Fair gets $500,000 boost from Kent Corp. for new Event Center

Muscatine County Fair holds annual Weekend for the Fair fundraiser


The Muscatine County Fair held its annual Weekend for the Fair fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 24, in the Activity Center, attended by more the 350 community members.

However, the big news of the night came courtesy of the Kent Corporation, which announced a $500,000 gift in matching funds towards the building of a new event center at the fairgrounds.

“It only makes sense for Kent Corporation to step up once again,” said Rich Dwyer. “You’ve done an excellent job in the past and it only makes sense that’ll you’ll do a fabulous job for this facility.”

Dwyer is the Senior VP at the Kent Corporation, based out of Muscatine. In 2015, the Kent Corporation committed $410,000 for restoration of historic structures on the fairgrounds and expansion of the livestock campus.

“There is no doubt in my mind that you will reach the target for this for the project, no doubt whatsoever,” he added. “You’ve done it, and you’ll do it again; we truly appreciate it.”

The Muscatine County Fairgrounds is in the process of replacing the current activity center with a $2 million event center, which will be bigger, up-to-date, and hold as many 500 people.

Since restoration efforts kicked off in 2015, this will be the biggest project to date. The activity center is the main hub for most events at the fairgrounds, including the county fair. 

The hope is that a new event center will do so much more.

“There will be nothing like this facility within 45 miles of Muscatine County,” Muscatine County Fair Manager Kelsey Meyers told the crowd that evening.

“This will help bring large events to us, it will enhance 4H and FFA exhibits here at the fair, and it will help compliment the other structures we have here at the Muscatine County Fairgrounds,” she said.

The fair kicked off fundraising efforts for the new event center early February and is in the process of setting up donor meetings. However, the gift from Kent Corporation makes the project a reality.

“We wanted to fundraise over half of the money,” said Meyers. “This gift from Kent Corporation means we can start construction this fall if we get a good bid from a qualified contractor.”

“I cannot thank the Kent Foundation and the Kent family for this generous gift. The impact they have made on the Muscatine County Fair is immeasurable,” she later added.

As for Weekend for the Fair, it was another resounding success. The crowd was well fed by A Guy and a Grill, making them more than willing to participate in the live auction.

And what an auction it was, from vacation trips and beautiful pieces of art to the now famous “apple pie,” the fundraiser brought in a few extra thousand dollars.

“This has been a long running event, we used to run it in the summer,” said Fair Board President Steve Alt. “We listened to the people and moved it to the offseason in February; we have a humongous turnout.”

After food and the auction, Monica Austin performed on the stage. A Ruger American .350 Bolt Auction Rifle was raffled off at $20 a ticket, while tickets themselves for the event were $30.

However, Weekend at the Fair, and the $500,000 donation towards an event center is about more than the fair, it’s about the future, according to Alt.

“Our whole goal is not necessarily to be on the board and do things, but to make sure that when we’re gone that this board and the fairgrounds are still here after us. We started in 1852 and just keep on going every year,” he said.

A big part of the legacy will be the fully functional Event Center that can handle the many events to come in the future, and the Kent Corporation has played a large goal in that.

“We’re changing with the times,” adds Alt, “We’re able to bring in the largest event in Muscatine County, which is huge, and helps us all out in the future.”

Fair Board Member Tim Nichols took some time to talk to the audience. He has played a major role in engineering the new event center.

“We have a great crowd, you have all shown up, and you are witness to a major event at the Muscatine County Fairgrounds,” he said of the $500,000 donation.

Nichols stated that the current activity center was built around 1968. While it will be missed, it has come to the end of a useful and prosperous life.

The new Event Center will be located just west of the Activity Center. Right now the fair is working with designers to put together plans. They are now into the architect and engineering phase.

“We anticipate starting as early as right after the fair of 2024,” he said of construction, believing it will be around a 10-to-11-month construction phase. There’s still fundraising to do as well.

The Buildings and Grounds Committee will put the project out to bid later this spring.  They hope to select a contractor by the 2024 Fair.

If construction timelines run on schedule, the new facility could be ready by fall 2025. Director Meyers said she is building out the rental calendar and will start taking reservations once the facility is 70 percent complete.

That being said, fundraising is in full swing. Anyone with questions or wanting to donate to the project can contact Kelsey Meyers and the Muscatine County Fair Office.

Project Details

The Buildings and Grounds Committee has been working on plans for a new $2 million dollar event center for several years.

After visiting several other facilities, they settled on a design last fall with the help of a local design firm. The building will be modern but complement the historic structures on the fairgrounds.

“We’ve said before, one of the features that sets our fair apart from other Iowa county fairs is our infrastructure,” said Meyers.

“Our fairgrounds are listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, which is managed by the National Park Service,” she said. “The Federal Government has identified the significant history of these grounds and the unique architect styles and features.  A new event center would enhance the grounds and better match with the historic style that we have worked hard to preserve.”

In addition to building a new facility that will enhance the historic site, this new event center will fill a major void for Muscatine County. Currently the County does not have a facility to host a head count of 500, and the closest facility that can is 40 miles away.

“We have done extensive market research on the need for this type of event center. Most counties in eastern Iowa have spaces that can accommodate large events. Weddings, business meetings, graduation parties, family events, and conferences are all growing,” said Meyers. “We are losing business to competing facilities because our space is too small and extremely outdated.”

At the Weekend for the Fair, Meyers highlighted how the fair has expanded in the past three years – attendance has grown from 10,000 to 30,000.

A major driver of this growth is better entertainment. The new facility will provide a revenue stream throughout the year that can help fund bigger entertainment acts and other projects on the fairgrounds.

“Everyone knows the Jones County Fair,” said Meyers. “They have amazing facilities and entertainment, and they draw huge attendance. They are an example of how a county fair puts the county on the map.  Everyone knows Jones County because of their fair. We can do the same thing here in Muscatine County.”

This year the fair will host stock car races, donkey races, a tractor ull, a Tracy Lawrence & Drew Baldridge concert, a demo derby, and trailer races in the grandstands.

The entertainment is set for the 2024 fair and the fair board is already looking at acts to expand the offering in 2025.

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