Plans advance for Evansville ag complex

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Gina Duwe
Saturday, May 11, 2013

— The results of a nonprofit group's fundraising feasibility study for a regional agricultural events and education center look promising, and potential investors want more details, a spokesman for the group said.

Southern Wisconsin Agricultural Group hopes to raise at least $25 million, board members said earlier.

The fundraising study found SWAG's plan has the potential to raise money, but a spokesman Thursday declined to say how much.

The study was not intended to ask for money, said Kennan Wood, of Wood Communications Group, which was hired by the agriculture group to help with the project.

“It really was to go out and see if people bought into the vision—from the 30,000-foot level—and what their capacity may be if we get the vision right,” he said.

The study included talks with people in the agriculture industry and related businesses, philanthropic organizations, business leaders in Evansville and surrounding region and education officials.

SWAG board members, most of whom are Rock County farmers or agribusiness professionals, want to build the complex to educate people about agriculture, engage them in agriculture and promote and protect the industry. It also could host the Rock County 4-H Fair and Blackhawk Technical College agriculture courses.

SWAG last year bought more than 200 acres of vacant land for $2.17 million at Highway 14 and County M on Evansville's east side for the project. Whether the complex is built there, however, is not guaranteed, Wood said.

“Everything's on the table,” he said.

One of the questions that came up during the study was whether Evansville is the right spot, he said.

“We want to have conversations with everyone before we say, 'Yes, it's done,'” he said.

Many people already think Evansville is a good spot, he said, but SWAG members want everyone to have a say on where the right location is and why.

Everyone interviewed for the study bought into the premise that agriculture is important and that education and youth leadership are critical, he said.

“But we need more details in terms of going forward about specifics and priorities,” he said.

The next step is to set up advisory councils to “fine-tune the vision” and details over the next three to six months before the start of a fundraising campaign, Wood said.

The advisory councils could include 40 to 60 people from Rock, Dane and Sauk counties and surrounding areas. Council members might determine more or less money is needed, Wood said. While the project might take longer than anticipated, the study found, it is doable, he said.

Last updated: 10:37 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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