Knife River, a subsidiary of utilities and construction conglomerate MDU Resources, which in 2018 bought Sioux Falls-based concrete/gravel/asphalt producer Sweetman Construction Company, which operated as Concrete Materials Company, which finally got around to changing its name in April, wants to buy the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds that its Sioux Falls digs surround and dig for gravel.
“Knife River currently borders the fairgrounds on three sides and those surrounding properties are an active mine. We believe, that under the fairgrounds, is a large deposit of high-quality construction aggregates,” Knife River Sioux Falls president Clark Meyer said to the council during Tuesday’s meeting.
…“Just for point of reference, an appraisal done in November 2020 valued the property at approximately $6.5 million. The County Director of Equalization has the property valued at approximately $6.9 million,” Meyer said.
“It’s not an offer for $65 million dollars in one check,” Bender said. “When you read the offer, it’s actually a $15 million offer with a payout over 30 years based on revenue of what they’re able to pull from the site” [Bridget Bennett, “Knife River Offers $65M to Turn Fairgrounds into Quarry,” KELO-TV, updated 2022.07.06].
The Minnehaha County Commission says Knife River’s offer wouldn’t cover the cost of putting up new buildings and fair facilities elsewhere (though you could probably get a deal on parking lot pavement and gravel paths from Knife River!). Besides, the county is bound by its Depression-era deed not to sell the land for crass commercialism:
The land was given to the county by Winona Axtel Lyon in memory of William H. Lyon more than 80 years ago and attracts about 600,000 visitors annually to events like the Sioux Empire Fair. In recent months, a 15-person task force has been working to reimagine the property’s future land use.
Commission chairperson Cindy Heiberger said the land is tied to agricultural education uses and bound by deed, so there’s currently no avenues to sell.
“The offer is worth nothing, because we can’t sell it,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out what direction to go next, that’s a multi-phased process” [Nicole Ki, “Minnehaha County Stands Firm in Agricultural Ties to Fairgrounds amid $65 Million Offer to Sell,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2022.07.05].
If the county can find a way to liberate itself from the dictates of the dead, there’s an obvious path to relocating the fair that could make almost everybody happy. Call the rich guys running the petition drive to block Wholestone Farms from building a second slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls. Get them to put up $12.5 million plus interest to buy the 170 acres Wholestone Farms bought last year in northeast Sioux Falls and the extra cash the county would need on top of Knife River’s offer to build expo halls, a grandstand, parking lots, and all the other fixed fair amenities. The new location would be a little bigger than the current fairgrounds. Benson Road and I-229 would offer at least as good of access to the new site as I-29 and West 12th Street offer to the current site. And Wholestone Farms could take its windfall and build its slaughterhouse up north of I-90 where it belongs.
Surely Jeff Broin would rather have a few farty cows and Hairball upwind of his swanky Poet office in northeast Sioux Falls for just the week of the Sioux Empire Fair than the constant stench of thousands of head of livestock headed for the grinder every day—call him up and get him to write a check!
Knife River says it wants to save the Sioux Empire Fair and continue the Lyon family legacy. Forming a coalition with other interested parties to preserve and enhance Sioux Falls’s appeal to visitors and put the Sioux Empire Fair in a better spot might move that deal along.