County entertains proposed $8.5M Expo Center

Posted 11/10/20

Madison County Commissioners were presented with a proposal for a planned $8.5 million expo center at the county fairgrounds Monday at their regular (if irregularly located) meeting.

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County entertains proposed $8.5M Expo Center

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Madison County Commissioners were presented with a proposal for a planned $8.5 million expo center at the county fairgrounds Monday at their regular (if irregularly located) meeting.

The court met at the Truman Kimbro Center Monday to accommodate the larger-than-usual presentation, which included multiple speakers from the Economic Development Corporation, the Madison County Fair Association and even a pair of high school students who participate in events typically held at similar expo centers.

An expo center has long been discussed for the county, according to Matt Newton, the chairman of the Economic Development Corporation and chief appraiser for the Madison County Appraisal District. Such a facility would host livestock shows, rodeos and other large events, similar to the Leon County Expo Center in Buffalo.

“We’ve talked about this for the last 20 years,” Newton told commissioners, reference plans that at one point included Texas A&M and the Madisonville Sidewalk Cattlemen’s Association. He said the current proposal has been in the works since early 2019, but this was the first publc presentation of the plan.

Newton and County Judge Tony Leago admitted to commissioners that a new facility, which would be erected on 30 acres currently owned by the MCFA and would require the purchase of 10 additional acres of land, would not service its own debt from hosted events, but would provide significant economic impact to the county and local businesses.

“What it would do is be such a benefit to the county in many ways, you can’t put a dollar on it,” Leago said.

Newton said the construction, land purchase and other related costs would total an estimated $8.5 million.

The first step for the proposed project would be commissioners approving $350,000 to have blueprints drawn up for the expo center. No action was taken on the measure Monday, which was expected, according to Leago.

“We need to do our homework,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Ricky Driskell said.

The bulk of funds for the project would come from the county’s capital project fund, which currently has $1 million in reserve, Leago said. Other monies would come from fundraising and the City of Madisonville. The proposed financing for the center would come from low-rate United States Department of Agriculture loans.

If the facility is built, the MCFA will deed the land on which it sits to Madison County, leaving the county as sole proprietor, though the MCFA would have seats on a board governing the center.

“There were concerns (about loss of control), and there probably still are concerns,” MCFA Vice President Karl Radde said. “There’s still an agreement to be hammered out.”

MCFA President Bob Choiniere told commissioners the city’s position halfway between Houston and Dallas makes it an ideal spot for an expo center, and will help the MCFA by replacing current aging structures.

“Our facilities are not getting any younger,” he said. “We have a great need for this facility.”

Presenters said other expo centers around the state are often booked years in advance, which very few open dates.

“Some of these things are booked solid for years,” Newton told commissioners.

According to plans for the project, the center would be housed in a 100,000 square-foot metal building and allow for a rodeo arena, show area, bleacher seating, concession area, rodeo office, meeting room, restrooms and storage. It would also enclose the current Family and Consumer Science at the fairgrounds and convert the space into an exhibition area.

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