More events, activities wanted at county fairgrounds

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – County commissioners want to see more events and activities at the county fairgrounds, noting that the facility is underutilized.

At the same time, the Vero Beach City Council is considering the future of the Dodgertown Golf Course and getting more use out of that facility. Commissioners have tasked county staff to do what it can to better promote the fairgrounds. Currently, all the non-county usage at the fairgrounds has come from individuals and groups approaching the county instead of the county soliciting users.

They voted 3-2 to keep the marketing of the fairgrounds in-house, rather than invite private firms to craft a marketing plan for the county.

Commissioners Wesley Davis and Gary Wheeler voted against the measure.

Davis said he would rather see a public-private partnership forged in terms of marketing the fairgrounds.

“This has the ability to help the private sector,” he said, “not hurt them.”

Wheeler voiced concerns that promoting the fairgrounds for events might take business away from private venues, such as Pointe West and Polish American Club.

“I think you’re missing the point,” Davis said in response, adding that the fairgrounds’ rules do not allow for alcohol, which many of the private venues do allow.

“We lose a lot of events to that,” County Administrator Joe Baird said of the county’s ordinance prohibiting alcohol.

Commissioner Joe Flescher made the recommendation to his fellow commissioners that they should keep the marketing in-house.

“I think it needs to be retained by the county for the county,” he said.

Currently, the county has had portions of the fairgrounds rented out approximately 90 since January 2009. By comparison, the county’s own recreation department has used portions of the fairgrounds 210 days.

Assistant County Administrator Mike Zito told commissioners that the county makes a modest profit on the fairgrounds each year.

The county takes in approximately $90,000 from rentals at the fairgounds, he said.

County Budget Director Jason Brown said that the spends almost the same amount in operations, setup and breakdown and other expenses related to running the fairgrounds – combining both county and non-county related uses.

“It’s basically at break-even,” Brown said.

Davis said that the push for more activities at the fairgrounds is not about the money, but rather the impact on the community. He said that when the fairgrounds have events going on, the county’s hotels and restaurants see more business.

Commission Chair Peter O’Bryan said that having county staff better promote the fairgrounds could be the first step in getting more use of out the facility. If that shows signs of promise, commissioners could consider increasing the marketing of the fairgrounds.

Baird told commissioners that he has also been working with various sports associations to increase use at all the county parks, including Minor League Baseball at Historic Dodgertown.

The Vero Beach City Council is considering the future of the Dodgertown Golf Club and plans to discuss sending out a request for proposals at its next council meeting, in May.

M.J. Wicker spoke before the council this week, asking them to consider reestablishing the golf course.

Both his family and the Wadsworth Foundation has expressed an interest in reopening the course to the public.

“It was a great course with a great atmosphere,” Wicker said, “a great attitude of ‘come play – just come have fun’ and that’s what we want to keep alive.”

City Manager Jim Gabbard told the council that he plans to put the item on the next agenda, seeking direction from the council on how to proceed.

While two organizations would like to reopen the course, Minor League Baseball officials have expressed an interest in using some of the golf course’s land to establish softball fields, Gabbard said.

Gabbard has recommended sending out a proposal request to get from the organizations their ideas for the golf course. Before he can send that request out, though, he told the council that they need to determine what guidelines should be established.

Should the organization pay rent or have the property rent-free? If the golf course were to reopen, what would the rates be to play?

“I think they want to know what they’re getting into before they get into it,” Gabbard said of the organizations.

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