Fairgrounds find a silver lining in pandemic cloud

(Above) Interim Grounds Director Jim Barkema says a new facade and doors will be installed at the Curran Barn at the fairgrounds in the coming months as part of work being done on buildings at the North Iowa Events Center.

by Marianne Gasaway

Board members for the North Iowa Fair Association Board are making the most out of the impact of the pandemic and are confident facility repairs and upgrades made in recent months will result in greater numbers of people and events using its venues in 2021.

Fair Board President Scott Miller led a tour of the grounds Monday to showcase a multitude of projects in various stages of completion to County Supervisors and other civic leaders from the area.  

“We are trying to be proactive; the fairgrounds hasn’t been stagnant,” Miller told approximately 20 people gathered for the tour.  “We took this time as an opportunity to make upgrades and look at how to reduce our bills.”

Those measures included new LED lighting in three main buildings on the grounds, including the largest, the arena and Kinney building.  The investment at the arena would pay for itself in 18-months, while the other two provided a return in two-years. 

Among the many building projects recently completed has been new restrooms added to the Olsen Building, which compliment a new flooring finish and fresh paint.  A new e-commerce website is also under construction for the North Iowa Events Center which will provide the public with an easy and efficient way to book and pay for campsites, venues and other amenities.  Extensive work to infrastructure at the fairgrounds has also been completed to improve drainage and water flow on the grounds.  

While COVID-19 definitely impacted operations at the NIEC, the pandemic also created some unique opportunities.  As restrictions began to lift following the initial shutdown in March, the North Iowa Events Center became one of the only venues in the area large enough to safely host public and private events while adhering to health and safety recommendations for physical distancing.

Lindsey James, executive director of Visit Mason City, said that in June, Mid States Horse Shows kicked off its 2020 hunter/jumper season, bringing an estimated $1.1 million in visitor spending to Mason City and the area over the course of two weeks.

With many facilities closed due to COVID-19, as well as those impacted by the August Derecho, the NIEC hosted numerous equestrian events that had been displaced.

“While fewer events were hosted and attendance was limited, the North Iowa Events Center helped bring more than $1.2 million in new visitor spending to the community June-October 2020, during a time when most tourism events were being canceled or going virtual,” added James.  “Several of these events 

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