With Phase 1 construction well underway, the Missoula County Fairgrounds has turned its attention to Phase 2 and what it will take to turn the once decrepit property into the public gathering space in the Midtown district.
To begin the process, Missoula County commissioners last week approved a $30,000 contract with C.H. Johnson Consulting Inc. to research, develop and implement an analysis around future fairgrounds facilities and programming.
“They’re going to do an operational review of current policies and pricing, and a market analysis of current and potential events to draw to the fairgrounds,” said Flanna Ewinger, an administrative assistant with the county.
“They’re also going to do a regional and comparable facilities study and design review for some of the Phase 2 proposed new buildings, such as an arena and grandstands, and a livestock and equestrian pavilion.”
The county last November sold around $14 million in bonds to raise the funding needed to complete Phase 1, which has included preservation of the historic Commercial Building and the construction of a new concessions building and plaza.
Utility work, a new maintenance shop, a new learning center, along with trails and landscaping, are also included in Phase 1.
Earlier last year, the county passed on placing a separate general obligation bond on the ballot to raise the revenue needed to complete Phase 2. The fairgrounds did complete a survey in 2019 that found moderate support for a $15 million bond – enough to fund a new livestock and horse center, new ice rinks and additional greenspace.
“As part of that feedback, the fairgrounds established new goals to set, one of them being that we’d like to become the public gathering space for Midtown,” said Ewinger. “We want to expand programming so we have more year-round programming to draw more diverse interests, and have more open space and availability for regional events.”
Ewinger said the contract with Johnson Consulting will help develop that path forward by helping the fairgrounds review pricing, potential future facilities and events, and additional programming that could cater to a more diverse audience.
In February, the county also approved a contract with Elkhorn Commissioning to streamline construction of the new Rocky Mountain Exploration Center, which is set to begin work at the fairgrounds this spring.
That facility will include a tropical butterfly house and a demonstration garden on wildflower pollinators.
Ewinger said the Johnson study will also look for new programming and review the offerings of other fairgrounds facilities.
“This (study) will help us achieve these goals,” she said. “I think we’ll get a lot of out of it.”