COLUMBIA — During the past year, the Boone County Fairgrounds has been the beneficiary of a steady stream of repairs, along with a new name: Central Missouri Events Center.
Since TAG Events took over management of the fairgrounds in October 2011, it has made some significant repairs. Those include leveling the ground, fixing roofs and heating and cooling systems and, with the help of a federal grant, installing energy-efficient lights, TAG co-owner Mike Teel told Boone County Commissioners during a Monday briefing.
Utility use at the grounds is "about half" what it used to be, Teel said. He added that more work is planned, including new doors on some of the buildings and more ground leveling near horse barns at the south end of the site.
"I think the future is much brighter than the past," Teel said. "It's working. I'm not sure it's going to be self-sufficient, but it's going to be a lot closer than what I anticipated in the beginning."
TAG Events has managed the site since the resignation of longtime manager George Harris. TAG has been collaborating with the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Boone County Commission to pursue new events and improvements for the grounds, according to a previous Missourian article.
A two-year contract says the county will pay up to $275,000 in annual operations and utility costs, along with $100,000 from the county budget for capital maintenance and improvements. Until the county recovers the $275,000 operating cost, it will receive 70 percent of profits from the fairgrounds and 30 percent will go to TAG Events. The split will be reversed once the county gets its investment back, according to the Missourian article.
The Boone County Commission took over yearly operations from the Boone County Agricultural and Mechanical Society, which runs the annual county fair, in 2011. The commission also passed a half-cent sales tax on all retail sales at the grounds, according to a 2011 Missourian article.
The Central Missouri Events Center has been the site of the Boone County Fair since 1992, according to the Boone County Fair's website. However, since it purchased the grounds in 1999, the county has grappled with steady losses of money and a tenuous master plan for recreation and money-making events, according to a previous Missourian article.
Teel told county commissioners Monday that he had a request for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau: "Bring us an event or some financial help."
He said he has met with its staff "three or four times" at the fairgrounds and once at the bureau's office.
Megan McConachie, spokeswoman for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bureau met with three representatives of TAG on one occasion in August but that TAG hasn't taken it up on subsequent invitations to meet again.
McConachie said the Visitors Bureau is actively looking for "pieces of business" that would work well at the Central Missouri Events Center.
This year, MU students conducted surveys of visitors from five events at the center, McConachie said. The survey, which was funded by the bureau, is intended to document the demographics of people who visit the grounds to get a clearer picture of who is attracted to its events. Members of TAG Events are invited to continue meeting with the bureau, she said.
TAG's website shows a variety of bookings at the grounds, primarily horse shows, gun shows and a weekly High Country Cowboy Church. Larger crowds attend its rodeos and the annual Missouri Deer Classic, as well as events held in conjunction with the summer county fair.
"I think the whole key is big events," Teel said. "We want weekends like we just had (referring to last weekend's horse barrel racing events). It's hard to get 50 of those," Teel said.
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