Sports, recreation centers integral to fairground plan

Thursday, February 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:45 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It might be 25 years before the Boone County Fairground is fully developed as the sports and recreation complex envisioned by city and county officials, Boone County Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin said Wednesday.

On Monday night, the Columbia City Council ended four years of deliberation on the future of the fairground by endorsing a master plan known as Option III. That $5.5-million plan calls for trails, shelters, a dog park, concession stands, parking lots and numerous athletic fields on the fairground and the adjoining 80-acre Atkins tract, which is jointly owned by the city and county.

While the report presented to the council suggested the three phases of the plan will be completed by 2014, Elkin said it might take much longer.

“This is not going to happen overnight,” Elkin said. “It’s going to be a decades-long project. We could get a huge grant, and that will get everything done faster.”

Money will drive the pace of the project, and Elkin said he plans to seek federal grants and private donations. Even though both the city and county own the Atkins tract, only the county has pursued funding for the fairground development. City Manager Ray Beck reminded the council Monday that the city has no financial obligation.

Elkin, however, expects city cooperation.

“It’s true that the county has taken the lead on this,” Elkin said. “No one’s looking for any credit, though. I see this as a partnership. Both the city and the county are interested in developing this land for recreational uses. I know that the city is going to have to stick to its plan, though.”

The city’s master plan calls for a regional park in the south or southeastern section of Columbia, and city officials are focusing on the Philips tract and adjoining Crane property as the most likely location.

David Vaught, an MU planner who helped the county develop options for the fairground, said that’s a problem.

“As long as the Philips tract remains on the table, I think that very little focus will be given to the Atkins tract,” Vaught said. “Short of someone saying that the Philips land is out, I really just don’t see the city working on the fairgrounds. The city has got all of the money, but this park just doesn’t fit in with the master plan.”

Elkin, however, predicted it would take the city up to five years to develop the Philips property. “The city knows the needs we have for the fairgrounds and expressed willingness to help us out ... in the interim.”

Vaught believes either the city or the county should take over the fairground project. “It would be in the best interest of both if one or the other would provide a long-term lease so that the other could develop the land,” Vaught said.

The plan for Option III is broken into three phases; the first would include nine baseball fields, two restroom/concession buildings, two parking lots, two picnic shelters and a covered arena at a cost of $1.9 million.

The county has already applied for a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that would finance two baseball and softball fields at a cost of $315,000. It will learn by July whether that money is coming.

Elkin has also explored the possibility of having the Missouri National Guard help with excavation. “There is a program called the Innovative Readiness Training Program that goes out to do community projects as part of the soldiers’ training,” he said, adding it might be 2005 before any of that gets done.

County officials also plan to apply next month for $80,000 to $100,000 from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ recreational trails program.

“We’re just going to keep looking for grants,” Elkin said. “These are annual grants, so we have to resubmit each year, and we’ll keep submitting applications to get the funding we need.”Meanwhile, local organizations are pitching in. The BC Baseball League has committed to giving $25,000 over several years, Elkin said, and Diamond Council of Columbia has committed to raising $10,000. Two years ago, Diamond Council baseball and softball players sold discount cards for local restaurants, Executive Director Debbie Jameson said, and this year they will sell tickets to a Mid-Missouri Mavericks game and donate their share of the proceeds to the fairground.

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