Placeholder Expo Center (copy)

The idea for a Buchanan County Agri-Business Expo Center began as more of a fairgrounds project. This brings up pleasant images of rabbit shows and pie booths in rural settings across the Midwest.

It morphed into something much more complex and ambitious, a multi-use campus with a focus on agriculture, commerce, cultural activities and education. Drawings show multiple buildings on 145 acres of property south of U.S. Highway 36, on the east side of St. Joseph. Past reports put the total investment at $75 million.

You can’t blame the public for thinking this is unlikely to happen, especially since it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to explain. This concept has been discussed for more than a decade now, with changing scope, a change in leadership and perhaps some concern that taxpayers could be asked to contribute in the future. A similar feeling might exist on the west side of St. Joseph, in on-again, off-again discussions about a possible Downtown convention and events center.

But, on the east side of town, Expo Center advocates continue to plug away.

Backers can point to some success, not the least of which is a $5.1 million interchange off Highway 36 as well as a road extending north to an adjacent business park. The Expo Center has a board full of prominent citizens. It was established as a nonprofit organization that recorded a fund balance of $1.4 million in the 2017 tax year, according to IRS documents. Future priorities include nearly $2 million in site grading and resolution of $1 million in debt associated with the interchange and land purchase.

Now, organizers are hitting the restart button with a solicitation of private funds for this proposed facility, with a goal of completing this capital campaign sometime in the fall.

“There has been a lot of momentum surrounding the planning of the Ag Expo Center and making this plan a reality,” the Expo Center planners write in a draft solicitation letter. “... It’s come so far already.”

We believe this project, as described, has merit for the east side of St. Joseph and the entire region in Northwest Missouri. Some form of an Expo Center could help generate east-side growth and bridge the gap between city residents and the rural businesses and producers who are the lifeblood of our economy. While not directly impacting the Expo Center, Kansas City’s legitimate pitch for U.S. Department of Agriculture facilities shows just how vibrant and important this agri-business cluster is for our part of the country.

Momentum, though, is in the eye of the beholder. Supporters of the Expo Center will have to seize it. We believe they can.