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Fair association receives discussion report

DICKINSON - The Stark County Fair Association Community Discussions Report was distributed at the group's regular monthly meeting on Monday. The report, which was compiled by The Consensus Council of Bismarck, outlines information gathered from the four community input meetings held in January and February.

Kurt Froelich, president of the fair association, introduced the 43-page report by highlighting a few areas of the he found valuable.

The report states the ideas gathered from the meeting tend to separate itself into seven major groups: Cost and sustainability, focus on agriculture, community communications, collaboration and duplication, use and functionality, community needs and diverse populations and specific events/activities.

The report also indicates the complex could certainly not be used for everything the public suggested at the meetings.

Froelich pointed out specific areas of recommendations laid out by the report:

-Any future process should include a collaborative approach that is inclusive of the major/key players and representatives of some of the smaller interest groups.

-The need for transparency and communication (two-way) cannot be stressed enough as the SCFA develops and implements a plan.

-The consistent involvement of all of the SCFA board of directors in the process will be an asset.

-The need for some concrete progress is essential.

-While a consensus-based process would be ideal and is recommended to the extent it can be implemented, the decision-making process can be expected to be difficult. It will be helpful for the SCFA board to realize it will not be able to meet everyone's needs.

However, mitigating some of what may be inevitable criticism can be achieved through the implementation of the points addressed previously. Decisions have to be made. Transparency, an open and active communication process, collaboration, systematic research and a careful, thoughtful process can establish and sustain a more integrated positive relationship with the community.

The input meetings were intended to gather area opinions about the development of 56.38 acres in west Dickinson that were set aside for the fair board to use.

The Consensus Council was hired by the fair board to organize discussion on the topic.

The report states a total of 82 overall community members attended the four meetings.

Although the board members had not seen the contents of the report until copies were distributed at Monday's meeting, the board members had plenty to discuss.

Froelich began the discussion by inquiring about ideas as to what the next plan of action should be.

"Where do we go?" he asked. "Where are we headed?"

He also made a suggestion for future action on the subject.

"Maybe our next step is there's probably going to have to be a subcommittee, and that subcommittee is going to have some pretty heavy charges," Froelich said.

He explained a subcommittee may be best because the fairgrounds project is going to need much more time and effort put into it than the fair board as a whole could carry out.

"To me, (meeting) once a month is not going to get this project along very far very fast," Froelich said. "The easy part is behind us."

Fair board member Bob Zent suggested the board identify specific projects to begin.

"Somehow or another we have to identify what's going to be our first project," Zent said.

He also expressed his concern for building multiple projects right away.

"We've got to pick something and go," Zent said. "I don't see the resources to do, you know, two or three things right off the bat."

The board also discussed comments they have been receiving from the region about a fairground complex.

"Since the public input meetings I've run into a lot of negative," Zent said. "People are under the impression that this is going to be a load on their property tax."

Fair board member Wally Wald disagrees with this idea.

"I don't think this will wind up on the taxes," Wald said. "I think there's other ways of handling it."

He pointed out other sources of funding the board has found for the project in the past.

"Some of the money has come from the sale of the lots, which was the intention when we started and the reason the state sold it back to the county for a reasonable price was to generate funds for it," Wald said.

Fair board member Russ Hoff said he has had many area residents tell him an arena should be a priority for a new fairgrounds. Zent agreed this is an important project to consider.

"Personally, I think the biggest need for what we're dealing with is an arena because we've got an arena that the insurance company doesn't want to insure," Zent said.

Fair board member Frank Klein added an arena would be a project that would be relatively inexpensive.

Some of the board members said another project that seems to be high in demand is a multi-purpose facility.

Froelich asked the board members to thoroughly read the report he had distributed so they would be prepared for a more in-depth discussion about the contents by the next board meeting. He also asked the board to consider whether it would be willing to be a part of a possible subcommittee that would deal specifically with the fair grounds project.

Zent reminded the board members there are still many difficult decisions to be made on this project.

"Going into the input meetings, I was hoping that we would have a more clear direction, but after attending all of the input meetings, it was quite obvious that we're going to have some hard decisions to make because there is not one clear direction," Zent said.