OKEECHOBEE – Improvements to the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center were proposed at the July 22 meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners.
Matt Dorriety, facility manger, said early in 2020 (pre-covid), “we were pretty much maxed out.” At that time, the center’s advisory board worked on an expansion plan.
In addition to the annual county fair and livestock show, the facility hosts the Yeehaw Junction Bluegrass Festival, horse shows, barrel racing events, Mexican rodeos, concerts, youth rodeos, Professional Bullriders Association events, the Cattle Battle, Florida Youth Livestock Expo, truck and tractor pulls, monster truck shows, bike rallies, RV shows, car sales, boat and swamp buggy shows, high school graduation, the health expo, weddings, trade shows, circuses and the community Fourth of July celebration.
“The only open times were in the summer when most events were on summer break,” he explained.
Adding more facilities at the Agri-Civic Center would make it possible to have multiple events at the same time.
The Agri-Civic Center advisory committee wants to move forward with the expansion, he said.
The limitations of the OUA pump station will be an issue, he explained. Holding multiple events at one time will mean adding more bathrooms.
Future plans include:
• A facility maintenance building to store equipment such as movable pens and cattle gates that are currently left outside or placed in the equine barn when it is not being used for a horse event.
• A second outdoor arena: The current open area arena is used not only for events but also by community members who bring their horses to the facility on the days when no events are scheduled when the Agri-Civic Center grounds are open for public use.
• Exhibition building which could also be used as a hurricane shelter. This air-conditioned multi-purpose building would be used as an exhibition hall during the county fair. It would contain a full kitchen, bathrooms, and concession stands.
• Additional livestock pens and cover at the main arena.
• RV dump station: This would be available for use by those who stay in their RVs during multi-day events such as horse shows. Currently, they have to leave the Agri-Civic Center to find a dump station.
• Livestock show barn: An open pole barn could hold about 600 head, allowing more children to show animals. A milking parlor area could be set up for the dairy cows. It would be safer for the youth showing animals and for the spectators than the current system which houses the livestock inside the main arena. This facility could also include an enclosed meeting room.
• Shed row stalls: Larger horse shows require more horse stalls.
• RV site sewer connections.
• Expansion of the woodland trails: Currently the site has about two miles of trails which are used by walkers and horseback riders. About eight months of the year, the trails are currently usable and people do use them, said Dorriety.
• Event office: This could be built under the northeast corner of the roof of the main arena. It would be available for use by the organizers of large events.
“The way we have laid it all out, we could have three different events with their own parking going on at the same time,” said Dorriety.
Commissioner Kelly Owens suggested the committee rank the projects by priority.
Commissioner Brad Goodbread said expansion cannot happen without more sewer capacity.
Dorriety said the strain on the sewer system varies. Some events like a monster truck show draw 4,000 people for a few hours, and other events like a horse show may draw a few hundred people who stay three days.
Commission Chair Terry Burroughs said now they have a plan, the county can put an appropriation request into Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Burroughs asked the county administrator to ask OUA Executive Director John Hayford to be at the next county commission meeting to update the county on OUAs sewer expansion plans.
Dorriety said the county fair and youth livestock show bring attendance of about 20,000 over a six-day period, and they have never heard of any problems with the sewer lift station from that. Most of the attendance is later in the day and the evening, so that could be a factor. Most recently, the fair has been held when the nearby elementary school was on spring break, but that has not always been the case.
He said prior to the pandemic, the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center had an economic impact on the community of about $3 million per year.