioners may have additional ideas for improvements. Someone had suggested the possibility of replacing some of the windows in Ag Hall. She wondered about the condition of the kitchen in the 4-H building.
Jane Anderson, representing Friends of the River, suggested identifying a timeline of what improvements might be accomplished during different time frames during the contemplated lease.
Communication is Key
Under Gile’s leadership, the EXPO Center committee has met multiple times. Lamer said that he’s had conversations with multiple City Commissioners; former Mayors Aaron Householter and Jon Blanchard may have attended past meetings. Vice-Mayor Karl Ryan had planned to attend Wednesday’s meeting and Crawford substituted, when Ryan became unavailable.
Crawford said she’d seen an earlier copy of the draft report. She encouraged that all communications go through Holly, at the City Manager’s office to insure all City Commissioners are notified. When only one or two of the City Commissioners are contacted, the amount and kind of information that can be shared is limited under Kansas Open Meeting and Open Record requirements.
A decision had been made to wait to bring the issue of an EXPO Center lease forward to the City Commission until after the 2016 elections. Lamer said he keeps a list of possible improvements and that these can be negotiated with the City Commission.