SALEM, Ohio – The Clark County Fairground’s five horse barns and eight-lane harness racing track built in the early 1950s seem to have outlived their usefulness.
The structures will soon be bulldozed and the track filled, leveled and replaced with a multimillion dollar facility in time for next year’s fair.
But it’s not the end of equine events in the county.
Organizers and county officials are hopeful the new structure will attract even more events – including horse shows – to the county, the region and Ohio.
State-of-the-art. The facility would cover 4 acres and would be suitable for anything from livestock to antique shows. It would feature an arena and 10,000-square-foot banquet room, said Allan Hess, executive director of the county agricultural society.
The west-central Ohio county’s agricultural society, or fair board, has already passed the preliminary steps and will make its final vote on the project next week, according to Hess.
If plans progress as expected, the fair board could be advertising for construction bids before the end of November.
Long history. The fair’s race track has been home to horse races as well as stock car and motorcycle events since it was built, along with a grandstand, on the former Springfield Municipal Airport, Hess said.
But stock cars stopped flying around the track in the mid-1980s, and in 1996, seeing signs of waning interest, the fair board voted to discontinue the equine events.
Sulkies made their final laps on that track during the 1997 fair.
All that was left were the twice-yearly motorcycle races, including one during the fair’s run.
Shortly after the horse races ended, horsemen and others in that county banded together to form the Ohio Equine and Agriculture Association.
From that group, the idea for the new building was borne, Hess said.
Not in agreement. But not everyone is happy with the situation.
“It depends on which side of the industry you’re coming from,” Hess admitted.
“Those folks with an interest in harness racing are upset, of course, but those who are interested in pleasure horses are behind the facility 100 percent,” he said.
“We’re trying to walk a fine line and not hurt any of the horse people by doing this,” said county commissioner John Detrick.
The county commissioners own the fairgrounds and have a say in the board’s plans.
Sacrifice. “In eliminating harness racing, the [fair] board felt if they were going to subsidize a part of the fair operation, they wouldn’t run the harness racing.
“They decided to focus on the junior fair side of things, and subsidize that instead,” Hess admitted.
Already short on parking for year-round events, the board knew they would have to give up something if the new building came to fruition, Hess said.
The racetrack was sacrificed.
Captive audience. Hess is quick to point out statistics: He’s said Ohio has the second-highest number of registered Quarter Horses in the country – a huge target audience.
“It’s the estimation of our board that probably 75 percent to 80 percent of [the building’s] usage will be for pleasure horses,” he said.
Hess said a Thoroughbred sale, cattle shows and other livestock events have also been discussed, as well as antique shows and hardware conventions.
Needing more. The fairgrounds has a lot going for it with relatively few drawbacks, according to commissioner Detrick.
Because of its location and access to three interstates, the fairgrounds is in the perfect situation to become home to several events.
The new building won’t hurt taxpayers, either. Construction is estimated to cost $5 million but will be funded by a county foundation and private funds, according to Detrick.
Revenue generated off the facility’s rental would also help pay for its construction, he said.
According to Hess, the new facility would include 320 box stalls, a 128-by-220 foot arena, office space for the facility’s manager, and new restrooms and showers.
The plans also say construction crews will erect a roof over an existing outdoor horse arena.
Still a bit there. Even with the new plans, the old track won’t be 100 percent destroyed.
A straight portion of the racetrack will remain intact in front of the grandstand for demolition derbies, tractor pulls and other events, Hess said.
“We will lost a bit of history of the fair, but we’ll add in the tradition of having the best livestock and equine events in the state,” Hess said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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