Columbiana County Fair grandstand will be razed

LISBON – Pay your respects to the historic grandstand at the Columbiana County Fair because on Dec. 14 it will be torn down.

The 15-member fair board unanimously decided to begin a project to replace the aging wooden grandstands after a recent presentation by JMH Development Co.

Consultant Matthew Hughes met with the board last week and provided the results of the feasibility study the Cincinnati-based company conducted over the last few weeks.

The board hired the company to conduct the study to determine the level of community support before embarking on the costly project.

Hughes met with roughly 30 business owners, agencies and individuals in the county to see if they would be willing to the support the project, and on Wednesday he said that support was “very favorable.”

It was that support that led the board to kick off the $900,000 project with a gift of $150,000, he said.

County commissioners have already given $20,000 as well, and fair board president Sharen Cope said previously the board would not move forward unless money is available for financing.

In a press release announcing the decision, she said, “This has been a long time coming. I am so proud of our board for agreeing to move forward. 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.”

According to Hughes, the board was in a position to put the money toward the project after selling a small piece of fair land for mineral rights.

“This very conservative, very careful, very fiscally responsible fair board has decided to go forward. This is the biggest thing that has happened to the fair since the beginning of time,” he said of the project.

Robin Houlette, who serves on the grandstand committee, said in the release, “It makes perfect sense for us to have some skin in the game in improving the fairgrounds.”

Steve Knizat, Scott Stear, John Wolf and Owen Unkefer also serve on the committee that is led by Paul Lease.

Hughes, who has raised funds and worked with non-profits for more than 25 years, said it is clear the county fair is “universally loved” and it wasn’t hard finding support.

He also said there are already three companies interested in constructing the new stands, and a bid should be awarded to one of those by the end of this week. The plan is to have a new custom-made grandstand in place before next year’s fair in late July.

The current grandstand seats 1,700, is not handicap accessible and dates back to at least the mid 1940’s. The board wants to replace it for safety reasons.

The grandstand was renovated after a fire in the early 1900s and has experienced water damage over the years.

“We never wanted to have a smear campaign on our own bleachers, but you’ll see they want the fair to be fun and safe These are on their last leg,” he said.

The new grandstand will be similar to the current one in that it will have a roof, but it will seat 2,400 people instead of 1,700 and will not be made of wood, which Cope has said is a safety hazard.

Other items under review for improvement, depending on fundraising, are the restroom facilities, general grounds care around the grandstands and hopefully an endowment fund that will seek estate gifts, according to the release.

For more information on the 2014 fair or the grandstand project contact Tresa Unkefer at 330-424-5531.