Our views: Time right to consider fair options

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Rock County 4-H Fair is in a tough spot—literally and figuratively.

The fairgrounds are squeezed into 18.5 landlocked acres in the middle of Janesville. The location leaves no room for growth, and it guarantees traffic and other issues for the surrounding residential neighborhood when things get busy in late July every year. That's the literal part.

The figurative one involves the fair board's understandable desire to bring in the best musical acts possible to attract big crowds and help make the fair successful. As we saw this year, however, that approach can backfire when the crowd exceeds the capacities of the fairgrounds and the neighborhood.

Once again, we encourage the fair board and the county to take a hard look at the prospect of relocating the fairgounds to a spot that offers more room, better accessibility and less impact on surrounding properties. Several times in the last decade, that possibility has been raised, and reasonable options have been rejected.

It's time to once again reconsider a move, and perhaps a proposal for a regional agricultural events and education center near Evansville offers the most realistic opportunity yet.

While many people prefer not to talk about it, the fairgrounds' future is an especially timely topic after the problems that came with the huge crowd that visited the fair Tuesday, July 23. Many of them came from far and wide to see rising country-music sensation Florida Georgia Line.

To the fair board's credit, it once again got ahead of the curve and signed an act that gained tremendous popularity between the time it was booked and the time it performed. The same can be said for Hunter Hayes, who performed July 25. The Hayes show, however, required advance tickets, and that limited attendance.

The Florida Georgia Line show was more of a free-for-all, and the overflowing crowd led to long lines at the gates, safety concerns in the grandstand and complaints from neighbors about inappropriate behavior. We accept the explanation that not enough people in charge saw the crush coming, but it leads to the inevitable question.

Is it finally time to consider moving the fairgrounds? We think it is.

Yes, there is a cost involved, a huge cost, and now might not seem like the right time to ask taxpayers and others to contribute. But when is the right time?

Beyond that, does anyone believe the fairgrounds will serve the fair and its fans adequately for decades to come or that more problems of the kind experienced this year are not inevitable in the future?

In the past, the county has rejected a land swap off Interstate 39/90 south of Janesville that could have housed a new fairgrounds, and it has resisted designating county-owned land north of Janesville.

No prospective site is perfect, and the land near Evansville that's been suggested isn't either. It's in the far northwestern corner of the county, and that's a longer drive for many of the participants and fans. That's one thing that can be said for the current site: It's as central as you can get.

The Evansville proposal involves much more than the fairgrounds, and it's a long way from being a sure thing. That's OK. That affords plenty of time for thorough discussion about whether this, finally, could be the right move for the fairgrounds.

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