The 136th St. Louis County Fair begins Wednesday in Chisholm, where gates will open at 3 p.m., while the fair’s centerpiece, its bull-riding competition, is set for 7 p.m. Thursday.
“We really attract a crowd,” said Brian Toivola, a partially retired veterinarian and longtime president of the St. Louis County Agricultural Fair Association. “It’s one of the largest bull-riding events in the state of Minnesota. We get some of the best riders, because we give out decent prize money.”
This year, the fair board added additional bleachers for up to 400 people, doubling its normal seating capacity.
But it’s not the biggest infrastructure news of late when it comes to the fair.
On Tuesday at its meeting in Duluth, the St. Louis County Board is scheduled to finalize spending $1.2 million to construct a pair of barns on the Chisholm fairgrounds. In doing so, the board is revisiting a debt incurred when it moved the fair from Hibbing more than two decades ago.
“This is truly the fulfilment of a 24-year-old promise,” Commissioner Keith Nelson, of Virginia, said last week in Proctor.
The board unanimously agreed to the outlay during its committee of the whole meeting in Proctor.
The St. Louis County Board moved the fair from Hibbing in the late 1990s, after the local community college and other city growth began to encroach and take over parts of the fairgrounds, which were owned by the county and leased by the fair association.
“We were getting crowded out,” Toivola said.
It was always the plan to help the fair association restore itself at the new site.
But since starting in Chisholm in 1999, the fair has been making do with a pair of temporary livestock facilities — one for cows and other large animals, and one for poultry, rabbits and small animals. The tent facilities cost thousands of dollars to assemble and tear down, including $10,000 for the large one.
The county has previously included the two barns as part of its recent state bonding requests to the state legislature. But Toivola told the News Tribune he wasn’t hopeful of the fair ever receiving legislative bonding funds.
"The problem with bonding," Toivola said, "is automatically every other fair in the state would want something."
So, instead of waiting any longer, county commissioners agreed to take the money from its budget, or from future American Rescue Plan dollars aimed at community improvements.
“These buildings are going to enhance the experience of fairgoers, but they're also going to make it much better for the animals,” board chairman Mike Jugovich, of Chisholm, said. “It’s a long time coming.”
The large livestock barn will be a 60-foot-by-200-foot facility for cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, while the second facility for smaller animals will be 60-by-100. It’s expected the buildings will be completed in time for the 2022 fair.