By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Demolition of the grandstand at the Columbiana County Fairgrounds will begin Dec. 14, and a new and larger replacement will be built in its place before the 2014 fair opens in July.
The fair’s board of directors approved the $900,000 project Monday.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Sharen Cope, fair director. “The community’s fondness for the fair and the early willingness of the community to support this project made all the difference in our decision.”
The current grandstand was built in the early part of the 20th century, said Matt Hughes of JMH Development, a consulting company hired to gauge community interest in the project. He didn’t know the exact year it was built.
While the current grandstand, which is made of wood, does not pose a safety risk, its roof is sagging and probably cannot support any more roofing materials, said Hughes, who will now shepherd the project as it moves forward.
The new grandstand will have a capacity of 2,400 — 1,000 more than the current one. It will have steel post-and-beam construction, with aluminum bleachers. It also will have a roof.
“With more seating capacity, we can continue to improve the product,” said Hughes. “We can get bigger talent.”
Hughes conducted a feasibility study, which he presented to the board last week. He contacted business leaders, employers and others who have partnered with the fair to gauge potential financial support. The strong response prompted the board to give its approval to the project.
“The fair is one-of-a-kind and universally loved and enjoyed,” said Hughes. “With the history and memories so top of mind for everyone, moving forward to improve the biggest event of the summer made sense to almost everyone interviewed.”
Hughes now will seek a line of credit from a local bank and will solicit pledges from businesses. Citizens will also be able to donate either through a website that will be set up or at the bank. Details will be released in the near future.
“Everyone will have a chance to donate,” said Hughes, who specializes in projects for nonprofit organizations.
Construction of the grandstand will cost $750,000, with an additional $150,000 needed for demolition, site preparation and to bring the restrooms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The fair board has sold a small piece of land and also the mineral rights for the grounds and plans to contribute $150,000 to the project, said Hughes.
The fair drew a total of about 40,000 people over seven days this past summer, which is its highest attendance in many years, said Hughes.
Next year’s Columbiana County Fair — the 161st — will take place from July 28 to Aug. 3.