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Plans to build new barn-exhibition space

May 2, 2013 | 0 comments


Plans to build new multi-purpose barns-exhibition spaces at the Alliant Energy Center continued to move forward with a Dane County commitment to hire an architecture firm to draw up plans for the buildings.

Officials with Dane County said the modern, multi-use agriculture and exhibition "pavilions" have the potential to bring new shows and events into the facility as well as secure several of the largest events held at the fairgrounds.

The plans call for demolition of the old barns on the grounds so they can be replaced with one 200,000 square-foot building and a 90,000 square-foot building.

Architecture firm Strang Inc. is on deck to create the vision for the up-to-date ag and exhibition buildings at the site, which is home to World Dairy Expo and the Midwest Horse Fair – both of which use every inch of available space on the grounds and still have waiting lists for exhibitors.

Several of the old barns date from the 1960s and one was built in 1995 when the Exhibition Hall was build to replace a razed Forum building.

"These multi-use pavilions will accomplish goals I identified early in my first term," said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. "Secure the long-term financial strength of the county’s Alliant Energy Center, keep our facility a multi-million dollar contributor to our local economy and provide the kind of state-of-the-art space that will help current and new customers call the Alliant Energy Center home for years to come."

There had been rumors of World Dairy Expo moving to another location as Parisi took office, though Expo officials have denied they ever seriously considered moving.

Still, when Parisi took office, he took the threat seriously and began a major long-term planning effort for the 162-acre county-owned campus. He drew in the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) along with current users of the facilities to determine what was needed.

As the task force worked, plans changed. The first plan envisioned a much more expensive but smaller facility. Then plans centered on these two multi-use buildings in place of the old barns and how funding of $18 million could be secured for the project.

The state budget proposal before the legislature currently includes $9 million to fund half the cost of the project and has gone through some of the hoops to gain the approval of the Wisconsin Building Commission.

The plan is for the state to pay for half of the project and Dane County and private partners to pay for the other half.

If the state and county funding proposals meet final approval and if construction proceeds, the multi-use pavilions hold the potential to secure long-term commitments from events like World Dairy Expo and Midwest Horse Fair, the two largest events at the Alliant Energy Center, Parisi’s office said.

According to Parisi’s office, the prospect of these new multi-use facilities has already generated more than a dozen new contract proposals for shows that have expressed an interest in bringing their events to the grounds.

If everything falls into place it would mean hundreds of thousands in new business for the center and an influx in new tourism dollars for the local economy.

Each year about 65,000 people attend World Dairy Expo and the economic impact from that show alone is estimated at over $50 million. Officials with the show believe the impact is much greater, once the business done at the show is calculated.

Officials working on Parisi’s task force for long-term planning at the Alliant Energy Center grounds said that state legislators understand that this isn’t just a Madison event, or a regional event, but that dairy is important for the whole state and have generally been supportive of the plans.

Once the new buildings are in place, it will relieve World Dairy Expo of the need to put up the large tents that are used to house dairy cattle and cattle showcase sales during the show.

The changes would also free 700 parking places on the grounds during Expo week.

A resolution authorizing Dane County to award Strang Inc., the $745,000 architecture and engineering contract passed the Dane County Board’s Personnel and Finance, and Public Works and Transportation Committees last week. The full Dane County Board was scheduled to take up the item at its May 2 meeting and Parisi said he anticipated the board would give the proposal final approval.

Mark Clark was general manager of World Dairy Expo when the planning for the future of the center began. He has since left that post to become executive director of the Alliant Energy Center.

The land owned by the county is adjacent to city-owned land, some of which is home to recreational facilities like a dog park and tennis courts.

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