New fairgrounds management works to clean up the grounds, finances

Saturday, November 19, 2011 | 5:02 p.m. CST; updated 10:49 a.m. CST, Sunday, November 20, 2011

COLUMBIA — There are 256 horse stalls at the Boone County Fairgrounds. About half of them have tears in their dirt-covered plastic walls and jagged dirt floors destroyed by dozens of stomping hooves. The other half have been washed with Pine-Sol, and the ground has been  leveled with new dirt.

Mike Teel and his team of seven employees hope to get them all cleaned and repaired by Friday. 

Teel and TAG Events, the company he co-founded with Brent Gibson, have run the Boone County Fairgrounds since Oct. 1, when former manager George Harris retired. They have a temporary management agreement with the county until Jan. 1.

The team faced a two-acre pile of manure behind the stables, 10 loads of junk past the barns and 150 tires and other demolition derby car parts near the grandstand. 

In the seven weeks since it took over operations of the grounds, TAG Events has hauled away almost all of the trash, painted the walls and columns in the Coliseum arena, re-sanded the practice arena and started painting in the Sapp Arena, mowed, weeded and planted shrubs and flowers.  

TAG Events, currently in negotiations with the county for a two-year contract to manage the grounds, recently provided the Boone County Commission with an overview of its total costs and revenues for the past month. 

According to this report, the fairgrounds lost $4,311 in October. The total revenue for the month was $70,015. Repairs and maintenance alone cost $32,876.

Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin said the commission was not surprised by this deficit. 

"We had a pretty good idea because of all the maintenance and repair activities that had to take place," he said. "They came in basically cold, not knowing the true costs and true revenues."

Much of the costs for equipment went to Mike Teel Farms. Teel owns all of the 15 pieces of machinery, totaling $238,000 in value, that work at the grounds. This, he said, frees the commission from worry about maintenance and repairs.

Previously, financial information was not provided to the county on an event-by-event basis. Former management attributed this to the difficulty of separating joint costs, like food sales, when multiple events occur at once. 

Teel said that he wants to provide the county with complete and accurate financial reports in order to show that the fairgrounds will be able to sustain itself. He and his team split the joint costs based on the amount of people attending each event. 

The commission wanted the information on individual events in order to determine which were profitable. Less popular events can be replaced.

"The more people we get out there, the better," Elkin said. 

The commission currently pays TAG Events $42,000 a month for operation of the grounds. This has been enough for cleanup, but more repair work remains, Teel said.

The Coliseum, the main building, has a leaky roof that needs $150,000 in repairs. Teel also has plans to install a cement manure pile where horse show participants can dump their waste rather than leaving it on the ground. A water pipe that runs to the water rack, where livestock are cleaned, was cut and needs to be fixed.  

Elkin said he is in the process of proposing to appropriate funds to fix the roof and water line, as well as renovate the restrooms and work on electric repairs. 

For now, Teel said, large repairs are difficult without a more permanent contract. Without knowing his future at the fairgrounds, he doesn't want to invest too much of his money yet. 

The contract will be decided by Jan. 1. The commission plans to closely watch the grounds' finances for the two years of the contract, then decide among several options, including creating a tax subsidy to sustain them, shut the grounds or sell them if they do not generate a profit.

County Auditor June Pitchford did not include any plans for the fairgrounds in the proposed 2012 county budget. She and the commission are currently holding work sessions to determine the grounds' place in the budget. 

Teel hopes that the county will provide him with the resources he needs to continue running the grounds. 

"I can do the work," he said. "But if they can't fund it, it's not going to work."

He doesn't expect the grounds to become profitable or break even until spring, when the warm weather encourages attendance. 

So far, the improvements have gotten good reviews. 

Kim Garrett, president of the Missouri Paint Horse Club, which hosted an event at the grounds on Oct. 8 and 9, wrote a letter to Teel expressing her appreciation for the changes. 

“Overall, the appearance has noticeably improved even though you have been there a very short time," she wrote. "We noticed and appreciate what you have done.”

Both Teel and the commission are looking to bring in new events that will attract more people to the area. 

"We would like to make it a mid-Missouri event center, not a county fairgrounds," Teel said. 

Teel puts in 10 hours a day, seven days a week. He cleans up the grounds along with his staff and helps set up and manage events. The grounds have come a long way, but not far enough for him. 

"It's not good now," he said. "But it's better than it was."

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