GREAT FALLS – While construction at the Montana ExpoPark is behind schedule after the winter, the grandstand project is expected to be complete by the Montana State Fair in July.
“The first phase was the grandstand main structure. We decided to upgrade the area around the grandstand and got rid of all the asphalt and put new concrete in,” Cascade County Commissioner Joe Briggs said.
The grandstands and the surrounding area are now ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. The Paddock Club will also be open during the fair, but the kitchen and meeting space will not be ready.
Briggs said crews were able to start some projects this fiscal year instead of the next due to budget modifications.
“That gives us more time to get some of the additional upgrades done before the state fair,” Briggs said.
One upgrade will be new LED lighting throughout ExpoPark, which will save the county money, according to Briggs.
New restrooms and a concession stand will also be added to the top of the grandstands in the next fiscal year. Briggs said the new grandstand design includes an elevator, but that will be added sometime in the future.
Aside from the construction of the grandstands, the Cascade County Commission has also approved the expansion of a study recently done on the Montana ExpoPark.
Great Falls Montana Tourism held a meeting last November to discuss the possibility of building a multipurpose events center.
The draft proposal included improving the Pacific Steel and Recycling Arena to a better flat floor convention hall while constructing a new multipurpose event center with fixed seating for 5,000-5,500 and retractable seating that would allow for 6,000-7,000 people.
Briggs said commissioners were curious about the impact on certain affairs such as the agricultural and livestock operations.
“The livestock area is on one side of the midway and the horse stalls are on the backside of the race track. So we asked about what kind of a realignment we can do to pull all of those elements together,” Briggs said.
When the fairgrounds are busy, Briggs said people have to bring their horses through traffic to reach the other area. He said commissioners want to see how they can improve the fairground’s layout.
“What this additional study will look at is where we might be able to restructure things in the long term so that the livestock can all be together and the layout of the fairgrounds makes more sense,” he said.
The county has never had a long-term plan for the ExpoPark.
“This additional funding will take the work that was already done and make it more useful for us for the decision-making process,” Briggs said.
He added that if citizens decide to build a new events center, the study’s expansion will help ensure the new structures are in the right place.
Margaret DeMarco – MTN News