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Commissioners approve Steele Saloon plans

Steele Saloon, scff, steele county free fair, saloon
Joni Hubred, News Editor

After years of planning–and proving its worth–the Steele Saloon at the Steele County Free Fair (SCFF) will get a new home this year.

County commissioners last week approved plans for a 120-by-40-foot steel structure in the same location where a large tent has stood.  

County administrator Scott Golberg said the Agricultural Society, which operates the Fair under an agreement with the county, is required by the land lease to get permission from the board for any new construction on the property.

The idea for a permanent structure came forward in 2019. At first, other board members and the public raised concerns over serving hard liquor at what has been billed as a family-friendly event.

The Saloon’s success eventually overwhelmed objections. Not only did it become popular with fairgoers during a two-year “trial period”, but generous donors came forward to cover the costs of building the structure on a concrete pad.

South track

Commissioners also learned more about the potential for a little county/city/fairgrounds synergy. “We’ve got two projects that are coinciding,” Golberg said.

The Ag Society has for a few years talked about removing a fence from around a track on the south side of the property, creating additional space for SCFF use. The city will bring in plans soon for a trail project along a retaining wall on the south end.

“You haven’t seen plans. They're getting close to putting those documents together,” Golberg said. “That’s kind of a key piece we’re waiting for here.”

The retaining wall, Golberg explained, must come down and be moved back a bit as part of the trail project.

A recent discussion among city, county, and fair officials centered around whether it makes sense to coordinate the work for both projects together, he said, adding there was a “great spirit of cooperation” during the meeting.

"The city’s willing to contribute whatever’s needed to create their project and help with track project,” Golberg said. “They’re not interested in billing anybody for their services, they’re going to contribute those.

“I think the issue comes back to what it always comes back to, is how much contribution from county and ag society because on here right now is there isn’t anything from the Ag Society.”

Staff has estimated the city and county in-kind contributions at $40,000. Golberg said estimates for the cost of fencing and aggregate base material costs–an estimated $50,000-may be the amount considered for Ag Society’s contribution.

The city could present plans for the trail project as early as the next county board work session, with completion anticipated by fair time, Aug. 13-18.

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