1990s: Fair building booms in Eagle
EAGLE, Colorado –The Eagle County Fair and Rodeo experienced a building boom during the 1990s.
The groundwork for the expansion actually happened during late 1986 when the county purchased a 145-acre tract adjacent to the fairgrounds. The property included a former sod farm site and potential gravel mines.
In 1988 after the roof fell in at the former Eagle School gymnasium downtown and the McDonald Building, which housed county offices, was condemned, the county commissioners brought bond issue to the voters that included three questions. The first, for a new Eagle County administration building, passed. The other two questions – for an addition to the Eagle County Justice Center and an “events center” at the newly expanded county fairgrounds – both failed. But the measure did start people thinking about future projects for the fairgrounds.
The first project, however, wasn’t fair related.
In 1992, Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District got approval from the county for a softball/baseball/soccer complex at the former sod farm site at the new fairgrounds property.
“The land was just sitting there and it just looked like an opportunity,” said Bill Beasley of Eagle, former member of the rec district board.
Alpine Bank and Musco Lighting teamed up with the rec district to develop a lean and mean budget for the field construction. According to Beasley, the lighting company was willing to donate lights with a guarantee that Little League kids would play a certain number of nights per week.
“It was one heck of a deal,” Beasley noted.
Soon after, the Eagle County Animal Shelter was also built at the fairgrounds site. In 1993, a new livestock barn was constructed east of the rodeo arena and by the mid mark of the decade, a hallmark of the site came down.
“They tore down the old grandstands, which had been built by local people, because they felt they were unsafe,” said former Eagle County commissioner Johnnette Phillips.
For the next couple of years, the county rented bleachers. Phillips recalls the cost was approximately $30,000 per year and after two years she lobbied heavily to build new stadium seating.
“I couldn’t see wasting the money to rent,” she said.
In 1999, the new grandstands with seating for 2,650 people, were dedicated. In 2001 the rodeo grounds received a new name: the Johnnette Phillips Rodeo Arena and Grandstands.
Phillips is still honored to see her named on the facility. She is a long-time 4-H supporter so the dedication was particularly meaningful.
“The kids work hard to raise their animals and sell them at the auction and get money for college. I always felt strongly strong about supporting the kids in 4-H,” she said.
Meanwhile, over at the fair, 4-H’ers and community members celebrated 60 years of friendly competition. Kids with historic ranching roots and names such as Gates, Luark, Wood and Bair populated the Junior Livestock Auction.
Denver native Laurie Asmussen came on board as the fair manager and with the professional rodeo lineup, the event began to draw more spectators. Carnival rides and food vendors were added to the fair with the facility’s expansion.
The 1990s saw some big name performers at the fair including Chris LeDoux, Mel McDaniel (hot off his hit “Baby’s Got her Blue Jeans On”), Doug Supernaw and Marty Stuart. A bull rider’s only contest was introduced to start the fair festivities.
The decade closed with an extra special visitor. CAM the Ram, Colorado State University’s mascot, was the featured guest at an alumni event in 1999.