The second annual Save the Grandstand Arts and Craft Fair will be held on Saturday and Sunday at the Columbia County Fairgrounds as a local group continues to raise funds to improve the historic Portage Grandstand.
“We are still trying to raise enough money to repair the Portage Grandstand. It needs lots of repairs, needs to be painted and lots of other work since it has been neglected for many years,” Nadine Resler said.
Resler is secretary of Save the Grandstand, a nonprofit organization started in 2020. The group has raised $28,000 in that time on their way to the goal of $1.5 million. The group formed after realizing there were other people on social media interested in renovating the deteriorated facility, which was built in 1935.
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The grandstand was constructed as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era public works effort, the Works Progress Administration. It is owned and maintained by the city of Portage and is primarily used for large events during the Columbia County Fair.
“We are nowhere near our goal, but we’re still working toward it,” Resler said.
One way the group is working toward its goal is by holding silent auctions online on the group’s Facebook page.
“It’s another way for us to raise funds,” Resler said. “People donate goods or services, and we hold these silent auctions online.”
This year’s arts and craft event is set to have 45 to 50 local and commercial vendors. Resler said the event will be similar to last year’s event, but will not have live music.
“The event will be free to the public just like last year,” Resler said.
The arts and crafts fair last May saw about 700 people attend the event throughout the weekend with over 80 vendors.
The $1.5 million figure is based on a pre-design report presented to the Portage Historic Preservation Committee in 2018. The report outlined six options for updating the grandstand, including renovating the structure to completely demolishing it.
The Art Deco-style grandstand was added to the Portage Historic Register in 2014, which means the city’s Historic Preservation Commission would have to issue a certification of historic appropriateness for any work that might be done on the structure.
The 2018 report — written by General Engineering Company — gave pricing options for all six options. The most expensive option would be a full renovation of the existing structure, including accessible ramps and adding sound and lighting systems. A structural engineer suggested at the time that a full renovation could lead to 20 to 25 years of useful life before deteriorating begins.
The high bid at the time for the complete renovation was estimated at $1.1 million. The other options were building new restrooms, building a new roof canopy over existing seating, building a new storm shelter to meet FEMA guidelines, and creating unisex bathrooms.
The fifth and sixth options were to demolish the existing grandstand for about $100,000, and putting in a new free-standing steel grandstand at an estimated cost of $800,000.
The report also states that from 2014 to 2018 there was an increase of 24% in structural cracks.
The group has had discussions with city officials about their goal of rejuvenating the 87-year-old grandstand and bringing it back to its former glory. Portage officials have said in the past that the grandstand needs to be used for more than just one week in the summer to justify putting money into restoration.
Resler said Save the Grandstand is looking into holding another event this fall, possibly a country music concert. She said she cannot give out too many details but did say there is a good possibility of another Save the Grandstand event this September.
“We would love to see everyone come out this weekend to the fairgrounds,” Resler said. “There will be a lot of interesting vendors at the craft fair and something for everyone.”
GALLERY: Save the Grandstand Arts & Craft Fair