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Grandstand rebuild a necessary investment

by Daily Inter Lake
| July 7, 2024 12:00 AM

The Northwest Montana Fair’s main events are officially on. Get ready for some oldies but goodies with Rock & Roll Hall of Famers The Beach Boys, chart-topping country hits with LOCASH and Niko Moon, followed by four nights of intense rodeo action, all taking place at the fairground’s grandstand arena Aug. 13-18.

Fair organizers were anxiously awaiting the results of an analysis on the structural integrity of the grandstands prior to announcing these headline events last week. Thankfully, an engineering firm has deemed the grandstands to be safe and adequate to accommodate the hordes of fairgoers this summer. 

This is excellent news for Flathead County, which relies on revenue from grandstand arena events to maintain the fairground budget. It’s also a big deal for the valley. The fair and rodeo is not only an important community celebration, but it also delivers a significant economic jolt that local businesses rely on each summer. 

While the county dodged a bullet this year, a deeper look at the engineer’s report shows the grandstands are no longer so grand. 

The visual assessment of the 16,000-square-foot structure determined it to be in just “fair condition.” Some areas were rotted or damaged, and the south portion of the grandstands is affected by high groundwater and soggy soil. Other concerns arose with visible corrosion, loose nails and missing bolts. 

Overall, it is not a good prognosis of long-term health. 

“Although there are no areas that we would consider an immediate life safety concern, we noted areas where repairs and/or maintenance are needed to maintain the integrity and prolong the useful life of the structure,” the report stated. “We observed areas that we classified as potential hazards and recommend they be addressed as immediate priorities.”   

Immediate being the key word to highlight. Further postponing repairs puts the county at risk of an abrupt closure, or worse, a public safety disaster. 

The report did not offer an estimated cost of repair priorities, but the county can assume it won’t be cheap based on what it has already budgeted for other fairground improvements. 

Flathead County’s current capital improvement plan earmarks $568,950 to replace the fairground’s north bleachers, which are separate from the grandstands, and beginning in 2027, about $1.75 million will be set aside to repair or replace the infield bleachers. 

County commissioners should use the engineer’s report as a springboard to further analyze the highlighted deficiencies so it can include a complete grandstand remodel in its five-year capital improvement plan. Starting the process now and spreading out the budgeted line items will ensure the burden on taxpayers won’t be so jarring.  

Writing checks is never fun, but an investment in fairground facilities is an investment in economic development and community spirit. The commissioners must act now to return the grandstands to their original grandeur.