Not just for 4-H anymore 

Missoula, and the Western Montana Fairgrounds, can have it all, says a market analyst. Rodeos, bull rides, BMX competition, monster trucks, concerts, tractor pulls, trade shows, even family shows like Disney on Ice and the Harlem Globetrotters. On Monday, county commissioners and the Fair board listened to the results of a convention center feasibility study that reviewed whether Missoula can support a “regional events facility”—similar to a convention center, but with an arena and without adjacent hotel rooms.

Market analyst Rod Markin, president of Minnesota-based Markin Consulting, shared a bird’s-eye view of the need for such a facility by comparing similar centers available in Idaho, Washington and the rest of Montana. Then he summarized the close-up perspective: results of polls and interviews with organizations like the YMCA, Little Grizzly Football and Missoula City Council.

Finally, Markin delivered a verdict: “We believe that the demand exists.”

One upside of a local events center, says Fair board member Nick Kauffman, with local engineering company WGM Group, is that Missoulians who are emptying their piggy banks in Billings for pricey concerts, like Cher, would be able to spend their money right here at home.

Although the University of Montana also hosts large concerts, at the Adams Center, Markin claimed that some promoters are loathe to sign on to a one-size-fits-all UM service contract.

The Fair board agreed to move forward with expansion planning. Funding is high on its agenda.

Fair Director Scott Meader looks forward to the prospect of using the fairgrounds year-round. He asked the county commissioners their perspective about raising public funds for the project.

“The mill-bank is not very big,” said County Commissioner Jean Curtiss.

Plus, said Commissioner Bill Carey, the public probably shouldn’t shoulder all the risk. He suggested public-private partnerships.

Commissioner Barbara Evans recommended consideration of a ballot initiative to raise necessary funds. Kauffman agreed. (So far, no dollar amount has been attached to the project.)

“We don’t have the cultural events and shows that other communities of our size have,” says Kauffman. “If the community sees that benefit, then we’ve got a place.”

The downside, familiar to many Missoulians, is that pesky nearby intersection: Malfunction Junction. Even the out-of-town market analyst could foresee the potential problem. “It’s both easy to access and hard to access because of the street system down there,” he said, diplomatically.

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