MISSOULA – With a turn of the shovel and a rumble of earthmovers, work is finally underway to redevelop the Missoula County Fairgrounds.
Two years after county commissioners approved plans to redevelop the fairgrounds, it was finally time to turn some dirt.
“Our goal all along has been to have a multi-use space, sustainable space, and public space,” said Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss.
For some county leaders, like MSU Extension Agent Jerry Marks, it was historic. He’s worked on the question of the fairgrounds future for 48-years.
“And we’ve really struggled with how to improve the space," said MSU Cooperative Extension Agent Jerry Marks. "It’s limited space. There’s a lot of things we can’t do out here. But it is important and the decision to keep it out here and to make it a much brighter spot in mid-town.”
Work started immediately with Jackson Contractor Group ripping out the old horse-racing track, one of the biggest sticking points in the entire fairgrounds debate. Now, the specialized soil will be re-purposed for the Big Sky Equestrian Park.
Then the new grandstand and rodeo grounds can be built, with some elements finished this summer.
“Oh yes, we’re really hoping to get this work done before the fair," said Fairgrounds Director Emily Bentley. "As soon as the fair’s over we’re going to start renovating the historic Commercial and Culinary buildings that you can see behind me and start doing some of the site work.”
The tricky part in the fairgrounds development discussion over the years has always been how to find the right balance between Missoula County’s historical and agricultural past and what Missoula needs with the fairgrounds in the future. Authorities feel they’ve finally found that balance.
“I think we have a great mix," said Missoula County Commissioner Cola Rowley. "You know, we have the innovation and the history and the agriculture and the education. I think it’s a great mix and it makes everybody better, all the diverse interests coming together. Again, we spent a long time getting here but I think that’s because we got it right."
“Having a final plan that kind of fits and has room for all the different interest groups, and then hiring Emily, I mean you have to have someone to carry it forward," Curtiss said. "And that’s what really made the difference.”
Phase 1 of the fairgrounds redevelopment will take five years.
Work now will move rodeo operations, install infrastructure for future improvements and new walking trails and restore key buildings. It will also allow planning for a new Glacier Ice Rink to move forward now that the site plans are final.