On the heels of a Washington Park Board recommendation last week, city council members voted Monday to advertise for bids to construct a permanent main stage at the Washington Fairgrounds.
A final decision on whether or not to fund the project this year will be made after bids are received and evaluated.
Proponents would like to see construction begin April 1 so that the facility can be completed in time for this year’s Fair in August.
The permanent stage facility is one of the last major fairgrounds improvements proposed in the long-range plan that was developed by a board committee in 1992, according to Ron Unnerstall, whose company, Washington Engineering & Architecture, designed the plans and specifications for the proposed facility at no charge.
Unnerstall, a former Fair Board chairman, said the city already plans to construct a permanent restroom facility on the north side of Lions Lake. He said Brian Boehmer, assistant city administrator, suggested combining the two into a single facility that would include restrooms and the permanent stage facility.
“Why now? The city already has $210,000 budgeted for new restrooms on the north side of Lions Lake,” Unnerstall noted. “Construction and material costs are very competitive right now,” he added.
Mark Wessels, executive president of the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber has pledged $250,000 toward the project expected to cost roughly $560,000.
That would leave a shortfall of approximately $100,000.
City Administrator Jim Briggs presented a revised report on anticipated revenue from the city’s half-cent capital improvement sales tax. That report projects that by the end of the current eight-year program, after all promised projects are completed, there would be a balance of more than $1.35 million, even with allocations of $100,000 toward the main stage project and $525,000 for the all-abilities park which the council agreed to fund last month.
Wessels said the Chamber proposes to pay off the $250,000 over the next five years utilizing Fair profits and contributions from sponsors and civic organizations.
After the proposal for a combined facility was suggested, Wessels said he put out “feelers” to determine if there was support from sponsors and civic groups to help make the project a reality.
“The response was positive enough that I think we should do this,” Wessels remarked. He said he is “confident” that the facility would be a multipurpose building that could be used for many events and functions throughout the entire year.
He suggested recognizing sponsors similar to the way they are recognized at the Farmers’ Market. A large panel on the south side could be used for that, Wessels noted.
If management of the facility would be an issue, the Chamber would work with the city on that, Wessels said. However, he said he believes the parks department staff should handle that like it does with managing other facilities available for rent.
Councilman Connie Groff questioned the loss of green space with a permanent facility. Unnerstall said the facility would take between 5 and 10 percent of the field north of Lions Lake which is used primarily during the Fair.
The project would provide a facility that the city can utilize year-round, said Dale Westhoff, 2012 Fair chairman.
Unnerstall said the need for a permanent stage has grown in importance since the disaster at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 13, 2011, when a temporary stage collapsed, killing seven and injuring another 43 people.
“Performers want to know that a facility is safe,” he told the council. At last week’s park board meeting he said when completed, this would be the safest structure on the Fairgrounds.
He also noted that the facility could be used for many other things throughout the year including park department programs, car shows and other events.
“You’re looking at an interior 800-square-foot climate-controlled facility,” Wessels noted. “It has a lot of potential.”
While Groff called it a “great project,” she said she has a hard time spending “this big amount” at the outset.
Councilman Jeff Mohesky said he respects that but made the motion to advertise the project. “I’d still like to see what the bids are,” he said.
The vote was unanimous to go out for bids.