For the past several years, Lorene Bonds, secretary of the La Plata County Fair Board, has noticed a steady decline in visitors to the annual event, but she doesn’t chalk it up to lack of interest.
“We’re just so cramped,” Bonds said of the current location of the La Plata County Fairgrounds. “We just don’t have the ability to service the community as we’d like to.”
For years, organizers that use the La Plata County Fairgrounds have claimed they have outgrown their space at 2500 Main Ave., sandwiched between Durango High School and the Durango Community Recreation Center.
But in 2015, fortunes changed when local philanthropist Marc Katz purchased 1,850 acres atop Ewing Mesa, announcing he’d donate nearly 200 acres for a new multi-events center and fairgrounds.
The property in question is commonly referred to as Ewing Mesa, a mesa above Durango accessed from Colorado Highway 3. The area is slated to be renamed Durango Mesa Park once complete.
On Monday, that concept came a little closer to realization, as project planners released three development options (one preferred and two alternatives).
Ann Christensen of DHM Design presented to a crowd of more than 50 people a conceptual plan for the multi-events center and fairgrounds, focusing on the preferred action plan.
For instance, both the indoor and outdoor arena, which are each about 35,500 square feet at the current fairgrounds, would be more than doubled in size to about 87,450 square feet.
A new 185,000-square-foot exhibit hall would hold the potential for other events, such as equestrian contests or concerts. And the administration and meeting rooms would jump from 7,752 square feet to 26,900 square feet.
Planners also took years of public comment into account, such as the desire for renewable energy options, more room for the yearly carnival, easier access for animals to stalls and an emphasis on using local material for building.
The master plan also calls for a gathering space, livestock barns, a show arena and room for plenty of parking. And, the proposed plan shows a “community barn,” which could be rented out for parties, weddings and other events.
Christensen said project planners will now finalize a draft proposal to present to La Plata County commissioners this fall, complete with a projected construction cost.
Funds from the Colorado Lottery have covered the entire cost of the master plan, and County Manager Joanne Spina said now that it is complete, the county can search for other funding sources, such as grants or partnerships.
“There are a variety of ways we’ll try to gain funding for a project like this, because we certainly don’t have that revenue stream in our budget right now,” Spina said.
While La Plata County will take the lead on pushing the new fairgrounds, the city of Durango will mostly be in charge of developing uses for the rest of the vast acreage atop Ewing Mesa.
Ideas that have been circulated include a concert/festival area, more connectivity to surrounding trails in Horse Gulch, and even a potential BMX course.
Cathy Metz, the city’s parks and recreation director, said a meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Durango Community Recreation Center will be the first step in updating the city’s parks master plan, which currently has no mention of Durango Mesa Park.
“That’s obviously a real big change from the focus of our current mater plan and why we’re doing an update,” Metz said. “We want to get a sense of what the community would like to see.”
Moira Compton, a spokeswoman for the Katz family, said they are “very happy with the progression of this project and where we are today. We’re really kind of getting to the point where the ball is now rolling, and that’s very exciting.”
As for Bonds, the conceptual plan for the new fairgrounds holds promise for the future.
“I think it’s going to be wonderful,” she said. “With easier access, more people will come, and the activities we present to the community will be a lot more.
“I think it’ll definitely bring more revenue to the community at different aspects all over the place.”