State Fair Officials May Tear Down Historic Building for New Multi-Purpose Facility

The Cox Fine Arts Building just north of the state fair's Ohio Gate may be replaced with a mammoth, multi-purpose building.
The Cox Fine Arts Building just north of the state fair's Ohio Gate may be replaced with a mammoth, multi-purpose building.

Swine, sheep, beef, poultry and horse exhibitors today met with Ohio Expo Center officials to give their input on where a new state fairgrounds building should be located. The legislature allocated $14 million during the last session to construct a new building. Now the Expo Center must decide what kind of building it should be and where it should go.

Three sites, all with existing buildings, were under consideration for the new structure which may be about 100,000 square feet. But there was strong support for keeping two of the three; the sheep barn and the O’Neill Building where swine are shown. That was good news for Expo Center and State Fair general manager Virgil Strickler.

“The O’Neill Building is rented out during the year and we make around $60,000 worth of revenue out of that facility,” Strickler says.

Maintaining fairground rental year round is a key concern. Expo officials say they have to balance events with livestock groups who want the new building to ‘facilitate flow,’ making it easy for the public to see their animals during the fair. Meanwhile last year’s All-American Quarter Horse Congress brought in 600,000 people and $110 million to the Columbus area. Fair commissioner David Madison is chair of the grounds committee that decides the location of the new building.

“I think it will make the flow better for the fairgrounds,” Madison says. “It’ll take care of problems with overcrowding of animals. 99% of our buildings have to do with animals. So it’s very important that the fairgrounds are laid out not only for the people but for the animals also.”

The only alternative site is to build where the Cox Fine Arts building is now. Originally known as the Women’s Building it was constructed in 1909 and is listed in a survey of historic Ohio buildings by the state’s Historic Perseveration office. Virgil Strickler says the building goes unused for most of the year.

“That’s a storage building year round,” he says. “30 days out of the year, because of the set-up and so forth, it’s used for fine arts. Now the fine arts will have to be relocated during the fair we’ll try to figure out where that might be.”

A final decision on the new building’s location won’t be made until later in the year. Strickler says if the project were put on the fast track, construction could start in October and might be complete in time for the 2008 Ohio State Fair.