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Show barn-1, convention center-0

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Glancing at the standing-room-only crowd assembled for the Thursday, Dec. 11, meeting of Bandera County Commissioners Court, Judge Richard Evans quipped, "We haven't seen this many people here since 2002 when we had the tax rollback."
The occasion for the gathering was an agenda item requested by Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King that read: "Discuss the extension of the lease between Bandera County and the Bandera County Junior Livestock Show Association for the 'Show Barn' located at Mansfield Park." The current contract with the livestock show committee will be up in 2017.
In introduction, King said, "I've had lots of calls about this and it's time to deal with it and give the folks an answer instead of leaving them in limbo. The livestock show committee has done a wonderful job for the children and I hope their influence will continue in the future." He immediately made a motion to schedule a workshop and move forward with a lease extension with the livestock show committee. Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes seconded the motion. "I feel strongly that the stock show committee has done a good job of taking care of the show barn," King said.
Evans noted that in a proposed workshop, the lease would have to be updated. Referencing rumors, he also added, "This needs some resolution."
Show barn to
convention center
Months ago, Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Wilkerson put forward an idea to morph the Mansfield Park Show Barn, used primarily for agrarian and animal events, into a convention or conference center, which apparently would be run by the county.
Despite repeated urgings by his colleagues, however, he was reluctant to put the item on the agenda. After hearing the vociferous opposition to his plan, Wilkerson commented inexplicably, "My only mistake was not going forward fast enough." Wilkerson's reticence allowed King to take the show barn by the horns.
In an unsigned handout prepared for the meeting, Wilkerson wrote: "The Show Barn could be developed in such a way as to bring conventions and trade shows to our community which would have a major economic impact to our county."
To bolster his pitch, Wilkerson used examples from Kerr and Kendall counties. According to Wilkerson, in Kerrville, the stock show committee works with county commissioners who control the building for leasing. In Boerne, commissioners had previously purchased 400 acres of land. The court gave the stock show committee over 30 acres of land "and with the free and clear land, they borrowed enough money to build their show barn."
He noted that upgrades to the Bandera County facility might include installation of air conditioning and heating, purchasing quality tables and chairs, purchasing a screen and video equipment for PowerPoint demonstrations and even a portable stage for concerts, plays and movie nights.
At the onset, however, Wilkerson noted that he had no intention of taking anything away from the stock show association. "Never has it been even considered that the study we have conducted would ever take the use of this building away from this organization for any event it schedules for our county children," he said. Along with the Junior Livestock Show and Sale, he included events sponsored by FFA and 4H.
Legal or not?
He also failed to mention in open court a previous plan to encourage a local nonprofit organization to assume control of the show barn and book conferences and conventions. However, Wilkerson wrote about a legal theory that if the facility were put out for lease in 2017, it must go out for bids, enabling the highest bidder to control the show barn for another protracted period. In 1983, Bandera County leased property to the livestock show committee, who built the show barn. In turn, the county offered them a 25-year lease on the building for the token amount of one dollar.
The must-go-out-for-bids legal theory was underscored by County Attorney Janna Lindig who opined, according to Wilkerson, "The lease agreement with the Bandera County (Junior) Livestock Committee cannot be renewed without putting the property and show barn out for bid. This could put the stock show committee in a bad place as someone could outbid them and thus end the use of this building for our children. We cannot change the law to fit our 'wants'."
Wilkerson continued, "Since the lease agreement states it must go out for bids. It must go out for bids. As county commissioner, I would not want the stock show committee to lose what they have worked so hard to obtain for the betterment of our youth. At the same time, I refuse to sign off on a lease that does not follow legal steps based on the interpretation of our county attorney."
Citizens have say
However, several citizens who spoke on the issue, refuted the contentions of both Wilkerson and Lindig, namely Kevin Meier, who serves as president of the stock show committee; and his wife, Julie, who serves on the board of directors. Meier also noted that, to date, the show barn has operated without cost to Bandera County taxpayers. "We pay all expenses and upkeep on the facility that 1,500 kids use annually," he said.
Despite Wilkerson's contention that the county has adequate lodging facilities to sustain a conference or convention, Julie Meier thought otherwise. "You have misguided intentions regarding a convention center," she said. "The county has no accommodations for a large convention. Dude ranches require a minimum stay and include meal packages. I also don't feel the county should be put in a position of operating a business enterprise that competes with private businesses. Several, including the Purple Sage, are already in existence."
Also recommending that the livestock association retain all rights to the building, Precinct 4 Commissioner-elect Jodie Rutherford said, "I cannot in all good conscience approve turning it over to a private entity that would need three or more fulltime (county employees). No one wants to raise taxes to fund this operation."
George Sharman and Dale Naumann also spoke in favor of allowing the livestock show committee to retain the lease.
Underscoring their sentiments, Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris said, "In six months, only one person who contacted me spoke favorably about this issue; however, multiple people were against it."
Adding an EEEEE-UUUUU to the conversation, he noted, "There's also the urine factor. It's next to impossible to hold a convention in a facility that's recently housed pigs, goats and cattle. It just won't work."
Harris also pointed out that neither the city nor the county has lodgings to accommodate the 600 to 1,000 people who might attend a convention or conference in Bandera County. "This plan is just not feasible right now," he concluded.
Conducting an informal a straw poll of those attending, Harris asked, "Those in favor of Andy Wilkerson's proposition please raise your hand." The fact that no one did put the next-to-the-last nail in the show-barn-as-convention-center's coffin. The last nail came when the court voted unanimously to proceed with a workshop to develop an extension of the facility's lease to the livestock show committee. Even Wilkerson voted in favor of the motion.
After the vote, Evans praised student members of 4H and FAA who attended the meeting, noting, "Being a good citizen is not a spectator sport." He continued, "This is a good example of how government works. We discuss our disagreements civilly and then vote. Someone is going to win and if you get three votes, it will be you."