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Boone County giving old fairgrounds to city of Columbia

Boone County is giving most of the old fairgrounds to the city of Columbia. The city will build a major new sports complex on the land in north Columbia off the Oakland Gravel Road exit of Highway 63.

The county closed those fairgrounds in 2015 for financial reasons.

“This is a great outcome for the citizens of Boone County,” Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said Thursday. “For more than 20 years, Boone County has been able to hang on to this property until the right opportunity came along. Today, I believe we have found the perfect solution.”

Boone County will hold on to 53.6 acres of land facing Highway 63 near Oakland Gravel Road, for possible future commercial development.

The early plans from Columbia Parks & Recreation for the new sports complex include six multi-sport turf fields, four additional baseball diamonds, a track and field stadium, an all-inclusive playground, an agricultural park, and more. The city is also taking over maintenance of the MKT Trail in that area.

Mayor Brian Treece says talks started with the county four years ago. He adds the move will have a far-reaching impact.

“This is one of those legacy pieces that we’ll be able to look back 20 years from now and be very proud that the decision we made today was put in place.”

Veterans United and UPS are leasing parts of the property right now. The city will honor that until the leases run out in December 2022. Both county and city officials praised Veterans United for the money it has put in to maintenance and upkeep on the grounds.

It is not clear if the Boone County Fair will return to the former Central Missouri Events Center, after spending the past couple years in Sturgeon. Mayor Treece says he wants the fair back in town.

(This story was last updated at 4:38 p.m. Thursday.)

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  1. FAIRGROUNDS FAIL: Nineteen years and many plans later, another Boone bailout?

    COLUMBIA, Mo 1/15/18 (Feature) —

    If a single project epitomizes the word “boondoggle,” it’s the

    Boone County Fairgrounds

    , renamed the Central Missouri Events Center then closed, after sixteen years, in 2015.

    The Boone County Commission — like the City of Columbia, never shy about asking for a tax increase — asked voters for a bailout on a 2014 ballot Fairgrounds boosters sold as a “parks tax.”  

    But the tax had so little to do with parks, the County’s own park board declined to endorse it.   It failed at the ballot, too.

    County’s own park board declined to endorse it

    Now, Commissioners want the city of Columbia to “step up,” using city parks tax dollars to renovate the failed event venue.  Citizens are greeting that plan, like the others, with skepticism and resistance.

    like the others, with skepticism and resistance

    Stamper of approval 

    For reasons few people understand to this day, then-Presiding Commissioner Don “Donnie” Stamper led the charge to buy the 214-acre Fairgrounds in 1999. 

    Don “Donnie” Stamper led the charge

    Stamper, once a populist standard bearer of local Democrats, lost his 3-term County Commission seat to Republican Keith Schnarre, in a campaign battle that hinged on voter dislike for the Fairgrounds purchase.

    Part of the mystery is why such a savvy politician would throw away a promising career on such an obvious boondoggle.  Enter developers again.  Stamper left politics to become director of the Central Missouri Development Council, a lobby for the local development industry.   

    Central Missouri Development Council

    County government paid a failing non-profit — the Boone County Agricultural and Mechanical Society — $2.6 million for 134 acres of the Fairgrounds site.    

    Developer Tom Atkins bought the remaining 80 acres.  “We’re in the real estate business,” he told the Columbia Daily Tribune, which suggested bigger plans he declined to reveal. “That is all I really have to say for now.”

    Tom Atkins bought the remaining 80 acres

    he told the Columbia Daily Tribune

    Never shy about mixing business and government, developers like Atkins have had an enduring — and mysterious — interest in the Boone County Fairgrounds. 

    With her husband Hank Waters — as Columbia Daily Tribune publisher, the area’s leading pro-developer voice — former REDI and Columbia Chamber of Commerce chair Vicki Russell was president of the County Fair Board at the time.   A Blight/EEZ/TIF proponent, Russell was also an outspoken advocate of the County’s fairgrounds purchase.     

    “Blood County Park”

    The fairgrounds purchase sparked controversy shortly after Stamper announced plans to use profits from the lease of Boone Hospital — a county property — to finance it.   “Boone Hospital trustee Walter Johnson said he’s decided to oppose a county acquisition of the fairground,” the Trib reported. 

    Stamper announced plans to use profits from the lease of Boone Hospital

    “If this proposal goes through, I suggest the new land be called Blood County Park, and I ask every Boone Countian who has paid a hospital bill in the last decade to join me,” Johnson told fellow trustees. “The money from hospital profits is bled from patients.”

    Other Fairgrounds financing plans that went nowhere showed up regularly. 

    A St. Louis firm proposed making the Fairgrounds home to a minor league hockey team.    And after trying to avoid raiding the County’s general fund, which pays for most major services, County Commissioners suggested using it to help finance the purchase. 

    Fairgrounds home to a minor league hockey team

    County Commissioners suggested using it

    Opposition soon appeared, and from some unusual places.  County Auditor June Pitchford and County Treasurer Kay Murray said the fairgrounds purchase was not a priority.   “I hate to see a capital expenditure of this magnitude float above other capital needs that are more germane to the county’s primary function,” Pitchford said at the time.

    fairgrounds purchase was not a priority

    more germane to the county’s primary function

    “I am holding my nose and going along with it,” Murray said.

    Murray said

    After Stamper failed to answer her questions, Pitchford’s resistance intensified.  “Stamper testily defended his proposal,” the Trib reported.   The Presiding Commissioner was not going to countenance any opposition. 

    Pitchford’s resistance intensified

    But the opposition only intensified. 

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