Montgomery County Fair nears debut in new $15 million digs

After 165 years in Dayton, the Montgomery County Fair will open in a little over a month in a new facility expected to bring new life into an often-overshadowed part of the county.

“It’s a new life for the Montgomery County Fairgrounds & Expo Center, and a new life for Jefferson Twp. It’s going to transform the area and the region to a better place,” said Steven Woolf, the township administrator. “It is a diverse community of both city and rural, and we’re excited about being able to tie all this together into one big opportunity.”

MORE: The transition continues: What they’re saying about the new Montgomery County Fairgrounds

Officials broke ground on the $15 million first phase last August, and construction really got rolling in October at the 157-acre site at 5661 Dayton-Liberty Road, about six miles west of its former home on South Main Street in Dayton.

“The grass is growing, the asphalt has been paved, trees are being put in, and we will be at a go position for this year’s fair at our new facility,” said John Yancik, president of the Montgomery County Agricultural Society.

With temperatures already soaring into the 90s, two new air-conditioned buildings with a combined 40,000 square feet are what set the new fairgrounds apart from the former uncooled and unheated buildings across from Miami Valley Hospital, Yancik said. The new site also features hundreds of more parking spots.

But when the fair officially opens July 9, visitors will get only partial view of what is planned for the future, said Greg Wallace, the fair’s executive director.

“We’d definitely like to build another larger building that we can use for various events, including the fair. There’s more things that we need to do with electric and paving,” he said. “This project will continue for many, many years … We need to put up a grandstand and some horse barns.”

PHOTOS: Remembering the old Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Dayton

With the new location and an abundance of parking, Wallace said he wouldn’t be surprised if attendance records are broken this year – and interest generated among donors to help finance future projects.

“We are really hoping the community becomes excited about the new fairgrounds. Once you are out there, it’s just a gorgeous place. Everybody who has seen it is impressed with it,” he said. “We are hoping that there will be some folks who would want to support it financially – have their name on it.”

Located smack in the middle of the county with an on-site lake, the climate-controlled facilities will be an option for event and show planners year-round that should jump-start economic activity in a township with scant retail activity, Woolf said.

“They will be able to attract events large and small … Being in a park setting, it’s very attractive to trade shows and special events for anyone around the entire county who wants to hold a regional event there,” he said.

Events at the Dayton location typically drew 250,000 to 300,000 people a year, including up to 80,000 during the week of the county fair, according to the Montgomery County Agricultural Society.

PHOTOS: Vision for old fairgrounds unveiled

Though the results won’t be known for months, the township has commissioned an economic analysis to help determine the financial impact of the fairgrounds and how it might spur future development, Woolf said.

“Jefferson itself has struggled over the years financially, and this is a great economic development opportunity for the community,” he said.

The buildings are undergoing final inspections for occupancy permits, Wallace said. A 50-spot campsite will be open for the fair, but will require future improvements, he said.

Still under constructions is a new walk-in entrance gate that if completed in time will feature the large vertical artwork preserved from the Dayton fairgrounds gate. The distinctive two-part historic cast aluminum reliefs depicting agricultural life were created by the late Dayton sculptor Robert C. Koepnick.

An open house will be held later this month to give those invited a first glimpse of the first phase of construction and to familiarize 4H parents where animals will need to be unloaded at the fairgrounds.

The new main event center will house exhibits once featured in the Roundhouse and Coliseum at the old fairgrounds. Though it can be climate controlled, the second new building will function as an open-air barn during the fair for small animals. Cattle and hogs will be shown in large tents.

MORE: Expert: Saving old fairgrounds Roundhouse ‘preserves who we are’

Because a grandstand has yet to be built, temporary bleachers will be erected alongside a new events field. The area will host the pulling events and others that were typically staged on the infield of the old horse track in Dayton, Wallace said.

Counting overflow parking, the site has room for up to 2,000 vehicles. About 300 of the spots are currently asphalt with a couple hundred more planned. Hundreds are now gravel with overflow on grass. Only about 600 vehicles could squeeze into the fairgrounds along South Main Street in Dayton, officials said.

MORE: Fairgrounds the next big development in UD-River Park area

The fair board’s business office and Montgomery County Ohio State University Extension moved in March to an existing third building, the Calumet Center, on the edge of the fairgrounds already owned by the county. The building currently houses some Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disability Services programming that will be phased out by the end of the year, said Joe Tuss, Montgomery County administrator.

County commissioners last week approved a $1 annual lease agreement with the Agricultural Society for the Calumet Center’s 45,000 square feet to use as the Fairgrounds Operation Center and the OSU Extension office, which manages a number of programs countywide.

The fair board will be responsible for maintenance and utilities on the Calumet Center and have until 2020 to decide whether to take ownership of the facility, said Amy Wiedeman, assistant Montgomery County administrator.

The University of Dayton and Premier Health partnered to purchase the 38-acre South Main Street former fairgrounds site for $15 million in January 2017.

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