The final and most critical piece of the puzzle has fallen into place for construction of new multi-use pavilions at the Alliant Energy Center, said an official who has been pushing for the project.
Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive, said that the State Building Commission's final approval of $9 million in state funding for the project this month was necessary for the construction project to move forward.
The two "New Holland Pavilions at the Alliant Energy Center" will create 290,000 square feet of multi-use space at the county-owned grounds and will replace 11 aging barn facilities that have been home to World Dairy Expo and the Midwest Horse Fair as well as other livestock-focused events.
Because the county was moving ahead — with state and industry support — those two premier events at Dane County's fairgrounds have agreed to long-term contracts to stay in Madison.
The naming rights for the new pavilions were sold to New Holland earlier this year.
Though economic impact of the shows varies, depending on who is making them, it's possible that the new facilities could impact the region at $88 million because they will help Dane County attract a wide variety of events from farm-centered shows to convention and trade shows.
The new buildings that will replace the old barns will stay in roughly the same footprint but will use space more efficiently and provide amenities to exhibitors that have been missing. The space is being planned for multiple uses rather than just as livestock barns.
Parisi said the promise of the new pavilions has been important in attracting new proposals from shows that have never been to the Madison venue before.
"Making meaningful changes to keep the Alliant Energy Center a strong driver for our tourism economy was an early goal in my tenure as County Executive," he said. "This exciting moment for Dane County and our region could not be possible without the dedicated project partners who helped make these pavilions possible — from concept to construction."
Parisi said the state has been a supportive partner in the project and he thanked Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Ben Brancel and his staff for their support of the project.
When he became county executive, Parisi was concerned about rumors he had heard that World Dairy Expo was being wooed by other venues to leave Madison. He convened a task force to investigate what would be needed to improve the facilities to keep showcase events like Midwest Horse Fair and World Dairy Expo.
Many cattle exhibitors said they prefer to be in the stalls that are set up each year in the large tent structures that are added to the grounds because they are nicer than the old barns, so improving stall space was a driver in the early planning process.
While one or two of the barns date to 1996 when the Exhibition Hall was built, some date to the 1960s. The new pavilions are necessary to house nearly 2,000 head of dairy cattle during the October dairy show as well as 1,000 or more horses during the Midwest Horse Fair.
Plans for the new facilities, and the construction timeline, have changed as the process moved forward. At one time the old barns were slated for demolition right after World Dairy Expo but the construction would have had to be complete by the time the Midwest Horse Fair rolled around in April.
Officials thought that timeline, coupled with wintertime construction, might have been too optimistic.
Now, they plan to raze the old barns right after the horse fair ends and build the new facilities during the summer. That means the Dane County Fair will be impacted. The county has added money to the construction budget to rent tents that will be used during the county fair.
The Dane County Board has supported the project as well, securing the required non-state funds through the issuance of county bonds and the project was aided by contributions from World Dairy Expo and the Wisconsin State Horse Council, which owns the Midwest Horse Fair, as well as naming rights from New Holland.
The State Building Commission is chaired by Gov. Scott Walker, who has been supportive of the project throughout the process.
The project, he said, "ensures Wisconsin is on the forefront of hosting major events, like the World Dairy Expo."
Officials, including Parisi and Walker, said it's important not just to Madison and Dane County to keep a show like World Dairy Expo in southern Wisconsin, since it showcases the finest in dairy genetics, technology and equipment, but is important to the entire state and its agricultural economy and image.
Similarly, the Midwest Horse Fair draws equine enthusiasts from around the world.
The Building Commission includes the following members: Vice Chair Rep. Dean Kaufert, Sen. Neal Kedzie, Sen. Terry Moulton, Sen. Fred Risser, Rep. Joan Ballweg, Rep. Gordon Hintz and citizen member Bob Brandherm.