Plan calls for $22 million in upgrades for fairgrounds

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 11/20/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A number of significant changes could be coming to the Clay County Fairgrounds if a new master plan for the venue becomes fully-funded by the Clay Board of County …

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Plan calls for $22 million in upgrades for fairgrounds

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A number of significant changes could be coming to the Clay County Fairgrounds if a new master plan for the venue becomes fully-funded by the Clay Board of County Commissioners.

The $34,410 master plan, which was funded by the Tourism Development Council, was conducted by the University of Florida Center for Hydro-generated Urbanism and took two years to conduct.

If county officials agree to each recommendation in the plan, Clay County could see the fairgrounds expand by about 33 acres, get a brand new banquet hall that could host weddings and other events, an open-air music venue and an upgraded retrofitted exhibition hall.

“This project will take as long as it takes to get $22 million,” said Commissioner Mike Cella. “It won’t happen overnight, but it’s something to shoot for.”

Maria Barrios, a research associate of UF-CHU, told commissioners Nov. 13 that the plan’s recommendations could cost anywhere between $20- and $22 million. If given the green ligt, it is designed to be built in phases.

“We developed this with phase completion in mind,” Barrios said. “We have phases we recommend completing first, but it’s really up to you to determine how to proceed.”

Before diving into the meat of the project, Barrios explained the challenges, strengths, weaknesses and opportunities associated with this fairgrounds revamp. Some of the challenges include aspects such as accessibility and economic stability with unattractive unshaded landscape, difficult vehicular management and insufficient revenue as weaknesses.

“In terms of strengths, there is the rural location, expansion possibilities, enhanced road access, exceptional stock of building and infrastructure for reuse and a reputation of excellence in annual events,” Barrios said. “All of this weighs in on the opportunities such as market expansion, reuse of existing buildings and grounds, business growth opportunities, introduction of innovative new activities and more.”

The master plan also calls for revamping most of the fairground’s existing structures including cosmetic upgrades that would see each building look like traditional red barns. The plan also calls for the county to acquire some land to house a new amphitheater-like facility.

“This plan looks at an acquisition of 33 acres up in the west area of the sight which will hold an open-air auditorium,” Barrios said.

Along with new landscaping, additional structures such as a new visitor’s center and command center, updated bathrooms and more, the master plan also recommends building a new parking structure. When completed, the parking would include free parking, preferential parking and premium parking, with the latter two types of parking available at a cost.

“These parking spaces will have different prices that the county and fair association will agree on for different events,” Barrios said.

When Barrios finished her presentation, all of the commissioners were impressed with UF-CHU’s work and excited for the future.

“This is outstanding,” said Commissioner Gayward Hendry. “This is hard work and stuff I’ve never thought of and I’ve been out there for years. This is really top-notch work.”

The BCC agreed with Commissioner Gavin Rollins’ recommendation to focus on retrofitting the exhibit hall before committing to anything else in the plan.

“The 50-meter target is we know there already is demand for the thing and the cost to retrofit it isn’t as much as building a brand new building,” Rollins said. “So, that to me, is a given, a low-hanging fruit. Let’s move forward with that and then the other stuff in this plan can be hashed out moving forward.”

The upgrades and recommendations set forth in the master plan fall in line with the county’s goal of boosting tourism and, therefore, tourism revenue. The plan also will also provide the projected onslaught of new residents more entertainment and recreational choices in the future.

Because the item was on the agenda for approval only, commissioners did not discuss ways to fund the plan and its recommended upgrades.

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