By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The exhibit hall at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds was built in 1980 with the current food booths being added in 1995. With both structures being decades old, and the food booths having fallen out of state Code compliance, officials in the EBCI Destination Marketing Program are eyeing renovations to the entire Fairgrounds site.
“There is an actual need for upgrade to the building (exhibit hall), but especially to those food booths because Codes have changed and they need more space,” said Tonya Carroll, Destination Marketing manager. “They need new equipment to bring them up to Code.”
Carroll said the idea for renovating the Fairgrounds has been floating around for more than five years. “Two years ago, we put in a Capital Request to get a new building, do some renovations on the Food Booths, and then upgrade the sewer, water and electrical.”
She said the tribal administration changed during the approval of that request. In February, she met with Principal Chief Patrick Lambert and the two discussed renovation ideas. “He was very supportive of the project. He connected us with a TERO firm (Studio 15) that would draw up some preliminary plans, at no cost to the Tribe, just to give us some ideas of what could happen over there.”
Carroll said Studio 15 staff met with Fairgrounds staff to develop the “very preliminary” plans that she has shown to the EBCI Tribal Planning Board as well as several community groups.
Those preliminary plans include expanding parking, adding a new main gate area, expanding the dining area and bringing the food booths into Code compliance, expanding the size of the exhibit hall, providing a new outdoor dining area, and upgrading the utilities.
“We just really want to stress that these aren’t the actual plans,” Carroll related. “We’re trying to get a lot of community feedback to see what works best and what makes the space as functional as it can be for our current events, but also we’re looking into the future. If we do these renovations, it’s going to be more desirable for outside events to come in as well.”
She said the limited space at the Fairgrounds has been taken into account in the preliminary plans. “We wanted to figure out how we could utilize it for more than one event at a time. That would increase our revenue and increase our use of the space throughout the year. One issue that we do have right now is that it’s very limited in the colder months. We really just have to utilize the building, and so the entire outside space really isn’t being utilized in the winter.”
One major change in the preliminary plans is the absence of grass from the Fairgrounds. Carroll said they have toyed with various surface options for the site.
“We get feedback that it is really difficult for people in wheelchairs, people with strollers, and people with walkers to actually maneuver around the grounds during events because of the surface that is there now.”
She said the size of the current grass area has also been a cause of concern. “We’ve also gotten comments about the grass area not being wide enough for things like the adult stickball games.”
Carroll said there are a lot of options they’ve looked into, but concrete is the early front-runner. “It is more expensive than a lot of the other surfaces like pavement, but it doesn’t get as hot as pavement.”
She also said the use of pavers was discussed as a possibility. Pavers are currently in use in the parking lot adjacent to the Ray Kinsland Stadium at the Cherokee Central Schools. “There are other options out there that we’re definitely wanting to look into.”
To garner public comment, Carroll and several members of the Fairground staff hosted a meeting in the Tribal Council Chambers on Thursday, Aug. 11. Another public meeting is planned for Tuesday, Aug. 23 at 6:30pm in the Chambers. Everyone is welcome to attend and provide comment on these plans or call in 359-7000 with their comments.
She is also planning to attend the Community Club Council meeting next month in the Snowbird Community as well as several individual community club meetings. “Overall, there is interest in this project, and people in the community think there should be some form of renovation to the Fairgrounds, and so, we’re excited about that support.”
Carroll noted that right now project costs are not possible to estimate. “Right now, since we don’t have any plans of what we’re going to do, we can’t determine a cost. And, I know that aside from the cultural and historical significance of what we do, the cost is the next priority.”