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Major improvements to Fonner Park in the works

“These are exceptional facilities that you have and what we’ve seen throughout the market...
“These are exceptional facilities that you have and what we’ve seen throughout the market feasibility research is that there’s a lot of potential for growth,” Kolarik said. “A lot of the big events that are here, that want to stay here, are running out of space.”(Hailey Mach, KSNB)
Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 10:58 PM CST
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Fonner Park planning officials met Wednesday to discuss a master plan that could bring major expansions and improvements to the facilities on the campus. A number of entities associated with Fonner Park gathered in the conference room at Tom Dinsdale Automotive to see their long-time coming plans come to life in the Master Plan Proposal.

Populous Principal and Senior Architect Charlie Kolarik, who is the architect and design lead for the plan, proposed the plans during Wednesday’s meeting. Kolarik said making these changes to the facilities may be necessary to meet the needs of future guests.

“These are exceptional facilities that you have and what we’ve seen throughout the market feasibility research is that there’s a lot of potential for growth,” Kolarik said. “A lot of the big events that are here, that want to stay here, are running out of space.”

The project would include four phases: the first one being infrastructure needs, secondly; agricultural facility expansions, third; equestrian facility program and lastly; conference/event, arena and entertainment space improvements.

Jaime Parr, deputy director for the Nebraska State Fair, helped out in the planning process and attended the proposal meeting. She noted that and she was looking forward to the positive impacts this could have on the fair.

“This could bring new opportunity, new opportunity for more spaced out livestock shows and events so, new opportunities for our entertainment capacity and seating, some new guest experiences are certainly to be found in this plan,” Parr said. “I’m excited to see it start to happen.”

Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak also had been working hand-in-hand with others to decide what was best for the future of the campus — but he said there were other steps needed to get the project in motion.

“You get to see some real wiz-bang ideas and you get an idea of ‘wow, this could really be cool if it happened here at Fonner Park,’ but nothing will happen without funding,” Kotulak said.

The 1898 Foundation, which serves as the sponsor on behalf of others involved with Fonner Park, had requested $24.9-million from the state legislature for that first step. Kotulak said, without getting the funding approved for the infrastructure, it could cause difficulties in their plans and they wouldn’t be able to go forward with other steps of the proposed project.

If that funding is approved, Parr said they would keep the public in mind as they proceeded with the next steps in the process.

“We want to make sure that that project is sustainable and that we’re not just doing it to have a new facility. Any of those improvements should have an economic impact on the whole community,” she said.

If the funds are approved, the infrastructure component could begin as early as 2023.

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