The Franklin County Agricultural Society is taking the reins and galloping toward making the county fairgrounds a satellite location for the All-American Quarter Horse Congress.

The Franklin County Agricultural Society is taking the reins and galloping toward making the county fairgrounds a satellite location for the All-American Quarter Horse Congress.

The agricultural society, which owns the fairgrounds, has sent out a request for proposals to 30 potential bidders to modernize the grounds. The proposals are due Dec. 4, and the society will have the top two or three proposals presented to them in early January. The winner starts a study in February, "and then we are expecting it to be complete with an answer of what we're going to do or whether we're going to do something or not around July 1," said Tim Shade, society secretary.

The 43rd All-American Quarter Horse Congress was held Oct. 2-25 at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus. The event, described as "the world's largest single-breed horse show," draws more than 650,000 people, 17,000 entries and 8,500 American quarter horses, and brings $110-million into central Ohio's economy annually.

The expo center "is just not big enough to handle it anymore," Shade said.

"We rent every square inch of the 400 acres of the (state) fairgrounds," said Cam Foreman, executive vice president of the Ohio Quarter Horse Association, a Richwood, Ohio-based organization that is a state affiliate of the American Quarter Horse Association. "We run three arenas there currently: the Cooper Arena, the Coliseum and the Celeste Center."

"There are several choices, one of which would be to move (the Congress) to a larger location, (but) that's not really good for Franklin County or the city of Columbus," Shade said. "In order to keep it here, we've got to have more facilities for them. So this is a way. We'll build some more facilities for them."

"For us to really use it, it needs to be in relatively close proximity to the Ohio State Fairgrounds," Foreman said. "If you get too far away, it makes it really difficult for us."

The Franklin County Fairgrounds is just over 15 miles from the Ohio Expo Center.

"There's just several disciplines that if we had at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, we could add to the Quarter Horse Congress. Now, we just can't do it," Foreman said.

Among those events is working cow horses, in which a horse shows its ability to maneuver a cow.

"It stems from the ranching industry," Foreman said. "It's an event that's really beginning to get popular."

Ranch sorting and team penning are other Western-style equestrian events the Congress would like to add.

Long-time OQHA executive vice president Denny Hales was in discussion with the fairgrounds about the expansion, but died at the end of March. Foreman took over in August, and said things have been proceeding since September. He described working with the agricultural society as "a partnership that we would like to cultivate."

Shade said the Franklin County commissioners have signed off on the study, and would have to agree to float a bond to the agriculture society if renovations were to be made.

"It really doesn't cost the taxpayers anything" since the Fairgrounds are privately owned, Shade said.

"We not only pay the (commissioners) back what we borrow, but we pay them back all the interest and all charges. They simply become our bank."

Both Shade and Foreman said the Franklin County Fairgrounds would have to undergo an extensive makeover to hold the Congress events, even though a lot has been spent on improvements to the grounds the past five years.

"The two major things are an arena to show in and then more stalling to support that facility," Foreman said.

"I don't foresee any problems at this point," Shade said. "I see a lot of challenges in that I think that this will be a pretty sweeping rearrangement of the fairgrounds. I think this will involve a lot of construction, so there becomes all the logistics of trying to hold a fair, continue our business operation with maybe tearing buildings down, building new buildings. All of the sudden, the fair layout that's been pretty much the same as it is for the last 20 years is going to change."

Shade is hoping construction would start in late 2010 or early 2011, with completion in time for the 2012 or 2013 Congress.

"To build a facility of that magnitude, it's a minimum of two years in my personal opinion," Foreman said.

Shade felt the positives of the Congress outweighed construction concerns.

"I think it's good for the agricultural society," Shade said. "We think it's a win for the city of Hilliard to bring that type of business here. We think it's a win for Franklin County (and) the city of Columbus to maintain the congress (here). I can't think of anybody that loses out on the deal."