Fairgrounds fair play

County open to suggestions for new uses at Gridley property

Butte County is looking for developers to come up with creative new uses for the fairgrounds in Gridley. But the fair won’t be going away, officials promise.

Butte County is looking for developers to come up with creative new uses for the fairgrounds in Gridley. But the fair won’t be going away, officials promise.

Photo courtesy of Butte County Fair Association

The Butte County Fairgrounds encompass 37 acres of tree-studded property in Gridley. And for about one week each year, that property is taken over by amusement rides, prized pig competitions and all of the wonders of a county fair in an agricultural community.

“I grew up showing at 4-H there, and my kids did, too,” said Butte County Supervisor Steve Lambert, whose district includes Gridley. “We’re not going to be shutting that down by any means.”

But the fairgrounds are at a crossroads of sorts. Just last month, the county put out a request for proposal from the private sector to come up with creative uses for the property. Not to wipe the fair off the map, though, Lambert said. In fact, one of the four criteria for accepting a proposal is that the fair have a permanent home there, explained Casey Hatcher, county public information officer.

“The real goal is, we would like to hear from the development community about what could take place at the fairgrounds as a redevelopment project,” she said.

The impetus for change was born several years ago, Lambert recalled. In 2014, the state pulled back funding for county fairs, resulting in the dissolution of many throughout the state. Butte County’s has remained viable, Lambert said, but the loss of state funds did require that the county step in to do more repairs and maintenance on the property that were previously performed by Butte County Fair Association employees and paid for out of its budget.

“It’s a beautiful fairgrounds; there’s a lot of natural beauty there,” Lambert said. In addition to outdoor arenas, there are horse stables, a large gym that is leased by the local high school most of the year, and a community swimming pool that will need upgrades in the next few years. “We’ve got some old buildings, there’s no large commercial kitchen. … We’ve got challenges. But there are a lot of creative people out there—we’re hoping they can come up with some solutions.”

Hatcher said the fairgrounds request for proposal is unique in that it isn’t seeking any specific solution, but rather is leaving the door wide open for creative ideas on how to improve the use of the space. In addition to maintaining the fair on the grounds, other criteria include providing a benefit for the community, creating jobs and minimizing costs to the county.

“Our responsibility is to ensure we’re using county facilities for the community,” Hatcher said. “We want to use it in the best ways possible. We need to find a balance that will allow us to maintain the fair and also better utilize that land.”

As far as the Fair Association is concerned, without an actual proposal in hand, there’s no way to know how to feel at the moment. That said, with a secure future on the premises, any change holds promise.

“Until we actually have an idea of what’s possible, it could be a great thing—or not. We just don’t know,” said Stephen Kenny, CEO of the association. “It could very much be a winning situation for the fair and the community.”

The request for proposal is out through Friday (Sept. 29) and can be accessed through the county’s website by visiting the General Services department page. Hatcher said she couldn’t confirm if the county had received any proposals or what their content might be until the period is closed.

“I like that people are thinking about it,” Lambert said. “If nothing else happens, we at least have people talking about it.”