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Parks Department explains itself to Fairgrounds neighbors

The last time there was a major expansion of the Fairgrounds, the county failed to improve transportation infrastructure in the area to handle increased traffic.

With the Parks and Recreation Department contemplating more work at the Fairgrounds, a neighbor of the facility asked Cris Gears Tuesday, is the county going to improve access?

The parks and rec director essentially answered that he wasn’t sure.

Because of a tight deadline the department must meet in order to receive county Public Facilities District (PFD) funding for the Fairgrounds expansion, “We are putting the cart in front of the horse,” Gears said, in terms of transportation infrastructure planning. “But we’d rather not throw the cart out.”

Gears and other Parks Department officials met with Fairgrounds-area residents Wednesday, Oct. 10, to explain the county’s plans for the facility. Officials hope to use a .033 refund of sales taxes already levied by the state and available through the PFD to improve athletic fields, the Pavilion, Presidents Hall and Thunderbird Stadium.

The PFD funds for the Fairgrounds could be as little as $4.5 million or as much as $9 million, Gears said. Wednesday’s meeting was intended to answer neighbors’ questions about the project.

A group called the Fairgrounds Neighborhood Coalition has opposed commercial development of the facility, citing concerns about traffic, noise and vandalism. The coalition consistently has cited EndFest, an annual alternative music concert at the Fairgrounds, as a problem.

Coalition member Mary Bertrand asked Gears where EndFest would be located in the planned improvements were implemented.

“We don’t really know what we’re going to do with EndFest,” Gears replied. “There are inherent problems with that event, but that doesn’t mean we should cancel it.”

Gears said he hopes eventually to find a new home for EndFest that isn’t located in a residential neighborhood. In the meantime, improved parking and facilities should limit the annual concert’s impact on the area, Gears said.

Most of the neighbors’ questions, however, were about infrastructure. Coalition member Ingrid Nantz asked how the county would handle increased parking needs at the Fairgrounds, which presumably would be in use more often and by more people.

Gears said that by paving the parking lot located behind the Eagle’s Nest building, parking capacity would greatly increase. He said that lot’s current capacity is less than 200; a paved parking lot there could handle 350-400 vehicles.

A new ice arena planned for the Fair-grounds, Gears said, would require an estimated 150-200 cars. Although not part of the PFD project, the ice arena likely would be constructed concurrently.

Gears told the 35-40 neighbors in attendance that the Parks Department would continue with Fair-grounds development. His job, Gears said, was to balance the concerns of Fairgrounds neighbors with those of other county residents.

“Love it or hate it, this is a regional center,” Gears said. “It will continue to be a regional center, regardless of what we do tonight. What we need to focus on is, how can we meet your neighborhood needs and concerns?”

More meetings

The county Parks and Recreation Department officials will host two more meetings on proposed improvements to the county Fairgrounds. Both will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be at the Eagle’s Nest building on Fairgrounds Road.

l On Monday, Oct. 15, user groups — such as sports organizations, event organizers, and schools representatives — will be asked to rank the elements of the plan.

l On Tuesday, Oct. 16, Parks Department officials will solicit input from the public about what elements of the project should be built first. Information from this meeting will be used to formulate a recommendation to the Public Facilities District and County Commissioners.

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