Fairgrounds concept goes through final hearing, open space easement approved

ARTICLE Missoula, Mont. (October 26, 2016) – After three plans, 10 years and three architects, the Missoula County Commissioners approved a fairgrounds concept plan Wednesday.

Designed by A&E Architects, the plan removes the horse racing track and adds a large-scale livestock center and expands the ice rinks.

“It seems like kind of an anticlimactic moment because it’s been years and years to get here, but it’s just a small moment,” Commission Chair Cola Rowley said, noting she was proud of all the work that was done to come up with the final plan.

 The largest building on the new grounds will be the livestock center, a 144,000-square-foot facility with two arenas and llama, poultry, sheep and goat pens, A&E architect Paul Filicetti said in his presentation of the design.

Attached to the south end of the building are 190 covered outdoor stalls for horses, to be used for rodeo events at the nearby proposed rodeo arena.

The arena and an adjacent lot for semi-trailers and horse trailers covers about four acres of the racetrack’s footprint, Filicetti said. The arena can seat up to 3,700 people.

A new 30,000-square-foot exhibit building in the southwest corner of the fairgrounds will have dual entrances from Russell Street and the grounds, allowing it to be naturally accessed from both areas, Filicetti explained.

The plan finally opens up the fairgrounds to public access throughout the year, with wide boulevard-like pathways crisscrossing the grounds, for walkers, bikers and runners.

“These pathways that go through the fairgrounds are rather large,” Filicetti said, pointing out a semi-trailer-size rectangle next to the pathway, which looked about three trailers wide.

An expanded ice sports center, with three ice sheets (one is a curling rink), would have seating for 2,200 people in the largest arena, as well as locker rooms and parking behind the center for visiting teams.

The presidents from Missoula Curling Club and Missoula Figure Skating Club both gave public comment, asking to be more involved in board decisions on the ice center, as they are regular users of the facility and feel that the Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association has too much control over its use.

County Chief Operating Officer Chris Lounsbury noted that Missoula Area Youth Hockey owns the machinery and equipment to maintain the ice sheets and leases the space from the county.

“We do need significant increases in ice use in Missoula,” curling club President Barry Bollenbacher said. “As we move ahead, we should include a more interdisciplinary group of users.”

In between the new buildings, about 13 acres of open space is left for the carnival, Filicetti explained, which is separated by Carnival Way and the new paths.

The idea is to section off different age-appropriate rides into the areas, to give the fair a more cohesive feel, instead of lumping all the rides together.

Buildings in the historical registry, Filicetti said, such as the culinary and commercial buildings, as well as Fair, Race and Carnival Ways, will be left intact.

A&E came up with the concept per a 2014 contract paying $112,667. There is no estimated cost associated with the plan.

In a joint meeting preceding the fairgrounds approval, the City Council and county commissioners approved more than $500,000 in open space bond spending, to establish a conservation easement for a working farm and ranch just outside Missoula city limits.

The Deschamps property, 575 acres of farm and ranch, is located to the west of Missoula International Airport in the Grass Valley. Montana Land Reliance will manage the easement.

Commissioner Stacy Rye and council members Jordan Hess, Annelise Hedahl and Michelle Cares were absent from the meeting. All other commissioners and council members voted in favor of the easement.

The city and county each spent $262,250 to cover almost half of the purchase price of the easement from 2006 open space bond funds.

An additional nearly $500,000 came from a federal grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“This bond that we passed back then is probably the most money that we’ve spent right,” Ward 4 representative Jon Wilkins said.

Mark Schultz, from Montana Land Reliance, spoke on behalf of Charlie and Nancy Deschamps.

The terms of the easement prohibit the land from being divided up, and also prevent commercial building; only agricultural buildings and one additional residence may be built on specified areas of the property.

The easement is just outside city limits and would border a subdivision, Schultz said, “so it’s obvious what the threat is.”

The purchase price was found by an appraiser with Montana Land Reliance, Schultz said. An official appraisal will be done soon, and the results, if higher, wouldn’t raise the city and county’s contribution.

Schultz said Montana Land Reliance is a statewide land trust that manages 800 easements totaling close to 1 million acres of land.

Their “bread and butter” are farms and ranches, he continued, making the active hay-producing Deschamps property perfect for their trust.

The lowlands section of the property produces about 1,000 tons of hay per day, while cattle graze on the uplands section.

Representatives from Five Valleys Audubon Society; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Five Valleys Land Trust; Missoula County Land Citizen Advisory Committee and a neighbor all supported the easement, touting its unique bird and wildlife habitats, good soil and proximity to the city.

The Audubon Society gave $2,500 to the project, Schultz said.

“It’s a huge portion of their budget and speaks a lot to how important they think this project is,” he said.

Schultz’s last slide was a photo of a cow skull in the tall prairie grass, rolling hills sloping away behind it. He said he wasn’t sure if he should include a skull in the presentation, but Charlie Deschamps pointed out, “it’s a ranch. Cows die.”

The beauty of the photo, he said, is that, “this slide could be taken anywhere in Montana.

“The fact that this was taken a mile from a subdivision speaks volumes.”

Source: Peter Friesen, Missoulian