Teton County Fairgrounds

Phil Wilson grooms the dirt at the Jackson Hole Rodeo arena in 2017. Candidates for the Teton County Board of County Commissioners were generally supportive of moving the Teton County Fairgrounds to a new location and using its current home for housing, but they said finding a new home for the fair would be critical.

County commission candidates were generally supportive of repurposing the Teton County Fairgrounds for housing during a Thursday candidate forum that saw the five commission hopefuls address systemic racism, climate change, planning and the COVID-19 pandemic, among other topics.

The candidates touted the Teton County Fair as a critical community hub, and said finding a suitable location for a new fairgrounds was the first step in any process for moving it from its current home on Snow King Avenue.

“It’s a great opportunity and we shouldn’t be afraid of it,” Commission Chair Natalia D. Macker said. “We have an opportunity to do some good joint planning and find an appropriate location.”

Other candidates had thoughts about where that should be and what it should look like.

Organized by the League of Women Voters, Teton County Library and local media (the Jackson Hole News&Guide, KHOL and Buckrail all questioned candidates), the forum featured all five candidates for the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. Democratic incumbents Macker and Greg Epstein; Republicans Peter Long, a marketing and public relations consultant, and Christian Beckwith, the founder of the SHIFT Festival; and independent Wes Gardner, the owner of Teton Toys, all weighed in equally throughout the night.

The fairgrounds issue surfaced in December 2019 as the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners discussed the agricultural site alongside two other areas — northern South Park, and the Rains property — as potential sites for housing.

The county sold the Rains property, a 5-acre parcel on the West Bank, in January, as some commissioners argued that an area like northern South Park, which is closer to grocery stores and other amenities, was better suited for housing. The Gill and Lockhart families — and, consequently, the town and county — are now eyeing that area as a site for hundreds of homes.

The Gills’ proposal to upzone 74 acres of their property on the northwest corner of the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch will be in front of the planning commission at 6 p.m. Monday.

At one point, a draft update to the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan would have coupled planning efforts for northern South Park and a relocated fairgrounds, but elected officials struck that language.

Commissioner Epstein supported decoupling the two planning processes. But on Thursday, responding to a question about the fairgrounds that came from the audience, the incumbent said he was open to having a conversation with landowners in the area about moving the fairgrounds to northern South Park.

“It would be interesting to have a conversation with the landowners, and through the north South Park neighborhood planning process, and see if maybe that’s an opportune spot for a new Western Heritage Center and giving up that land in town for housing,” he said.

Gardner described using the current fairgrounds site for housing as a “heck of an opportunity.” He agreed with Epstein on northern South Park.

“We should be talking to the owners, the developers of the northern South Park lots and see if there’s something we can negotiate,” he said. “I think there’s a way to create a synergy here where the town’s able to get what it needs, and the community is able to get what it needs … and the 4-H community and ranchers and cowboys can get what they need and have access to a world-class fairgrounds.”

Long, the fair board’s treasurer, said the current location wasn’t “ideal” for hauling horses and stock and thought a new location could house more than agricultural events as long as traditional fair programs continue.

“There’s also a great opportunity here to master plan a fairgrounds that isn’t just going to cater to livestock and those kind of events,” he said, “but also something that can serve a lot of purposes, be more of a community destination.”

Beckwith supported using the fairgrounds’ current site for housing, highlighting the comp plan’s “town as heart” idea, a framework that supports concentrating development in Jackson rather than more far-flung county locales.

“We have to create that density in the heart of the community,” he said. “I do believe that we can allocate that space more effectively by dedicating it to housing.”

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

Recommended for you

(4) comments

Patricia Snyder

Time for these candidates to delve into the history as to how the county acquired the land for the fair grounds. It was gifted by a prominent local family with the stipulation that it always be used as a fair grounds.

Judd Grossman

We shouldn't move the fairgrounds. It's an important part of our town's character and an "urban" amenity. Most cities are moving their sports facilities downtown to keep their urban areas vital. Having walkable access to the fair and the rodeo is a good thing. The proper place for dense housing is in the urban commercial corridor along Broadway and Cache.

James Thorburn

What systemic racism?

Noah Osnos

Great to see that, while potentially quite contentious, real issues are being discussed in the lead-up to the election. Thanks to library and the League of Women Voters, et al.

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.
As of Oct. 18, 2020, the News&Guide has shifted to a subscriber-only commenting policy. You can read about this decision on our About Us page. Thanks for engaging in the conversation!

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.