Tourism officials discuss plans for fairgrounds

Apr. 17—With a preliminary design for the Fairgrounds property, city and county tourism officials met April 9 to discuss partnering for the project.

Phil Smith, Chris Robinson and Todd Roberts from the London City Tourism board met with the full London Laurel County Tourist Commission, Laurel County Judge Executive David Westerfield and Laurel County Extension Agent Glenn Williams to discuss options for moving forward with a design to accommodate future events.

Smith said the renderings for a new building was "simply to help facilitate something for not only for London and Laurel County but as a regional" facility.

He added that he and other local leaders had met with Transportation officials and learned that widening of KY 229 would enhance traffic flow for a larger facility.

"As you know, now the exit from the park on one side of 229 isn't adjacent to the fairgrounds entrance. When the project on 229 is finished, it will all be in one area," he said.

He added that the state's plan to improve the roadway in that area was estimated as a $1.2 million project.

But the facilities on the fairgrounds property dominated the discussion, in which Smith said the city tourism commission is focusing on 50 acres, although that section of the Levi Jackson Park includes more acreage of wooded area. The proposed $600,000 project to renovate and upgrade the property would require a new 300x100-foot structure. Smith added that the drawing of the proposed fairgrounds would include "a lot more parking" than shown on the initial drawing.

How the property could best serve the community — and surrounding communities — and how facilities there can enhance future events was the brunt of the discussion among members of both tourism organizations.

Scott Smith with the county tourism board said the two commissions could work together to develop the fairgrounds. He also mentioned that the Heritage Hills property, owned by the county tourism commission, could also be included in the development.

That spurred a conversation about how the development of the fairgrounds property could serve to benefit the development of Heritage Hills.

"If we see something we need and it doesn't fit at the fairgrounds, we could look at how it would work here," said Tom Handy with the county tourism.

However, past discussions of property operation were thwarted by statements that a lease of city property cannot extend beyond the length of a mayor's term has prompted concern for those looking to make developments. Handy, a retired attorney, said the two tourism commissions could form a partnership — or a corporation — to secure their investment from being voided by future city leaders.

Future discussions for the future of the fairgrounds should involve the county judge, mayor, city council, fiscal court, tourism officials and the county extension office — which utilizes the fairgrounds property for agricultural fairs — were agreed upon by those attending Tuesday's meeting.

After more discussion, Scott Smith suggested forming an interlocal agreement between the two tourist commissions that would ensure that they operated the facility in which they have invested. That suggestion was placed as a motion and approved unanimously.

The Sheppard Family basketball courts at Wellness Park was another issue Handy discussed during Tuesday's special called meeting. Handy showed the plaques that would list each team, its coach and team members for the tower near the basketball courts. The plaques will recognize both boys and girls teams that have won regional and state titles.

Handy added that London High School went to a national tournament in 1927 when the area was divided in to Divisions.

"London High School won the Division 1 title and went on to a national tournament in Chicago," he said.

He added that Angelique Hatmaker, Administrative Assistant for London Laurel County Tourist Commission, had been researching the teams that would be included in the memorial display and that most of the team member names and championship titles had been identified. There are, however, some names still being sought.

"Hopefully we can have the dedication by the summer," Handy added.