Push begins for county fairground, arena

ARDMORE – With annual shows becoming a fixture at the county’s premier arena, a small group of residents has been working to establish a county fairground and arena. County commissioners presented with the idea this week also seem interested in expanding available show and expo facilities in the county.

Carter County Commissioners on Monday heard the proposal for a new facility from Zac Allen, who said he was representing a small coalition of area parents working to find support for the project. He said the group has found a plot of land near Springer that the owner is willing to donate.

“What we’re kind of wanting to do…[is] let the county take the donation of the land and see if the county can maintain the facility…then to see about building a county show facility that can be used for any type of rodeo, livestock show,” Allen told commissioners on Monday.

“XTO (Energy) said they’d be on board to donate. They said they’d start with 10 acres south of their office,” Allen said.

According to county tax records, XTO Energy owns nearly 300 acres of land south of Highway 53 near Springer about one mile from Interstate 35. Allen said that along with the land, other members of his group may have found upwards of $100,000 in donations for facilities on the land, including an arena.

ExxonMobil, which owns XTO Energy, confirmed on Thursday that the company is in early negotiations with the Carter County Jr. Livestock Show board and is considering donating land for the project. ExxonMobil operations manager for the Mid-Continent Division Scott Buechler said that the company has previously donated land to a county school.

“In Carter County, we previously donated land to Springer Public Schools to support the construction of new baseball and softball fields,” Buechler said in a statement. “For almost ten years, XTO has been a proud supporter of the Carter County Jr. Livestock Show and the valuable opportunities it provides to local youth in promoting life skills and responsibility through agricultural education.”

Commissioners briefly discussed the possibilities that could stem from a county arena or fairgrounds and asked Allen why existing facilities are not enough. He said some local events, like area high school livestock shows, may have to compete with larger events for calendar space.

“Specifically for the county livestock show, we’re limited to three days. That’s all the time that we have because their (Hardy Murphy Coliseum) schedule is booked,” Allen said.

Along with the tight booking schedule with the Coliseum, Allen and the commission discussed price tags associated with local events which can fluctuate based on facility, energy usage, and labor.

“Having been in the rodeo production business, the economic impact of that could be great. One thing that we lose a lot of in Carter County is the opportunity to host rodeos just based on the sheer price difference…between what you can rent the coliseum for and what you can rent, say, the Stephens County Fairgrounds for,” said Commissioner Bill Baker.

Hardy Murphy Coliseum dates back almost 90 years and is currently managed by a trust under the City of Ardmore. The facility is already booked through most of 2023, according to the Coliseum’s website, and staff on Wednesday said that many of the annual events happen at the same time every year.

The sign at Hardy Murphy Coliseum advertises an April event as birds fly above.
The sign at the Hardy Murphy Coliseum in Ardmore on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, advertises an April roping event while birds fly overhead. (M. Dean Smith / Carter Observer)

Carter Observer has reached out to Hardy Murphy Coliseum Manager Jeffrey Storms for comment.

While the commission took no formal action regarding the proposed fairgrounds on Monday, members showed interest in pursuing the feasibility of county facilities considering most neighboring counties offer similar facilities.

Commission Chair Joe David McReynolds said that he was first approached about the project by another member of the group and wanted them to formally propose the idea and explain efforts at a public meeting.

Note: this story was updated Thursday, March 30, to include comments from XTO Energy’s parent company, ExxonMobil.