Fairgrounds supporters launch campaign for $19M bond for ice, livestock
(Missoula Current) The backers of a bond to make additional improvements to the Missoula County Fairgrounds launched their campaign on Thursday, saying new and expanded facilities are needed to help the century-old property meet today's demand.
The $19 million bond is one of two funding requests being pitched to voters this November. Along with the fairgrounds request, voters will also consider a $5 million crisis services levy to fund homeless operations, mental health care, and treatment for addiction.
With the best attended Western Montana Fair now in the books, advocates of fairgrounds improvements are hoping to convince voters that the need for upgrades is great and the time is now.
Those backing the effort said the property and its offerings has become a victim of its own success. It's also the heart of the Midtown District – an area of Missoula that's on the rise and ripe for infill growth and redevelopment.
“This is an active, vibrant part of the community, and the fairgrounds is a big part of that,” said Midtown business owner Burke Homes. “Really, it’s the crown jewel of the area and if it’s doing well, so will the surrounding neighborhood and businesses.”
Missoula County commissioners in July agreed to place the $19 million fairgrounds bond on the November ballot.
If approved, the revenue would fund the construction of a new livestock and equestrian center, a third sheet of National Hockey League ice, and renovations to the existing Glacier Ice Rink.
“With an agriculture arena and pavilion and a new, third sheet of ice we can meet that demand,” said Ryan Yearous, president of the Glacier Ice Rink board. “That will allow more people to skate for exercise, watch hockey games, and take part in ice sports. And it will allow 4-H and FFA to include more people in their activities and events from throughout the county.”
The fairgrounds has evolved over the past five years thanks to an array of funding sources including tax increment financing from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and additional mills leveraged by Missoula County.
The latter helped raise funding to cover Phase 1 improvements, which have included historic renovations and various site improvements such as landscaping, a plaza, fencing and other things.
But Phase 2 will require additional revenue and if the $19 million bond is approved by voters, the county can move those improvements forward.
Ramona Holt, a Lolo rancher who has studied the history of the Fairgrounds and helped build the 4-H kitchen at Fairgrounds in the 1940s, noted that Missoula County residents made an investment to create it as a community gathering place more than 100 years ago.
“Missoula County voters today have the opportunity to do the same. We should invest in this important part of our community, which is more popular and needed than ever before,” Holt said.
Opponents have decried the project as more taxes at a time when housing prices are already high, along with the cost of living. The county last year declined the place the same request on the ballot.
If approved, property taxes on a home with an assessed value of $100,000 would increase by $7.44 per year. Taxes on a home with an assessed value of $200,000 would increase by $14.88 per year. The assessed value of a home is set by the state and doesn't correlate to a home's market value, which is often many times larger.
According to advocates, the bond would fund an 80,000-square-foot indoor Agricultural & Livestock Arena; improved 4-H and FFA learning and exhibit areas; a third sheet of NHL-sized ice rink; and additional green space at the Fairgrounds.
Missoula County residents can learn the taxable value of their homes by following this link.