Fonner Park has had its share of longshots on its horse racing track, but the rest of the campus, which plays host to some of the finest agriculture and entertainment events held in Nebraska, is built on solid business. The dominance of animal agriculture in our state propels the livestock show culture that has paid off handsomely for Grand Island. In the last decade, Grand Island has been rightly recognized as a premier livestock show destination.
The Grand Island Livestock Complex Authority (GILCA) is a marketing partnership that has successfully brought animal show events to our community by bringing shared resources to the table. As a group, we’ve been very good at dealing with things that we can control by evaluating proposed events and working together. There have been few years more disruptive to business and life in general in recent history than 2020. The pandemic has created scenarios resulting in few economic winners in our community’s important hospitality industry.
The recently announced 15-day NebraskaN Livestock Show that was to be hosted in Grand Island this January has now been canceled by its promoters so as to not increase the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Nebraska. We understand and support the rationale, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult to deal with. A successful show at this time would have provided much-needed income for local businesses large and small. Regarding the cancellation, Fonner Park CEO and GILCA member Chris Kotulak said, “I am simply crestfallen. This is a wicked gut-punch for the local businesses who would have been able to claw back some part of revenue they have already lost due to this pandemic.”
Events that come to Fonner Park do not run themselves. It takes a team effort, including judges, setup, cleaning, security, show registration, scheduling and more. GILCA member and Nebraska State Fair Executive Director Bill Ogg has spent much of his career working in and around fairs and livestock shows. The Nebraska State Fair provided expertise and administration aimed at hosting a successful January show. “Many folks genuinely worked very hard to host this event for all of Nebraska and particularly Grand Island. It was to be a showcase of the great facilities to recruit increased activities to Fonner Park and participation at the State Fair,” Ogg said.
As event promoters, we understand that community health is paramount. In spite of the strong protocols and plans that were made to promote a healthy environment for vendors, show participants and guests, the big picture of public health demands was simply out of our control. While planning, we regularly consult with local health and public officials and truly strive to create a safe and healthy environment for people who attend these events.
Is there a silver lining to all of this? Admittedly, until the pandemic is under control we will struggle to host shows such as the NebraskaN. Grand Island saw an opportunity, stepped up and took a chance that something big could happen here. We were prepared; we were ready to pull off a world class show with an unheard-of short lead time for planning, marketing and logistics. A lot was learned in a short time about what we are capable of and what we can do in the future to bring new events that have huge impacts on our community.
Organized in 2015, the Grand Island Livestock Complex Authority is a marketing partnership between Fonner Park, the Nebraska State Fair, Grand Island Tourism and Chamber of Commerce. To find out more, go to www.GILCA.org.
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