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State Hopes New Fairgrounds Facility Helps Secure National Rodeo Events

Early rendering of new Livestock and Equestrian Complex at the State Fairgrounds

It was an early October morning when the Beef Complex building in Huron caught fire. 

Peggy Besch is the state fairgrounds manager and remembers it well. And a 911 recording brings it all back. 

“You’re sleeping and all the sudden you hear on the phone, “The Beef Complex is on fire.” Besch says. “You jump out of bed and my husband joined me,” Besch says. “We flew to the fairgrounds. Fortunately, I’m not far away. You could see the flames and watch the first responders do what they do best.” 

There was a barrel race scheduled for the next day. People and horses were evacuated, and no one was hurt.

Besch says they used the building year-round for several events. It was a major economic driver for the state fair. After the fire she recognized many people lost a source of memories. 

“People grew up in that barn—generations have experienced that barn,” Besch says. “Kids showing livestock and learning how to ride. Those are the things you can’t measure, right? Those are the things you can’t put a price tag on.”

One of the kids who grew up in that building is Cam Fagerhaug. She lives in nearby Wessington and grew up in the county. Fagerhaug spent her childhood going to the state fair and says the beef complex building felt like home.

“I didn’t get to do t-ball. I didn’t get to do swimming lessons, or a lot of the other things kids get to do,” Fagerhaug says. “So, showing cattle was something that brought me to town about once a year.”

Fagerhaug says she’s sad the building is gone.

But, there are plans to create something bigger and better. 

“In South Dakota, we know out of adversity comes opportunity and a chance to build for the future.”

That’s Governor Kristi Noem during the 2020 budget address to state lawmakers.  She proposed funding for a new State Fair Livestock Complex. The multi-purpose facility will have double the size of the old building – about 200,000 square feet. It may help South Dakota compete for national rodeo events in the future. 

“This new space will be capable of housing up to 2,000 head of cattle, and allow for indoor regional and national rodeos, equestrian events, and livestock exhibitions. In addition, the new livestock complex will enable us to replace the sheep barn. Many of you here know that the sheep barn has long outlived its useful life. This step will minimize livestock transportation safety issues within the fairgrounds.”

Noem says it’ll have space for two rodeos and hold up to 5,000 people at a time.

Officials hope to unveil a design for the new building soon. A groundbreaking is set for opening day of the fair this year. The goal is to have it complete for next year’s state fair.

State lawmakers approved $12 million dollars for the project.  Three million dollars are coming from insurance. The state fair raised another $4 million but is looking to raise more because of the increased cost of construction materials. 

So, this year, fair officials are changing up the schedule for the livestock competition.

“Where you have close to a thousand head of cattle.” Fair manager Peggy Besch says. “We have established a plan,” Besch says. “The open class beef show will take place Tuesday, August 31st and Wednesday, September 1st, which is before the official opening of the state fair.”

Besch says they’ll use the 4-H Livestock Complex for that event. She says folks not showing in 4-H during the fair will have to take their cattle home. 

“Hopefully they’ll all come back,” Besch says. “I’ve actually had some folks say this will be the first time in a long time we’ll actually get to take in the fair versus being tied up in the beef barn all week long.”