The $13.5 million Alachua County Agriculture & Equestrian Center in Newberry is one step closer to becoming a reality.
And as soon as the Ajax Building Corporation receives approval of the final building permits from the City of Newberry and a permit from the water management district, the company owned and managed by University of Florida Construction School graduates will dig in.
According to Ajax Building Project Executive Lon Neuman, Phase 1 of the plan involves early site work at the Alachua County Agriculture & Equestrian Center, and utility work on the existing 37-acre site and the new 5-acre site that will house the UF/IFAS auditorium and 7,300-square-foot building.
This will include construction of new stormwater ponds, a relocated outdoor arena, landscaping, pole-barn structures, building pads, clearing and grading.
“The main thing is that storm water ponds have to be onsite,” said Neuman about the first stages of the project. “Digging ponds, paint arena, and updating all of the facilities on site,” are also a high priority, he added.
The final completion of Phase 1 is scheduled for late December 2020, according to the agreement approved by the BOCC at the May 26th regular meeting.
Phase 2 of the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of October 2021, Neuman said.
In the end, there will be upgrades to clubhouse, arena, a relocated outdoor ring away from the buffer needed at the property line, upgrade stables, new restrooms, all new underground utilities, storm water ponds onsite, announcer booths and a covered building for 4-H Youth Fair.
In the end, Phase 1 will add up to $4,513,548 with an additional $235,175 from the City of Newberry as pass-thru-funding for Alternate 1 for fresh and waste water lines, is executed.
William P. Byrne, president of Ajax Building stated in the contract with Alachua County that the project is not only a great opportunity for his company but for the communities that will utilize the venue.
“This project has become a tremendous opportunity for Alachua County to capitalize on an identified need for a Multipurpose Indoor Athletic Facility that includes, but is not limited to: an agricultural livestock arena …indoor exhibit hall/auditorium,” Byrne stated.
Ajax Building has completed several large projects for the University of Florida in the past including the $18.8M construction of the 70,000-square-foot William R. Hough Hall and Heavener Hall, a 57,000-square –foot building with nine classrooms, 16 student “breakout” rooms, two conference rooms, offices, a café and other support space for the undergraduate programs in the Warrington College of Business.
The funding for Phase 1 and future work at the site is a combination of grants, Alachua County, City of Newberry and Alachua County Tourist Development Tax proceeds, according to BOCC Chair Robert Hutchinson.
“We have some other funds that go into the entire project that is more than just the $13.5M for construction,” he said. “We also have $1 million City of Newberry Wild Spaces and Public Places (WSPP), $400,000 Department of Agriculture grant, approximately $3.5 million General Fund from prior years accumulated for fairgrounds.
“The construction represented by the $13.5M is a current estimate from our architect and construction manager,” Hutchinson said. “The amount committed to date is funded with existing funds accumulated over the last two years and the future need will be funded through a loan paid back with Tourist Development Tax proceeds.”
According to Alachua County Communications Coordinator Mark Sexton, about $8.5 million in funding will be collected from the bed tax.
Hutchinson said the Alachua County Agriculture & Equestrian Center will become the County fairground site.
“Originally, the scope of the project was substantially different,” he said. “Now, the (former) Canterbury facility in Newberry will be the site of agricultural events, youth fairs, concerts, etc. A second facility, still being planned, would be for indoor sports events, concerts, and trade shows.
“Right now, we are negotiating a public-private partnership with Celebration Pointe,” Hutchinson said. “Initially, all of this was to go at the Weseman tract, land purchased by the County north of the Airport. It’s now being developed as an industrial park for recycling and resource recovery industries.
“Then, we attempted to site the fairgrounds and event center on the Cabot Carbon/Koppers SuperFund site, but the City of Gainesville has planned something else for the area. And we looked at other sites as well.
“It’s been a long process, but one that I believe will work out well.”