Fairground officials consider building arena in Gaithersburg
Maryland Stadium Authority reps toured Ag Center last week
Officials with the Montgomery County Agricultural Center are exploring the possibility of building an arena on the Chestnut Street fairgrounds in Gaithersburg.
Representatives from the Maryland Stadium Authority toured the grounds last week, hosted by Martin Svrcek, executive director of the nonprofit Agricultural Center, and the center's strategic planning committee.
The stadium authority is the state agency that plans, finances, builds and manages sports and entertainment facilities in Maryland. City and county officials also were in attendance.
Svrcek stressed that the tour, which was initiated by the Agricultural Center, did not indicate the fairgrounds were for sale.
"Please make that loud and clear. The fairgrounds is not for sale," he said. "We've been in Gaithersburg for 60 years. The truth is, the fairgrounds is at a perfect spot now."
If an arena were approved for the grounds, it would replace the outdoor grandstand area and allow for more year-round events, Svrcek said.
In 2010, the agriculture center was home to just 30 off-season events, Svrcek said, including craft and antique shows and weddings in the rentable buildings.
"We're just right now trying to figure out if this is something that would benefit the Montgomery County Agricultural Center as well as the community at large," he said of the arena. "I have heard about interest in putting an arena on this property for more than a decade from all kinds of sources."
A Montgomery County arena feasibility study was created for the commission in June 2007.
The study found that "the market will readily support a Montgomery County arena" and suggested a size of 6,500 to 8,500 fixed seats with a total capacity up to 10,000.
The study also found that more important than the size was the stadium's flexibility. Suggested uses include skating shows, circuses, graduations, minor league basketball or hockey, concerts and spiritual gatherings.
No specific design or location was mentioned in the study.
A representative of the stadium authority was not available for comment Tuesday.
Svrcek said the Jan. 4 tour and meeting was informational and no decisions were made.
The grounds and buildings at 16 Chestnut Street were valued at $17.7 million in January 2010, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.
The Agricultural Center has taken several steps since 2006 to increase the value of the property.
Three years ago, the center's strategic planning committee prepared mock plans for a new town center at the sprawling 63-acre fairgrounds site, which is surrounded by development on all sides.
In early October, the Montgomery County Agricultural Center submitted an application to the city of Gaithersburg to rezone the property from industrial and light residential to mixed-use.
Monday night, Svrcek said, he was knocking in the stakes of sign advertising a Feb. 22 joint public hearing of the Gaithersburg's council and planning commission to gauge public sentiment about the rezoning request.
Gaithersburg city manager Angel Jones, deputy city manager Tony Tomasello and Director of Planning and Code Administration Greg Ossont were the city officials on the fairgrounds tour.