The Douglas County Fairgrounds serve as the home of several user groups including the annual Douglas County Fair, Douglas County maintenance operations, Douglas County Extension Service, Douglas County 4-H, youth soccer, livestock and other animal groups and clubs, annual swap meet, circuses, car shows and rallies, and private events. In 2011, the Lawrence Convention & Visitors Bureau reported that the fairgrounds draws over 96,000 visitors per year, representing 13% of all visitors to Lawrence, and generating income of $8,035,000 per year with a local tax income of $200,000 per year.
The 36-acre tract of land for the fairgrounds was purchased in 1951 following the passage of a two-year tax on personal property and real estate and the first Douglas County Fair was held the following year. However, it wasn’t until the year after – 1953 – that the first buildings were constructed on the land. Over the next fifteen years, the increasing popularity of the site spurred conversations regarding expansion and, in the late 1970s, three more tracts of land were purchased adjacent to the fairgrounds, bringing the total area of the site to 49.8 acres. Over the next thirty years, original buildings were demolished and replaced as dictated by immediate need. Over the past few years multiple studies, committees, and plans have recommended major renovations and maintenance of the fairgrounds.
In the latest effort to renovate the fairgrounds to best serve its major user groups, address significant deferred maintenance, and bring the facilities into ADA compliance, the County Commission voted to move ahead with the project. Treanor Architects was retained to create a master plan for the site and anticipates completion of construction in 2017.
In February 2016, the Board of County Commissioners approved a total project budget in the amount of $7,996,650. The project will be financed with funds available in the county’s capital improvement fund.
The Fairgrounds construction process will consist of three phases:
Phase I will take place Spring 2016 through Summer 2016. It will include the demolition of the ball fields, the abatement and demolition of Buildings 1 and 2, the construction of the Meeting Hall, and extensions to both water and sewer lines.
Phase II will take place Spring 2016 through Fall 2016. It will include the construction of the Open Pavilion, the expansion of greenspace, and the expansion of car, RV, and trailer parking.
Phase III will take place Summer 2016 through Winter 2016. It will consist of the demolition of the Old Arena, the abatement and demolition of the Livestock Buildings, the construction of the New Arena (including the installation of seating and lighting), and the construction of the Concession/Ticket Building at the New Arena.