Construction may not have started but work is underway for numerous capital improvement projects at the Missouri State Fairgrounds.

During the 2019 Missouri General Assembly’s Legislative Session, the Missouri State Fair received approximately $8.5 million for capital improvement projects and maintenance and repair. The funding is one of the largest appropriations to the Fair in recent history and was considered essential, according to state Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, who along with Rep. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, was a major supporter of the appropriations.

“Agriculture is the No. 1 revenue producer in the state generating over $88 billion annually,” Pollitt said Monday morning. “The Missouri State Fair is the premier showcase for Missouri Agriculture each year.

“Capital improvements and additional building projects have long been put on the back burner,” Pollitt continued. “These funds were essential for the long run to sustain the fair and will save the state money in the long run.”

Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe said he’s appreciative of the funding and the impact it will have on the fair and off-season events.

“Gov. Parson and our state legislators recognize the role agriculture plays in both the economy and culture of our state,” Wolfe commented. “Some projects such as the campground upgrades and new exhibitor camping will have an immediate impact on our livestock exhibitors and those who enjoy camping during the Fair. 

“Others may be less visible, but no less important,” Wolfe continued. “These maintenance and repair projects are critical to the preservation of our historic structures which are used both during the fair and regularly throughout the year.”

Financial support for fairgrounds upkeep typically is generated through receipts, entry fees, the Missouri State Fair Foundation and various associations. On average, events are hosted at the fairgrounds 350 days a year. 

According to Wolfe, many of the projects have gone out for bid. Although the weather can be a factor, Wolfe said he is optimistic most of the work will be completed prior to the 2020 Missouri State Fair. 

The projects funded include:

• New Exhibitor Campground: This is an expansion to the current exhibitor campground on the east side of Clarendon Road. About 140 new sites will be added, which Wolfe commented will be “a great help in accommodating our livestock exhibitors during the Fair.” 

• Upgrades to West Campground: A continuation of a project that was started in 2018. Once completed the entire public campground will be upgraded to 50 amp electrical sites. This final phase includes the blue, white and brown sections of the camping facilities.  

• Inner Reserve Campground: The project includes electrical upgrades to the existing campsites on the east side of Clarendon Road north of the Mathewson Exhibition Center. 

• Electrical upgrades to the Swine Pavilion.

• Roofing projects for Horse Barns A-G.

• Roof replacement and building renovation at the Sheep Pavilion.

• Construction of a new pavilion near South Limit Avenue just north of the Centennial Gate.

Missouri State Fair Livestock and Beef Superintendent David Dick said he is grateful for the appropriations and the upgrades that will result. 

“Specific barn repairs are long overdue not just for the exhibitors at the fair but for those who show during the offseason,” Dick said. “The roof repair on the Sheep Pavilion is so essential to the use of that building. That coupled with the upgraded flooring and the new removable pens and the upgrades to the south office space and restrooms expands the use of the facility.”  

Prior to the Oct. 22 Missouri State Fair Commission meeting, Lowell Mohler announced his retirement from the organization.   

Mohler was among the nine agriculture leaders selected to serve on the first Missouri State Fair Commission in 1995. Mohler has served twice, totaling nearly 16 years, and has served as chairman many times, according to Wolfe.

“Mr. Mohler has seen many changes on the fairgrounds during his tenure as a Fair Commission member,” Wolfe commented. “Lowell is a lifelong advocate for the Missouri State Fair and has been instrumental in positioning the fair for long term success.”

Mohler, of Jefferson City, is retired from a career that includes 26 years with the Missouri Farm Bureau and time as director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture from 2000-03, according to the Governor’s office.

Established by the Missouri State Legislature in 1995, the purpose of the Commission is to oversee the operation of the Missouri State Fair. Commissioners are responsible for the selection and supervision of the fair director as well as having authority to lease or purchase land and accept or reject contracts, according to the Missouri State Fair website.

Two members must be active farmers, two must be current or past presidents of county or regional fair boards, one must be employed in agribusiness, and three must be at-large members. The state Director of Agriculture also serves on the Commission. Commissioners are appointed for four-year terms.

Dick, who has worked with Mohler throughout his tenure, agrees Mohler will be missed.

“Lowell was key on the first commission since he was chairman to making the commission a working partner with the Fair,” Dick noted. “Both (the fair and superintendents) had the goal in mind to make the state fair the premier showcase for the state’s youth and all exhibitors. 

“He represented not only management but was the voice for all the exhibitors and patrons of the Fair,” he continued. “Lowell was a mentor to many and was one of the people who was always looking forward without losing contact to the past and why things were done in the manner they were.”  

Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. There is not an established time frame in which Gov. Mike Parson is required to make an appointment to replace Mohler. 

Education Reporter

Hope Lecchi is the education reporter for the Democrat, covering all things education in Sedalia and Pettis County, as well as providing general assignment and feature coverage. She can be reached at 660-530-0144.

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