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SIOUX CITY -- With equestrian and other ag events no longer the focal point of the $11 million expo center planned for the city's former stockyards, multiple high-dollar contributors -- including naming sponsor Bomgaars -- have pulled their financial support for its construction.

But despite the departure of approximately $2.5 million in pledged contributions, organizers believe they have enough commitments to cover the construction of the facility, due in part to the reductions in the overall cost of the project. 

Siouxland Expo Center Board president Dirk Lohry said Thursday he estimates the project lost $2.5 million of the $5.5 million raised in private sector contributions after organizers decided to reduce the size and cost of the facility, focusing more on accommodating large expos and youth sports and less on previously planned equestrian and agriculture events.

Dirk Lohry

Lohry

The design changes cut the overall square footage from 200,000 square feet to between 115,000 and 133,000 square feet and dropped the cost from $17 million to between $11 and $12 million. While the venue will now have a much larger main arena, its design no longer includes equestrian-specific features like horse stalls and a warm-up arena. 

Community members have been working for more than a decade to bring an ag-focused expo center to Woodbury County. But the project expanded to include recreational and sports uses in order to increase the ability to have a positive, sustainable cash flow. 

"We just didn't have enough money and real estate in order to put a true equestrian center there," Lohry said of the recent changes. "When we started going through the numbers, we realized we aren't going to be very competitive with other equestrian centers if we get it this small." 

As several sponsors have pulled donations, others have increased them, excited about the new opportunities for the venue, Lohry said. He said the board expects to raise an additional $1 million for the project, including a new naming sponsor, and currently believes it has enough to cover the anticipated $11 million to $12 million construction cost. 

"We're excited about the new prospects," he said. "We feel more confident than ever."

Lohry said the board will continue fundraising efforts to cover the cost in case bids come in higher than expected and to build up an endowment to cover future operational expenses. 

The Bomgaars family, a longtime supporter of the project, had previously committed $650,000 as a naming sponsor. At one point, expo center organizers envisioned a Bomgaars store within the project. 

Sioux City Economic Development Director Marty Dougherty, who has been closely involved with the project, said Bomgaars is a valued corporate citizen and that he respects the company's choice not to put the name on the building. 

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Marty Dougherty

Dougherty

"As the project has developed and the focus has changed a bit, we sort of made it broader," he said. "We understand their choice."

Bomgaars, a Sioux City-based chain of farm and ranch supply stores, did not have a statement prepared about its involvement in the project by the Journal's deadline Thursday. 

While not the main focus, Dougherty did say he expects agriculture events will remain "a key component" of the facility. 

While he confirmed Bomgaars is no longer the naming sponsor, Lohry said he could not name many of the others that had pulled support.

This week, the City Council voted 5-0 to return a $95,000 donation to the Howard Logan family, who also said they pulled the donation for a similar reason, a main interest in funding a place for equestrian events. 

The facility is part of Sioux City's Reinvestment District, a combination of four projects that will leverage a combined $13.5 million in state dollars.

The expo center is expected to use $6.5 million of that amount, along with $2 million from Sioux City, $1.5 million from Woodbury County, $1 million from Missouri River Historical Development and more in private donations.

At their regular weekly meeting Tuesday, Woodbury County supervisors expressed concern about the change in focus of the expo center, and the loss of large donors like Bomgaars. 

The project remains in the design phase. Organizers expect construction to begin in summer 2019 and conclude in 2020.

Once completed, the building will be owned by the Siouxland Expo Center board and managed by Sioux City's Parks and Recreation Department.

Copyright 2018 The Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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