Simplified: The task force convened to create a future vision for the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds has found that the county doesn't have enough information to decide the next steps for the aging facility. The biggest obstacle? The strings attached to the land gifted more than 80 years ago.

Why it matters

  • It's no secret the fairgrounds' future is complicated. When Winona Axtell Lyon donated the nearly 50-acre plot of land in 1938, the gift came with lots of strings attached – including a stipulation that if the land isn't used for the fair, its ownership goes back to Lyons's heirs.
  • The task force's final recommendations to the Minnehaha County Commission – presented at a meeting Tuesday – focused on determining the value of the existing property and getting clarity on what exactly can be done on the site.
  • In the meantime, the task force findings show the county is missing out on regional events coming here because of the substandard facilities the fairgrounds have right now.
  • Commissioner Dean Karsky said he wants to figure out a way for the county to get a clear title to the land, and the time to take action is now.
"The iron is hot, and we need to keep striking at the metal and forge it the way it needs to be done properly," Karsky said. "I do not intend to put this on a shelf."

Tell me more about the task force findings

The commission authorized the task force last January to "prepare a vision" for the future of the fairgrounds.

The group presented three main recommendations to commissioners on Tuesday:

First, determine the existing property value.

  • From there, the task force recommends the county figure out what it'd cost to either bring the existing facility up to standard or to relocate.
  • Last summer, Knife River – the company that operates the quarry next to the fairgrounds – offered $65 million for the land. But the task force noted the county doesn't even know if there's quartzite under the fairgrounds.

Second, clarify the existing deed restrictions to figure out what the county can do.

  • That's something Commissioner Jean Bender said the county already knows. Bender noted the complexity of the situation and that there are no "magic solutions."
"We've gotten the gift," Bender said. "And when we take gifts the county has to be aware that they come with consequences."

Third, create another work group made up of folks from both the city and the county to brainstorm a new business model for the fairgrounds and explore public-private partnerships to fund whatever plan comes forth.

What happens next?

Karsky said the only way he sees forward progress is if the county can get a clear title to the property – a move he plans to bring forward for consideration.

It'll ultimately be up to the commission to decide what to do with the task force's recommendations.