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South Dakota State Fairgrounds Beef Complex likely to be rebuilt after fire

On the night of October 30 and into the early morning hours of Oct. 31, a fire destroyed the Beef Complex on the South Dakota Fairgrounds in Huron.

Barrel racers on the grounds discovered the fire and called the Huron Fire Department.

The building and its contents are an entire loss.

The S.D. State Fair beef show, usually held in the Beef Complex, will take place in a different location on the fairgrounds, said Peggy Besch, manager of the fairgrounds. Photo courtesy Peggy Besch.

The Beef Complex was used for more than what its name implies. Covering 96,000 square feet and measuring 160 feet by 600 feet, it was home to not only beef shows, but Little Britches Rodeos, barrel races, team ropings, and, in the winter, was available for winter stalls, open riding and cold storage for large farm equipment.

Nearly every weekend in the summer, it was occupied, said Peggy Besch, manager of the S.D. State Fairgrounds.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, she said, but it was accidental. The financial loss has also not been determined, but Besch said it includes the building’s contents: tractors, panels, bleachers, the public address system, timing system, and more.

The building will most likely be rebuilt, she said, but when, by whom, and who will pay for it, is undecided. At this point, it appears the State Fairgrounds personnel and the S.D. Department of Agriculture, who oversees the State Fair, will both be involved in making those decisions.

Penny Schlagel, a barrel racer from Beresford, S.D., has asked people via Facebook to contact their state senators and representatives, asking them to make sure the replacement building is designed and built for more than what its name implies. She was concerned that government officials would assume the building was for beef only, and the replacement wouldn’t be as big or utilitarian as the old complex.

But Besch said she isn’t concerned that the replacement building will be smaller or less user-friendly than what was there.

“If you’re going to build a facility, you need to build it for many different uses. That’s the only way financially you can sustain it in the future,” she said. “If we build something that is less than what we had, that doesn’t make any sense.”

The barrel race that had been planned for that weekend was canceled, and Besch said only one more event had been canceled. She and fairgrounds staff were contacting event organizers to determine if other buildings on the grounds would work for their events. Those who stalled horses in the wintertime in the Complex may be asked to stall those horses in the Hippodrome, she said, which was used for stalling several years ago.

Besch is planning on a beef show at the 2021 S. D. State Fair. It won’t be held in the Beef Complex, of course, but she and her staff are working on other possibilities. “I’m confident that we will have a beef show at next year’s fair,” she said. “We’ll have to get creative and it might look a little different, but we can still have a beef show.”

She said, at this point, there is no timeline for when the new building will be built, but she estimated it would not be done in time for the 2021 State Fair.

A lot of memories have been made and lessons learned in the Beef Complex, said Cam Fagerhaug, a wife, mom, and cattlewoman from Wessington, S.D.

Lawson Fagerhaug, age 5, is the third generation to enjoy the Beef Complex. He competed in his first Little Britches Rodeos in it a few weeks ago, while his mother, Cam Fagerhaug, showed cattle in it, and his granddad, John Christensen, Cam’s dad, socialized with his friends at Complex events. Photo courtesy Cam Fagerhaug

Her summers were spent in the Complex, showing Simmentals, then serving on the S.D. Simmental Association board and announcing their shows. Her oldest son, Lawson, had his first Little Britches Rodeo, in the Complex last month. She remembers, as a child, going to the State Fair and it taking her dad, John Christensen, a long time to walk through the Complex, as he greeted people. She would kid him about it, and his reply was, “it’s important to take the time to visit with old friends.”

“This building is a staple,” she wrote on a social media post, “and I have no doubt will continue to be a place of memories made.”

Winter stalling had not been set up and started in the Complex, so no animals or people were in the building when it burned.

“We count our blessings,” Besch said.


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