Fair’s grand(stand) plan

LISBON Sharen Cope’s eyes lit up like beacons when she heard an erroneous report last week that the grandstand at the county fairgrounds was coming down.

It’s not as if fair board president wouldn’t like to see the old grandstand removed and another built in its place.

Compared to the other improvements made in recent years, the grandstand, sadly, looks a little out of place.

The wood grandstand that dates back to at least the mid-1940s has a mostly sandstone block foundation and seats 1,700. Over the last several decades it has suffered from water damage and possibly a fire, Cope said.

“As you well know, the grandstand definitely needs to be replaced and it’s enormously expensive,” she said.

Matthew Hughes of JMH Development Co. in Cincinnati estimated the replacement would cost anywhere between $750,000 and $1.2 million.

The company was awarded a contract by the fair board to conduct a feasibility study to determine the level of community support for the project.

“It’s going really well. Obviously people in Columbiana County love their fair,” Hughes said. “We’ve met with farmers, we’ve met with bankers, lawyers, heads of manufacturing companies. Everybody is favorably inclined that if the consensus is to move forward they would be willing to help.”

Hughes’ company is meeting with people in the county to see if they are willing to help finance a new grandstand.

“I don’t think it will take a lot for people to recognize the need for new stands,” he said.

Cope said county commissioners helped get the ball rolling with a check for $20,000. The board is seeking state funding for the project, but local support is needed, she added.

She and Hughes stressed the replacement will not happen unless enough money is available to finance it, and financing would ultimately be a combination of fair board funding and local contributions.

“They have done some minor to mid-major projects on their own and the community has responded,” Hughes said.

He explained supporters will be given five years to pledge money.

“We would probably partner with a local bank, where they would advance the money to do the project and they (fair board) would need to pay it back out of the campaign proceeds,” he said.

The plan is to have a new grandstand in place before next year’s fair begins July 28, he added.

He said the custom-made grandstand should be installed and functional at least week or two before the fair.

He also said JMH Development is working with a Kentucky-based company on specific designs for a new grandstand, which he said will be contemporary but also maintain the “quaintness of the fair.”

The new one will also have a roof and potentially a new ADA compliant bathroom facility.

Cope noted the current grandstand is not handicap accessible.

“The grandstand needs assistance in many ways we don’t have railings. There are a lot of things that even if we upgrade it, we’re going to have to meet some very strict requirements by the state,” she said.

Ideally, the new one would seat 2,500, she added.

She has confidence in Hughes’ ability to secure funding as he helped raise $1.6 million for grandstands in an athletic facility in Chillicothe in December of last year. Those grandstands were completed in September of this year.

Hughes said he hopes the same for Columbiana County.

“The grandstands are pretty much the centerpiece of the fair. We are hoping people can partner with this one more time and we’ll be in pretty good shape,” he said.

Hughes will present the results of the feasibility study to the board on Nov. 13, at which time the board will decide whether to proceed.