COLUMBIA, Mo. - A plan to build a sports complex could breathe new life into the derelict, former home of the Boone County Fair.
The fairgrounds have been vacant since the county shut them down in 2015 when county voters rejected an 8-cent sales tax. Veteran's United and UPS lease parts of the property right now.
Boone County Commissioner Fred Parry has been working on the sports complex plan for 11 months, and he's finally found backers in the county, Columbia Parks and Recreation and a not-for-profit called Mid-Missouri Sports Park, run by local orthopedic surgeon Mark Thornburg.
"(He) had, for several years, this vision of building a facility that would attract elite athletes to Columbia for training," Parry said.
The complex would not only be a revitalization for the crumbling buildings and grounds, but also a shot in the arm to the local economy, according to Parry.
"I think what most people don't realize is over the past 10 years, Columbia and mid-Missouri has lost a number of major sporting events that have left our community to go to Springfield, to go to Jefferson City, Kansas City, Overland Park," Parry said. "I think this is really going to open the door and make Columbia a very serious contender across the Midwest for some of these major sporting events."
The plans feature 13 basketball courts, a multipurpose facility, 18 turf soccer fields and a baseball stadium that could seat 2,500 people. All the buildings on the ground will be demolished.
There are also 23 acres in the plan set aside for the Boone County Fair, currently being held in Sturgeon.
"(Fair officials) will no longer be responsible for the upkeep of the fairgrounds, which has been a burden to them in the past," Parry said. "I think that for the first time, we can bring the fair back to Columbia."
Fair board President Jeff Cook said Friday that he was excited to see something being done with the fairgrounds because the site had fallen into disrepair, but he had concerns with what it could mean for the fair.
Cook said there are no buildings planned for the 23 acres, yet the fair needs infrastructure and indoor facilities for things like concessions in order to be compliant with the health department.
"The property that they're saving, there's nothing on it," Cook said. "There's no water, electricity, no buildings, so it's kind of hard for us to have a fair out in the middle of a pasture."
He also said he was worried that the plans for the sports complex would be too fluid, that they would change and possibly eat into the 23 acres set aside as fairgrounds.
"We want to find a permanent home," he said. "We're not ruling out Columbia, we'll just have to see once they get the facility built out there, what's left for us."
The sports complex plan is not a done deal. It still needs to be approved by the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Columbia City Council and the Boone County Commission.
But Parry has an ambitious timeline and hopes to be breaking ground next March.