Alliant Energy Center’s shiny new facility to keep the dairy in Dairyland

Anyone who’s ever had to watch their spouse toss out their favorite pair of old sneakers knows what Scott Bentley was feeling last Friday as the Alliant Energy Center’s barn facilities began their slow fade into World Dairy Expo history.

On Friday, the old barns began to come down, shortly after the AEC held a ceremonial groundbreaking that signaled an exciting new era for both the World Dairy Expo and Dane County — one highlighted by the construction of the 290,000-sq.-ft. New Holland Pavilions, which will host the expo’s activities going forward.

“Certainly it’s been an intimate environment; it’s been a very comfortable environment for our attendees and exhibitors,” said Bentley, general manager of the World Dairy Expo, in reference to the old barns. “It’s like an old pair of shoes. They may not give you the arch support, and they may not give you the spring that they used to have, but they’re well worn and they fit. And so now we’re trying out a new pair of shoes that we know is going to be better for us structurally, but it’ll take some time to have that same comfortable feel.”

Then again, it may not be that long of a wait, if the palpable excitement among government officials and other stakeholders is any indication.

An artist's rendering of the New Holland Pavilions.

To County Executive Joe Parisi, who got the ball rolling for the new pavilions in January 2012 when he convened an Alliant Energy Center Expansion Task Force headed by former county exec Rick Phelps, the promise of the new facility goes beyond just retaining the Alliant Energy Center’s two most important clients, the World Dairy Expo and the Midwest Horse Fair.

“It opens up the possibility of a whole new set of clients coming in, and that was really the balance we were looking for when we looked at which improvements to move forward with at the AEC,” said Parisi. “World Dairy Expo has grown in a big way, and they’ve wanted to stay here but were facing challenges because they had outgrown the facility. So we wanted to be able to keep them, but at the same time we knew we couldn’t do an improvement that would be just for World Dairy and maybe the Horse Fair, because it wouldn’t have made financial sense. So this was a way to both retain them and open it up to new business.”

According to Parisi, some of those other potential clients are now beginning to inquire about show space. They include shows like auto exhibits that see the new venue as a good fit.

“[This new space] is bigger, it’s more open, it’s not quite as fancy as when you’re inside the conference portion of the AEC, but not all shows need that, so for certain shows, it’s less expensive than going inside the other facility,” said Parisi. “It also builds on one of our strengths, which is agriculture. So it also opens us up to having other agriculture-related shows coming in, and we’ve had those types of folks reaching out to us also.”

The $23.8 million project — which was paid for in part with a $9 million state grant and a $3 million contribution from the World Dairy Expo — includes two state-of-the-art pavilions, which will replace the nine agricultural barns that previously hosted the expo.

The first pavilion is a 90,000-sq.-ft. facility that includes a mezzanine level, cattle and horse stalls, concession areas, and wash bays. The second, a 200,000-sq.-ft. structure, includes concessions and a milking parlor. Miron Construction is the lead contractor.

Parisi said that the county’s partnership with the state — particularly the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) — has been key to getting the pavilions built. DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel took an early interest in the project, and during the state budget process, when Parisi and Brancel visited legislators to discuss the details, it became clear to both how important the World Dairy Expo is to not only Dane County but the state as a whole.

“We found in visit after visit with legislators representing districts throughout the state that World Dairy directly impacted businesses in their districts, because people come from around the globe to the World Dairy Expo, and then either before or after the actual show they do business across the state,” said Parisi. “It gives our folks a great opportunity throughout the state to come to World Dairy, too. So it’s a significant economic victory, and really a PR victory for us, too.”



To be sure, the World Dairy Expo’s and the Midwest Horse Fair’s newly cemented relationships with the Alliant Energy Center will continue to represent a win-win situation. Last year, the World Dairy Expo signed a new 10-year contract with the AEC, and the Midwest Horse Fair signed a 20-year contract.

It’s the continuation of a relationship the World Dairy Expo, the Midwest Horse Fair, and local businesses wanted all along, and with the new pavilions slated to be finished in time for the 2014 World Dairy Expo in September, it can now proceed without a hiccup.

“It’s always been our desire to stay in Wisconsin and in the Madison community, but as you can appreciate, you always have to be prudent in terms of evaluating if that’s the best long-term fit for the organization and for the event, and so this is the anchor for us,” said Bentley. “This is really what we needed to ensure that this is the right place for us, and what allows us to expand our show.”

Meanwhile, Bentley may occasionally feel a twinge of nostalgia for the old barns, but he seems more excited about the possibilities the new facility will open up in the future.

“It’s a natural progression for the event and for the organization,” said Bentley. “We’ve had 47 years going on 48 years in a collective group of about 10 barns that have been aging gracefully, I’d say, through the decades, but they have not kept pace. We have a world-class dairy show, world-class cattle on display, and it’s really important to our exhibitors and attendees to have world-class facilities to match the animals and the participants. So this is going to allow us to really bring World Dairy Expo into the next 50 years of our history.”

To view live video of the Alliant Energy Center expansion project (including the destruction of the old barns), click here.

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