Lexi Kozlowski reacts as she and her friends stop at the top of the Ferris wheel at the 2017 Walworth County Fair in Elkhorn. Walworth County officials are considering a $300,000 loan to the Walworth County Fair to allow construction of a pavilion for the outdoor horse arena.


Walworth County officials are considering granting the Walworth County Fair a loan to build a pavilion at the fairgrounds’ outdoor horse arena.

The intent would be to attract larger horse shows and boost revenue.

Members of the Walworth County Board Finance Committee at its meeting Nov. 15 directed the administrator to negotiate the loan.

The county could forgive half of the $300,000 loan while the fair covers the rest, according to a document handed out at the meeting.

Since 2015, the county has appropriated an additional $60,000 a year to the fair for facilities and operational improvements, County Administrator Dave Bretl wrote in a Nov. 8 memo. That bump in aid came at a time when the fairgrounds’ profits were lingering in the red, and it was in addition to $20,000 the county gave the fair yearly.

Now, the county fair has recorded a profit each year since 2016. In 2017, the fair netted a $98,704 gain. Among projects funded by the county are a master plan, horse stall upgrades and new fencing. Next year, county aid will be used to improve the fairgrounds’ drainage.

Bretl said the proposed loan could serve as an “exit strategy” for the county’s assistance to the fair. It’s unclear if the county would continue appropriating $60,000 annually if it approves the loan.

Bretl said the county could revert to providing $20,000 yearly after the loan is paid off. He said the loan could provide long-term financial stability to the fairgrounds, and he said construction on the pavilion could begin as early as next year.

Board member Dan Kilkenny said during the meeting that the Walworth County Fairgrounds is in a position to rake in more profits year-round, and improvements to its facilities, such as the pavilion, could spur more rental opportunities.

“I think it’s kind of an ideal location for a lot of events,” Kilkenny said about the fairgrounds. “I think if the vendors are doing well, you might be able to up their rents … and start fine tuning and turning into a profitable situation.”

Larry Gaffey, the Walworth County Fairgrounds general manager, told the finance committee the fair previously paid $10,000 to rent a tent for its outdoor horse arena.

A permanent pavilion, which would essentially look like a large picnic shelter, would cover horses from the elements and provide opportunities for large-scale horse shows.

“Something like this will help the fairgrounds earn revenue,” Gaffey told the committee. “If this construction happens, it may take one or two years to get other big shows. … But we would anticipate getting more of the larger horse shows where the real revenue lies.”

Gaffey said the pavilion likely would be used strictly for horse events. He said there would be five or six rows of bleachers for spectators and family of competitors.

Jerry Grant, the vice chairman of the county board and a member of the finance committee, said the loan could be charged to the county’s 2020 budget. The county would forgive a portion of the loan each year up to $150,000 until 2024. The county would then collect its balloon payment of $150,000 from the fair by 2027.

The finance committee will hold a special meeting sometime before the county board’s Tuesday, Dec. 4, meeting to finalize the loan.

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