Brown County looks to capitalize on missed opportunities at fairgrounds

The Brown County Fairgrounds on November 20, 2018. (WLUK)

BROWN COUNTY (WLUK) -- Brown County is worried it’s missing out on opportunities to attract people and events to its fairgrounds.

Matt Kriese, with the Brown County Parks Department, says the county plans to use $3.6 million of sales tax revenue to make upgrades.

The 36-acre fairgrounds property is along the western edge of the Fox River where Ashwaubenon meets De Pere.

Right now, Brown County basically breaks even when it comes to the operation of its fairgrounds. That could change if a proposed 10-year master plan is adopted.

“What we see and what we've heard more so from the different event organizers is when you walk out on that property, it's not extremely aesthetically pleasing,” said Kriese. “It's very old buildings, nearly 100-year-old buildings and barns.”

The master plan recommends replacing most of the existing buildings with a 40,000 square foot multipurpose building and two large open-air barns, putting in a paved trail along the river, and boosting the number of possible campsites from 50 to 84.

With all the changes, Brown County could bring in $20,000 to $59,000 of profit a year, according to master plan projections.

“We know with tax levies there is a lot of competition for that and we know that we need to do what's best for the community to continue this property and make sure it's meeting the community needs,” said Kriese.

The fairgrounds is booked each year for about 100 event days. That number isn't projected to go up drastically with the masterplan changes. However, the changes are projected to nearly double the yearly attendance numbers.

About half of the 70,000 people who visit the fairgrounds each year come during the Brown County Fair.

“The footprint that is there today needs to remain in that size for us to hold our event,” said Tom Van Deurzen, Vice President of the Brown County Fair Association.

Van Deurzen says the master plan process has had challenges, but the current draft is the most ideal he has seen for accommodating the fair.

He says one of the main concerns is making sure the new campsites can be flexible, so they could be used to hold exhibits or rides during the fair.

“We as an association also are very understanding that we have the fairgrounds for one week out of the year, so it needs to have other usages,” said Van Deurzen.

Through the years, people have proposed other uses for the prime riverfront property. The county looked at alternatives through the master plan process, but kept coming back to keeping the property as the fairgrounds.

“Whether it was selling the whole property, whether it was selling just a few parcels along the riverfront, all that was looked at,” said Kriese. “The profit was compared to the loss and what could be bought.”

The full county board is expected to vote on the master plan in December.

Kriese says there is money earmarked for design work for the new buildings. However, he says it will likely be a few years before any construction can be expected.

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