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Master plan approved for Cherokee Fair Grounds

Master plan approved for Cherokee Fair Grounds

The Cherokee Fair Grounds is in for a complete overhaul over the next couple of years after Tribal Council during its July 14 meeting green-lighted spending to demolish the current facilities and create a comprehensive master plan for the site.

“We have leaky buildings, pest control issues. The facilities and infrastructure are really in bad disarray,” said Secretary of Commerce Chris McCoy. “We’ve got an idea for something that’s really going to be great for our community. I think it’s really going to impress everybody, get everybody excited about what we can do here, and provide another outlet for our people to have nice events.”

McCoy first discussed the project  on air during a May 16 Planning Board meeting, after a crack in an amphitheater canopy column on the site led to a consensus that the time was right for a total remodel. The crack was due to an unknown quantity of water sitting in the column, marking the potential for catastrophic failure once below-freezing weather returned to the mountains. Fixing the column would require dissembling the entire structure, creating an opportunity to discuss pursuing even more drastic changes at the dated facility. 

The concept McCoy presented in May included a much-expanded exhibit hall; a new, double-sided stage offering the opportunity to use the fairgrounds as lawn seating during large events; a row of new retail spaces and workshops along the left side of the property; and an iconic water fountain visible from the Council House next door. The board voted 6-1 to recommend that Tribal Council approve the plan. 

Tribal Council’s vote  July 14 made $3 million available to start the process — $1 million for demolition and $2 million in soft costs such as design fees. However, McCoy said, those numbers are “guesswork” until the Request for Proposals Process is complete. 

“I want to bring you back some money so we can apply that to the build,” he told Council. 

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Tribal Council was supportive of the project, voting unanimously to approve the funding. However, it will come at a cost of more than just money. Perhaps the Fair Grounds’ most important function is as the site of the annual Cherokee Indian Fair, an exceedingly important event in the community’s cultural calendar. The project is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete, and during that time the fair must be held elsewhere. 

While the tribe had originally hoped to host an outdoor fair at the old elementary school site, the event will now be held at the Cherokee Convention Center  adjacent to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino — a controversial decision. 

“Going to the casino to have a fair, at face value it was horrific,” said Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy. “I didn’t even agree with it. But I do understand going through life that you do have to crack those eggs to get that omelet.”

The new fairgrounds won’t likely be ready in time to host the 2023 fair either, but the project should be complete by 2024. 

Then, said Chris McCoy, “We won’t have to mess with this for 30 to 50 years.”

“I think it will be a fantastic product,” he added. “I’m excited about it.”

Principal Chief Richard Sneed has signed the resolution.

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