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Cows housed inside two huge barn/tents at World Dairy Expo have a great deal of fresh air and light. Each year Expo organizers erect three tents — two to house animals and a third for the various sales that go on during the annual event. Together the three tents encompass 100,000 square feet.<br /><br />

Cows housed inside two huge barn/tents at World Dairy Expo have a great deal of fresh air and light. Each year Expo organizers erect three tents — two to house animals and a third for the various sales that go on during the annual event. Together the three tents encompass 100,000 square feet.

Photo By Jan Shepel

Facility upgrades planned for Dairy Expo grounds

Oct. 18, 2012 | 0 comments






While the Alliant Energy Center is known for hosting many different kinds of events, from monster truck shows to boat and camper sales events, concerts and the Dane County Fair, it is perhaps best known as the venue for World Dairy Expo, which just wrapped up in Madison last week.

Organizers for the annual World Dairy Expo, as well as the Midwest Horse Fair each April, are finding that they are running out of room to put on their best show. The facilities are limiting their growth.

Mark Clark, general manager of Expo, is on a task force that is looking at the best ways to improve the facilities at the expo grounds. The large exhibition hall, which was built in 1995, wasn’t equipped with some of the things the show needs now, he said.

Several of the cattle barns date from the 1960s and are nearing the end of their productive life, he added.

"We feel that if cattle exhibitors are going to bring their cattle 30 hours cross-country or if people are going to fly 20 hours to get here that they deserve to come to first-class facilities," Clark said.

"We’ve got a world class event here and we need a world class facility."

Some things that are required by today’s exhibitors or business customers have been neglected or not maintained, added Jeff Lyon, Wisconsin’s Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, another member of the task force.

"It’s been an interesting discussion and it’s been very much centered around multiple use for this facility," said Lyon.

The 162-acre county-owned campus is adjacent to land owned by the city of Madison, some of which is used as a dog park.

During the largest events, including Dairy Expo, that area is closed to its normal uses and is used for parking the hundreds of cattle trailers that come to the city for the show.

To accommodate all the cattle on the show grounds, three giant tents are erected that encompass 100,000 square feet. Two are used for housing cattle and a third is used for the many sales that are part of Expo week.

Clark said he’s finding that some of the cattle exhibitors would rather be in the tents than in the older barns.

In 1995, when the Exhibition Hall was built, the grounds also got a 29,000 square-foot cattle barn, but more are needed today.

Lyon noted that the Alliant Energy Center is a self-sufficient entity and no tax dollars are used for the buildings.



The task force’s discussions have been very interesting, he told Wisconsin State Farmer as they have revolved around how to make the grounds more attractive for all kinds of events, not just World Dairy Expo.

"Much of our discussion has focused on trying to tie these grounds in with the whole area. It’s been very much about multi-use," Lyon said.

That said, Lyon added that the customers at World Dairy Expo expect a higher level of amenities and the task force is looking at ways to accommodate them.

Clark, working with the Madison Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, has looked at other similar venues around the country and there are very few that have livestock barns among their facilities. That means that a place like the Alliant Energy Center has the means to attract horse and cattle shows that may not be able to go to other facilities.

"We call them barns but they are really multi-use facilities," Clark added.

Lyon said that a proposal for new facilities at the show grounds will be going to the state building commission at the Department of Administration. There, he said, the impact of the state’s dairy industry will be part of the consideration.

From November through January the governor and the Department of Administration will get briefings on this project, and all other proposed building projects before the state building commission, Lyon explained, and projects will be finalized in April.

At that point they will go before the Joint Finance Committee for legislative review.

Lyon said the proposal will likely ask for two new barns that will be built where two old barns will be razed for the improvements. The proposal will also look for other barn improvements and more exhibitor space.

Clark said that the barns and business exhibitor space are equally important to the annual five-day dairy show.



"We have a very long waiting list running to the hundreds of would-be exhibitors. It’s been 200-plus for quite a while," Clark said.

Clark said the task force even looked at building livestock barns that were double deckers — several stories high — with parking ramps on top, but they found that such a plan would triple the cost.

"We looked at that but we felt we could meet our needs without putting a ramp up," he added.

Getting several new barns could eliminate the need for the large tents, Clark said, and that would free up 680 parking spaces. "Parking isn’t as big a problem for World Dairy Expo, but for other events, like the Midwest Horse Fair, parking could be an issue."

Lyon said the proposal would keep three of the old barns and add 208,000 square feet of barn space.

"It’s more in the conceptual planning stage and it’s not set in stone. It could be three barns that are not so large. It still needs analysis," said Clark.

After the show is wrapped up and during this winter, planning efforts will get more serious, the men said. "Once we realize the funding the fun starts," said Clark.

Lyon said Gov. Scott Walker and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi have both been supportive of the need for new facilities. "A lot of people understand the importance of the dairy industry to the state of Wisconsin," Lyon said.

"County Executive Parisi understands the economic value of World Dairy Expo and the county has a longstanding relationship with this show," he added.



It is estimated that the dairy show has a $50-million impact on Dane County in terms of added spending by visitors and exhibitors, but the men feel that its impact is even greater than that.

Clark said that visitors probably spend money in a six-county area and affect 700 jobs either directly or indirectly. That impact probably extends for a week before and a week after the show as well. "It’s very hard to get solid numbers on all of that," he said.

"We focus on $50 million but you know it’s a lot more," said Lyon.

Clark said World Dairy Expo contributed $1 million to the Exhibition Hall construction project and has two or three years left on that obligation.

One of the other things World Dairy Expo would like to do is get the city of Madison and the large suburban non-farm public to embrace the show rather than feeling they are going to be stuck in traffic gridlock because of Expo traffic.

"We’d like it to be something like an Olympics where everyone is part of the interest in this show. We want that kind of atmosphere," Clark said.

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