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A new arena that’s being developed is part of the master plan. 
SBJ file 
A new arena that’s being developed is part of the master plan. 

Council approves master plan for Ozark Empire Fairgrounds 

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The addition of 400 campsites is one part of a master plan for the 72-acre Ozark Empire Fairgrounds and Event Center that was approved by Springfield City Council at its meeting last night. 

“Believe it or not, there’s room out there to do that if we utilize our space correctly, and we intend to do that,” said Kent Hyde, a member and past president of the board of directors of the Greene County Agricultural and Mechanical Society, more commonly called the Ozark Empire Fair board. 

A more visible addition to the fairgrounds is the $25 million arena that is nearing completion on the site. That structure will be home to Springfield’s new football team, the Ozark Lunkers, part of the new Arena League that will begin play in 2024. 

“It is about 70% complete. Thank God it’s about 70% paid for as we go,” Hyde said. “We think it will be finished in September. There are many events already booked for 2024. It’s actually going quite well for a project of that size.” 

The campsites and arena are part of a master plan required as a condition of the fairground’s lease with the city, according to City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader. She noted the city has leased the fairgrounds to the county Agricultural and Mechanical Society since the 1930s. 

The 2023 master plan the board submitted to council is a 30-year plan, yet many items on the list are in the works now or already completed. Though organized in phases, the plan document notes that items may not be completed in order. 

Phase I on the list is a 45,000-square-foot multipurpose building that was completed in 2020. That building houses livestock during the fair but has portable stalls that can be removed to allow other events in the space, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. 

The arena and sports facility is listed as Phase II. Although the master plan document says it will seat 6,000, Hyde told council it is expected to seat 6,700 people. 

“The main facility is 100,000 square feet, and with the annex on the north side, it’s 120,000 square feet, and so it is several times the size of the old arena, which we took down,” he said. 

The former arena seated 2,200, according to past reporting. Hyde said the facility will be a national venue. It is being completed with a combination of private and public funding, including allocations from the state of Missouri and some American Rescue Plan Act funds. 

A slide in Hyde’s presentation showed some of the planned usage of the arena. The arena has a concrete floor, and 4,400 cubic yards of screened dirt are at the ready to convert it to a dirt floor as needed. The dirt floor would be used for horse and livestock shows, rodeos, livestock auctions, monster truck rallies, motocross, go-cart racing, barrel racing and tractor pulls. 

The concrete floor would be used for volleyball, wrestling, roller derby, cheer competitions, archery, concerts, indoor festivals, circuses, dog shows and auctions. Its largest projected revenue generator would be for trade shows, according to the presentation. 

Phase III would be the replacement of Barn 2, a project that is expected to be completed this fall. Hyde said he expected concrete to be poured later in the week. The plan document notes the building will meet stalling requirements and winter storage needs. 

Phase IV is the campground, which will accommodate RVs with electrical hookups and include new restrooms. When the new campsites are installed, the existing areas will be converted to parking spaces, according to the plan. The master plan did not include a cost estimate. 

“Having an additional 400 spots for camping is a pretty big deal,” Hyde said, noting many of the people who participate in events at the fairgrounds prefer to stay on the premises. “They bring large horse trailers and campers; they stay on the grounds. That’s what they want to do. That’s the way it’s set up, and we’ll continue to improve that.” 

Phase V calls for an existing guest services building to be remodeled for use as an office complex, event venue or restaurant, according to the plan, which states, “This is a 70-year-old building that has a lot of character.” 

Phase VI is a facelift for the concessions area, according to the plan. It includes expansion of the smokehouse on the fairgrounds, and over the next five years, the concessions area will be resurfaced, the plan states. 

Phase VII calls for a new building on the west side of the fairgrounds, though the type of building and its purpose are not specified in the plan. 

The final phase, Phase VIII, will put a new fence and upgraded gates around the perimeter of the fairgrounds. 

“I can tell you, in today’s world, fencing with a nice fence, 72 acres is kind of a big endeavor, but we intend to do that as part of this plan,” Hyde said. 

Hyde said with the arena construction project on-site, special preparations are being made for the Ozark Empire Fair, which begins Thursday. There will be 24-hour guards to keep visitors out of the construction site, and the area around the building has been paved and landscaped in advance of the event. 

Mayor Ken McClure said he had walked through the fairgrounds earlier that day, and the area around the new arena looks great. 

“It will be a very, very great addition to the fair and to our community, so thank you,” he said. 

Councilmember Callie Carroll said she is getting excited about arena football. 

“It’s another quality-of-life asset for Springfield and the surrounding communities,” she said. 

The resolution to approve the master plan was passed on one reading. 

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