Where will the Bremer County Fair of 2022 be held?
Everyone in the county wants to know the answer to this question.
Short answer: Hopefully, at the fair’s new location.
Long answer: The Bremer County Fair Association has just two years — a second extension granted by the Waverly City Council (the board asked for three, but got two) — to make that happen.
To explore options and reach consensus, the board and the local office of the Farm Bureau held a community meeting on Monday night.
It was the first public forum on the issue, timed to accommodate the farming schedule.
In just 27 months, when the fair’s lease with the City of Waverly expires, and they will be expected to vacate the current fairgrounds at Memorial Park, the site of the fair for many years, the new location has to be operational.
Accomplishing this daunting task against what appears to be a hard deadline — it is unclear if the new council would look favorably on another extension scenario, even though Ward 1 Councilman Brian Birgen did appear to leave some wiggle room when the issue was last discussed, should some demonstrable progress be made — has put the fair board in high gear to find a viable solution.
And find it fast, they must.
That urgency is enhanced by the fact that the fair was left in limbo after Champions Ridge, the collaborative project between the fair and the Waverly Softball Association came to an abrupt end in March, with the council voting to end the development agreement between the city and Champions Ridge due to deficient fundraising and lack of progress on the site.
Over a hundred area residents packed the 4-H building at the fairgrounds on Monday to hear options and advocate for solutions.
“We are under a real tight deadline,” said Chris Dix, the secretary of the Bremer County Fair Association.
The Monday discussion considered incorporated locations not only on the west side of Waverly, like Champions Ridge, but also the northwest, near the Waverly Sale Barn, and east sides of town, near the future site of Titan Machinery, and the Poor Farm Foundation buildings, which are located in the rural, geographic center of Bremer County.
Speakers voiced considerations such as the distance from towns in the county; plot size, which affects whether all the fair infrastructure from the Champions Ridge fairgrounds portion would fit onto the lot; as well as the relative ease of running utilities to the site and landscaping for runoff, and whether driveway access would require additional easements.
After comments from attendees, Fair Board member Josh Gibson agreed with commenter John Meyer’s point that 10,000 of Bremer County’s 24,000 people live in Waverly.
“By having it closer to Waverly, we have Waverly kids that are going to go to the fair and ... might get interested [in farming]. If you move it to Tripoli, half the kids in Waverly I’m willing to bet don’t even know where Tripoli is,” Gibson said. “I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but if you look at it, half of our customers are in Waverly.”
Meanwhile, Fair General Manager Kevin Rasing agreed with several commenters that the focus should be on the next generation.
“We work very hard with [County] Extension to provide what we can for the kids in 4-H and FFA programs, that is our main reason for being here, and it is all about the kids,” Rasing said. “The rest of it helps pay for it and helps provide entertainment for the county.”
The fair board will meet again at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, for its annual meeting at the Bremer County Extension office.
As to whether any new direction had emerged, Fair Board President Pat Reiher said, “Not until our meeting on Monday.”
Questions about the following sites were raised during the meeting:
1. Champions Ridge west site
The city owns the Neil Smith farm, and the Fair Association purchased 40 acres of it from the city.
“We still own those 40 acres even though we do not have the deed,” Rasing said. “It is paid for with the help of the [Bremer County] Supervisors and money that the city took off of our bill.”
“There’s a clause in our contract,” Rasing said. “If we don’t take the deed, we can get our money back. That was one reason we didn’t take the deed. The other clause was, we were supposed to be there building and we’re not.”
“The legal aspect of it is, we have to be vacated from Memorial Park where we’re sitting on by 2019,” Fair Board treasurer Danny Buls said. “That phrasing is one they held over top of us to not give us the deed.”
Iowa law says the fairgrounds must either be in the fair’s name or the county’s name, and the 40-acre plot on the west side of town is technically owned by the County Board of Supervisors, which chips in $20,000 a year to the fair, Rasing said.
Easement would have to be purchased from the Department of Transportation to access the site from Highway 3, and assuming the adult ball field groups continue to look elsewhere, the fair or county would need to purchase additional land for parking, which it had planned earlier to share with the ballfields.
2. Sale Barn area northwest site
An attendee asked about a site at or near the Waverly Sale Barn, which was discussed before the Fair Board voted to go to the west side.
“It was going to cost quite a bit of money,” Rasing said, noting a decent economy: “I can’t imagine what he wants now.”
3. The Titan Machinery area east site
A 50.8-acre site on the east side of town near a 6-acre Titan Machinery parcel was discussed.
“We have an opportunity right now to piggyback on that project,” fair board member Roy Petersen said, noting the abundance of farm stores nearby that would tend to share customers with the fair.
Petersen worked with Modern Builders to assess how everything would fit on the east site but noted: “It hasn’t been voted on [by the Fair Board].”
“We were able to put everything we have out there [at Champions Ridge] out here, the same structures, and we also got to add 1,000 more parking spots, in strategic locations, and we also got a kickoff in water detention and retention which is something that is nicer here and less costly than what we had out there,” Petersen said.
“On the east side, there’s an opportunity for two driveways, on the north side near Titan’s and far north point which would also give access to a family farm behind it,” Petersen said. “We would have two entrances there and we don’t have to work with the state.”
Peterson did not quote a price range when an attendee asked.
“I can tell you this, it’s very attractive, once again it falls into equal or better price, also equal or better property. Keep in mind, it’s a standalone if the fair wanted to be on their own.”
If the Fair Board and City Council were to approve plans, “it may be possible to share or reduce hookup fees if multiple developers are working together such as the east property,” said Petersen, who works in construction.
4. Poor Farm Foundation site
The former Bremer County Home and Poor Farm Museum is located half a mile south of the County Road C-33 and U.S. Highway 63 junction, 1951 Larrabee Ave.
The “poor farm” or County Home residents worked ground, raised livestock, and were a self-sustaining community. In 1999 as the Larrabee Center, it disbanded and the residents moved into supported living in town.
It is physically central and is fewer than 20 miles from every town in the county, Poor Farm Foundation President Ann Harms said.
It has three-phase electricity installed, two working wells, access from C33 on the north and a gravel road from the east and indoor plumbing. It has an elevator which is disconnected since it would have cost about $400 a year to have it serviced according to the state.
“We would probably as a nonprofit organization want to keep the building but work with the Fair Board,” Harms said. “We taxpayers own that property and should have the final say as to what happens out there.”
Rasing had concerns of the cost to fix a leaky roof on the main, 11,000 square foot building and the cost to plan for the yearly spike in sewer use during the fair.
“As much as I respect the Poor Farm Foundation, in my opinion it would cost too much to fix [the roof],” Rasing said. “Sewer is a huge cost. I’m not saying we can’t live with porta potties but do you want to live with porta potties forever?”
The underlying issue is space. The Poor Farm Foundation has 12 acres of farm ground where its buildings sit. The Fair Board now controls 18 acres of ground at Memorial Park.
“It wouldn’t be feasible to put the fair on with less land and with zero parking,” Supervisor Tim Neil said afterward. “It wouldn’t work.”
The county owns and rents out 240 acres of farm ground near the Poor Farm Museum.
“The county supervisors [say] that is an income for them,” Rasing said. “They do not want to give that land up.”
Neil has been a county supervisor for nine years and was secretary to the Fair Board 11-12 years ago when it asked the Board of Supervisors to consider giving up rental ground and income for the fair.
Right now rents are down somewhat with the poor farm economy and rental income is about $95,000, Neil said. Farm rent from the goes into general fund and has recently ranged from $95,000 to $110,000. Rental income goes to the general fund, which offsets potential taxes for services such as supported community living.
“It would lower our rent if we took any of it out of production,” Neil said. “If we pulled 40 acres out, we would lose probably $6,000 to $8,000 a year in rent, over a number of years that would add up, too.”
When the county gave the Poor Farm Foundation its land, it kept three main buildings which county departments use for storage.
“If we would give those up to the fairgrounds, we would have to build other buildings elsewhere or find space to trade off,” Neil said.
The board has not discussed [in nine years] giving up the farm grounds.
“You never want to go into a meeting with a decision made, but without more information, my personal information is I would not favor it,” Neil said.
It would only be considered were the Fair Board to vote to do so, then bring it to the county.
Area residents voice opinions
“I would like to think the history to be a strong point of the fair,” said teacher Christine Jacobs of Janesville. “I think joining up with the Poor Farm personally would be a great way to educate students to navigate that mentality … We’ll probably have more ownership in other towns in Bremer County as well as Waverly.”
John W. Meyer of Waverly, a donor to Champions Ridge, agreed but said to also consider the geographic distribution of customers of the fair.
“The county is 24,000 people; 10,000 of them live in Waverly,” Meyer said. “You rely on the customers coming in. I come to the fair every year... If you move to the Poor Farm, this is one customer who is not going to go there.”
Cathy Busch of Fredericksburg said young fair attendees should be considered.
Busch, who along with husband Lowell purchased the Farm House Bed and Breakfast and Winery in the Fredericksburg area in recent years, was holding her baby son.
“We proudly live on a century farm, and hope [our son] will continue that tradition. We want to see him in 10 years be at the county fair. That doesn’t mean we can’t have regional draws, the bands, tractor pulls, … but it’s important to remember why we’re here, is for kids like him, that we want to continue.”
Brenda Meyer has worked on the Champions Ridge project for about six years.
“I don’t think it should be lost that the Champions Ridge project has raised $1.4 million,” Meyer said, “$400,000 of that is cash in the bank right now, $600,000 of that is in pledges from people who got on board in 2018 or earlier, and $400,000 is from expenses that have occurred to date. [Among expenses is] $120,000 in construction documents that is bought and paid for and done, and we have something for it.”
Dix, the secretary of the Fair Association, said the focus should be on what’s best for the fair’s future.
“We got every side heard,” said Dix. “We are going to have to keep the ball moving forward. There’s people who are motivated for each spot and they will push. So let’s find a spot, and let’s everybody get behind it, and let’s move forward. We need people to understand that it’s got to be what’s for the best longevity of the fair.”