The Bremer County Fair had requested a three-year lease to continue to use Memorial Park for its annual fair and other events it sponsors or hosts through February 2023 so they had more time to find a new, permanent home.
Instead, the Waverly City Council, citing its desire to move forward with its own plans for the area sooner rather than later, opted to grant a two-year extension during Monday night’s meeting.
In Tuesday’s edition of the Bremer County Independent, Waverly Newspapers had reported the lease extension would be three years, based on available information from the council’s agenda packet. This reporting corrects the record.
They also added that the Bremer County Fair Association needed to report to the council progress on the selection of a site by March 2020.
At-Large Councilwoman Ann Rathe moved to amend the resolution that was being considered for the extension, saying that the city has been in a “holding pattern” pending the move of the fair by the BCFA. The fair board, with help from the city and Bremer County Board of Supervisors have purchased 40 of the nearly 120-acre parcel that was the site of the Champions Ridge project.
Champions Ridge was the proposed site of the new fairgrounds and up to 12 baseball and softball diamonds to be used by the Waverly Softball Association. There have been discussions that the city wants to convert part of Memorial Park into a new aquatic center to replace the current municipal pool.
“We’re trying to figure out when can we start planning for an aquatic center or ball diamonds or whatever,” Rathe said prior to making her proposal. “I think we’re waiting to see what the fair board comes up with, because everything else is on hold for that space.
“I would feel much more favorable towards this resolution if it went year-to-year, one year at a time. I’m hoping it doesn’t take you three years to relocate.”
Kevin Rasing, the general manager of the fair, said moves like for the Bremer County Fair don’t happen instantly.
“It takes time to put a development together,” Rasing said. “We’ve got options out there. The Farm Bureau’s weighing in, and they’re a huge supporter of us, and they’re a big voice in Bremer County and in Iowa.
“We do want to listen to our county. We are all representatives (of certain areas of the county)… It all does take time.”
He told the council that in talks with City Administrator James Bronner, he said developing the new fairgrounds would take around three to five years. Bronner said as he original 33-year lease was to expire earlier this year, he and BCFA members had discussed having year-to-year extensions.
“That was discussed at length the last time, whether it was better to go year-to-year,” Bronner said.
Rathe mentioned the extensions the city gave Champions Ridge for its fundraising in 2018.
“I don’t think it did them or us any favors,” she said. “I’m much more in favor of the one year at a time, and then we can extend it, if needed, if we can see what the plans were and that it’s moving forward.”
However, Ward 1 Councilman Brian Birgen appeared the favor the three-year proposal.
“We know it is going to take at least three years,” Birgen said. “I don’t think there’s a way that they can develop a property to be used at the fair in time for the following years.”
Rathe, who is a council liaison for the youth ball diamond task force, said that the city is looking at possibly developing a parcel along Cedar River Parkway across from the Waverly Shell Rock Soccer Complex within 18 months.
“I can promise you, I can’t get a fair done in one year,” Rasing contended.
At-Large Councilwoman Edith Waldstein wanted to know the timeline that the fair needed, assuming they pick a site by January. Rasing said the contractors he’s contacted already have their work for the summer of 2020 booked solid.
“Them guys are already booking their next year’s business,” he said. “That already puts you out another year.”
“So, you’re saying you’ll get nothing done in the entire next year as well, because somebody has booked out their work?” Bronner responded. “You’re looking at the summer of ‘21 before you can even move dirt once you’ve established a site in January? An entire other year to even start, and then after that, you’d get to spring.”
Rasing asked Bronner when the city bids out their work. The administrator said it’s done in January for that year.
“You’re saying that 14 months from then you’d still wouldn’t get dirt moved?” Bronner continued. “That seems excessive. I mean, come on. There’s people with ‘dozers. There’s other people other than (Petersen Contractors Inc.) that do this work.”
Waldstein thought having a two-year compromise a good idea, because it would keep deadlines as tight as possible without being unrealistic. Birgen added after two years, the city and fair board would see whether progress would be seen.
“If we’re not seeing progress after two years, it’ll be time for a hard discussion,” he said.
Danny Buls, the fair’s treasurer, said that while the city is in a holding pattern on the fair, the BCFA has felt it reciprocally as the city has continued to hold the lease on the fair’s portion of the Champions Ridge site.
“We haven’t been able to act on anything, waiting on the outcome of the Champions Ridge project,” Buls said. “We have multiple people saying multiple things.
“We cannot move forward until we get a firm response from what is going on with Champions Ridge. We know there is another agenda out there (the youth ball complex) that’s been going full gear, high gear, while we’re in a holding pattern…
“I know if we’ve had our deed for our 40 acres, we’d have a building out there by now. We had a president who was determined to do that about a year ago. You just don’t build on somebody else’s ground without a deed.”
Buls thought that the city’s move to start discussions of the Cedar River Parkway youth diamonds site stalled Champions Ridge. However, Rathe said the city’s move was in response to Champions Ridge’s fundraising efforts not meeting expectations and eventually dying out.
“We took our vote on Champions Ridge… in March,” she said.
“To say it all of a sudden popped up, I don’t think that’s fair at all,” Bronner added.
Mayor Dean Soash reminded the fair reps that the original deadline for Champions Ridge to meet their fundraising goals was at the end of 2017, and the current council extended it twice in 2018. There were also benchmarks set by Champions Ridge board members to meet at three separate times in that year: Sept. 15, Nov. 15 and Dec. 31, 2018.
“Only one of those benchmarks was reached,” Soash said. “Therefore, in March, when the council voted, the development agreement that was signed and extended twice was null and void.”
He added that any assistance the fair would need from the city would require a new development agreement. Throughout earlier discussion, council members said that the city would redirect the $120,000 in cost easements that were used to purchase the fair’s 40-acre plat to the new site if it’s still within or within reasonable proximity to the city limits.
Buls said the confusion in his and maybe other BCFA members’ minds is the status of the youth ball diamond task force’s recommendation, as Champions Ridge was still being considered for a while. Rathe said that the group had settled on the parkway site.
“The task force was asked to look at city-owned property that would be options for ball diamonds, and the Champions Ridge property is city-owned,” she said. “That was looked at by the taskforce along with other sites, and it was determined that the best site for the ball diamonds was near the soccer complex.”