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After another stumble, Stark Co. fairgrounds project moves forward

The Stark County fairgrounds project appears to have overcome another setback, and the Fair Board in charge will soon request bids for the overall contracting of the project.

Decades in the making, the project got a boost last year when the Stark County Park Board approved spending $1.7 million on an 87-acre plot of land south of town for the grounds. But former Dickinson State University Foundation Executive Director Kevin Thompson then essentially took over the project, causing hurdles when Thompson resigned and the DSU Foundation went into financial receivership by order of North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

The Stark County Fair Board is planning an outdoor arena, and indoor arena and an exhibit hall at the land on Highway 22 about 2½ miles south of Dickinson.

The Park Board had given Thompson $300,000 in planning money with few strings attached, and now board members are hoping the work that money paid for can be incorporated into the current plans, which don’t include Thompson. About $58,000 remains of the money, and it has been returned to the county Park Board coffers, Park Board Chair Arnie Binek said.

About $13,000 of the money can’t be accounted for clearly. Binek said after asking interim DSU Foundation head Glen Young about that money, he said “things were kinda in a mess.”

Now the Fair Board must incorporate the feasibility study and master plans into the new plans going forward. Thompson was going full steam ahead before the DSU Foundation hit a rough patch late last year: Thompson had spearheaded a plan for a “supergroup” LLC but Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning shot down that plan over concerns with public and private entities sharing an LLC.

At a Stark County Fair Board meeting Wednesday night, members decided to move forward with bidding out the general contracting of the project.

Mortenson Construction has already been paid roughly $70,000 doing master planning for the project. Binek said he hopes Mortenson wins the bid to carry on its work, or that if another company wins, it is open to working with the existing plans.

Henning said it’s common with public projects to hire a company to do the feasibility study and plans for a project, and then bid out the actual general contracting job, which the Fair Board will do next.

In December, the Dickinson City Commission approved a future land use map amendment to allow the fairgrounds in the lot, which is in the city’s extraterritorial zone. At that time, the city requested the Fair Board also do a Planned Unit Development, Stark County Planner Steve Josephson said. The general contractor will help the Fair Board get the PUD ready for approval.

Binek said he’d like DSU Foundation involved in the project down the road for fundraising purposes.

In recent months, various members of the community — including representatives from DSU — have joined and rounded out the Fair Board, which took back control of the project when the LLC “supergroup” was ruled out.

“It’s kinda nice to have more people at the table,” said Lee Ann Karsky, chair of the Fair Board.

Binek and Karsky said they hope to be moving dirt by the spring.

“We’d love to say we’d like a 2016 fair,” Karsky said. But 2017 is more realistic, she said.

“So we’re kinda right now kinda floundering, trying to get that rolling again,” Binek said, “and I think once we can find out where we can go with that contractor, then the engineering … once we get that rolling, then I think we’ll be headed in the right direction.”

Lymn is a reporter for The Dickinson Press. Contact her at 701-456-1211.