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Long-delayed Warren County event center will be partly ready by fair

Weather permitting, officials said a new 17,500-square-foot event center and 530-space parking lot should be partially available for the 2019 Warren County Fair.

The long-awaited $3.4 million development is to be built at the center of the 100-acre fairgrounds, just north of downtown Lebanon, where the grandstands stood for decades.

“I’m optimistic some, if not all, of the building will be available,” Gene Steiner, chairman of the Warren County Agricultural Society, said last week.

RELATED: Warren County event center project back on track

The fair is to open on July 14.

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The Warren County Port Authority and construction manager Conger Group were waiting last week for final permitting from the city of Lebanon to use in obtaining building permits from the county building department.

“Get the permits and get the ball rolling. It’s been a long, interesting trail,” Steiner added. “When you have this many public entities involved, it gets complicated.”

The old grandstands were demolished in May 2017 in anticipation of the event center, part of redevelopment of the fairgrounds after the legalization of racinos in Ohio.

The fairgrounds’ main sign advertises the yet-to-be constructed event center.

To pay for the project, Warren County is spending $3 million donated by the operators as part of the agreement through which harness-racing and simulcast betting were moved out of Lebanon to the Miami Valley Gaming & Racing facilities, off Interstate 75 in Turtlecreek Twp.

The sixth live racing season opened Friday night.

RELATED: Warren County fair goes on without event center

Last year during the fair, a circus was set up where the grandstands previously stood.

Last month, with Commissioner Shannon Jones absent, the county commission approved a “master resolution” putting the county port authority in charge of the event center project and 1.1 acres beneath it and leasing it to the agricultural society, better known as the fair board.

“Essentially the fair board has given up that land,” said Martin Russell, executive director of the port authority.

The county and fair board are to share in profits from weddings, meetings and other events held there.

County Administrator Tiffany Zindel said the agreement would provide another revenue stream for the fair board, reducing its need to turn to the county for money.

Future leases could turn over event-center operations to another operator.

The overall fairgrounds lease between the commissioners and fair board also has been changed.

“You hold the cards,” Assistant County Prosecutor Bruce McGary told the commissioners.

Unlike past “perpetual” leases, dating back to when two racing seasons dominated the fairgrounds except during fair season, the new leases are to be for a limited time period, McGary said. Steiner said the current fairgrounds lease still runs for 15 years.

RELATED: Warren County seeks funding options for fairgrounds project 

Last June, the county commissioners stopped the event center project as costs rose to $3.8 million, in part due to a stormwater retention area and waterlines required by the city.

The commissioners appealed to Lebanon to help make up the difference, resurrecting an old feud over splitting $3 million in state funds set aside for cities that lost racetracks to racinos.

Lebanon purchased a piece of the fairgrounds from the county for a new fire station. But the city council decided to use the last $400,000 of Lebanon’s share of the redevelopment money to set up an entertainment district downtown.

Russell predicted the event center would be “roughed in” by July with restroom facilities available to fair-goers, weather permitting.

After the fair, Russell said Conger will finish the project.

Russell credited Steiner with making the event-center development happen by accepting county control.

“There has to be this really good relationship. I think Gene has brought that into the mix,” Russell said.

MORE: Lebanon among Ohio cities redeveloping racetracks

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