A new arrangement could lead to a bustling spring and summer at the Benton County fairgrounds.
The Benton Franklin Fair Association is leasing part of the 126-acre site from the county for six months ahead of its annual August fair and rodeo.
Benton County commissioners and the fair association board approved the pact last month. The fair association now is working out schedules and contracts with horse-related groups that traditionally use the grounds during the spring and summer.
The association also hopes to market the section it's leasing for other events. Lori Lancaster, fair manager, said the new arrangement has a great deal of potential.
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"I would hope to have something every weekend this summer," Lancaster said. "That's the level of activity we want to see."
The lease could prove a stepping stone to the nonprofit association taking on an even bigger role at the site. The group has proposed managing all or part of the grounds year-round before, and county officials have said the new lease could be a move in that direction.
"We don't know what the long-term picture looks like," Lancaster said. But, "we're hoping this will turn into something that's a year-round operation."
The six-month lease includes the Sundowns building, race track and main arena, horse barns, 4-H arena and RV hook-ups and camp sites.
It commenced this month and events already are lining up.
"We're super excited," Kacie Dodson, president of the Tri-City Barrel Racing Association, said of working with the fair association. "They've always been great to us in the month of August in the past, with getting the ground watered and making sure it's prepped properly."
Dodson's group has held races at the grounds for years. This year, it plans a series of races over several months starting in March.
The county owns the sprawling fairgrounds, which sit off South Oak Street near Kennewick's Eastgate Elementary School.
The county in 2011-12 had a different short-term lease -- for eight months -- with an equestrian training center. But it didn't work out. County commissioners ended the agreement last summer, citing "serious contract compliance issues."
The fair association plans to market the leased section of the grounds as the Horse Heaven Round-Up Events Center. It will pay $1,600 a month under the pact.
It also will take on some other costs, such as extra staff and equipment, said Lancaster, who is a member of the Herald's editorial board.
Fair Board President Dan McDaniel couldn't be reached to talk about the new lease.
w On the net: www.bentonfranklinfair.com