Oct 16, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterRiverton residents who attended a town hall meeting with members of Fremont County government were overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of a convention center in northwest Riverton.
At the meeting, Fremont County Fair and Rodeo executive director Barney Cosner discussed the idea for a multiple-use facility at the 100-plus-acre parcel adjacent to Major Avenue between Cooper Road and Sunset Drive. The county acquired the property this year for $200,000 from the Wayne Major Charitable Remainder Trust.
Cosner said the proposed events center would be large enough to contain all of the event buildings currently in place at the Fremont County Fairgrounds.
"It's an opportunity to expand and draw in more people," Cosner said Thursday. "When we look at opportunities to grow at the current site, (it's) going to be very difficult."
Cosner said employee and upkeep costs could be higher at a large facility, but the fair board is not looking to profit from the proposed center.
"At the same time would there be an opportunity to keep the (room rental) rates extremely low? I guess not," Cosner said. "If you have four or five events going on at the same time, we'll need people to be able to man and handle those events."
County Clerk Julie Freese seemed surprised when Cosner talked about the fair board's intent to maintain ownership of the current fairgrounds arena near South Federal Boulevard.
"So the fair would ... hold the arena as part of something you'd rent out?" Freese asked. "A lot of maintenance goes with that. ... Your budget wouldn't cover both locations."
Cosner called the existing arena a "quality facility" that is part of local tradition. He acknowledged that the arena's horse stalls could use some work, but he said there are too many other arenas in Fremont County already to justify building another one on the Major Avenue property.
Commissioner Doug Thompson asked about the possibility of selling the current fairgrounds property, but Cosner didn't think anyone would be interested in buying the 43-acre lot unless all of the buildings were removed.
Treasurer Scott Harnsberger was concerned about the profitability of a convention center, as were members of the public who stood to speak.
"If there's such a demand for events centers ... why isn't the private section of the community stepping up?" resident Chuck Lanham asked.
Wendell Manka recalled that efforts to build a convention center several years ago were rejected by local voters. Riverton does not have enough hotel rooms to accommodate a large event hall, he said, and the Major Avenue property would require a lot of work before it is ready to host guests.
Craig Cooper, who lives near Major Avenue, said the neighborhood would not be a good spot for fair activities or other events. Riverton Memorial Hospital is nearby, he said, as are several senior housing facilities.
"(With) demolition derbies, bright lights all night long, carnivals ... you're going to be getting phone calls," Cooper said.
Ken Webber, president of the Riverton Elders Affordable Care and Housing group, said his organization is "totally against" any development that would place a fair complex on the Major property.
County representatives said they appreciated the feedback. They plan to hold more public meetings about the Major Avenue property in Lander, Dubois, Pavillion and Shoshoni.
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