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NEWBERRY ‒ The arena at Alachua County’s new fairgrounds has been named in honor of former Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson. The new fairgrounds were a long time in coming, and the search for a new location for the fairgrounds and a new IFAS extension center spanned decades. Pinkoson was at the forefront of the project and made it a priority, cementing the deal at his final Commission meeting

In 2019, Alachua County signed an agreement with the City of Newberry to purchase the former Canterbury Equestrian Showplace site at 23100 Newberry Road for nearly $3.9 million. The County spent an additional $8.5 million to upgrade the facility that was renamed Alachua County Agriculture and Equestrian Center.

The City of Newberry contributed to the project by purchasing the five acres of land adjacent to the center for $1million and now leases that to the County for 99 years at $1 per year. In addition to the IFAS educational facilities, the center has a 37,500-square-foot arena with seating for over 2,000 for livestock events such as the Alachua County Youth Fair & Livestock Show

Much of the credit for finding and purchasing the new facility goes to Pinkoson who served on the Alachua County Commission from 2002 to 2018 and currently sits on the Children’s Trust of Alachua County Advisory Board. Pinkoson believed that the Agricultural Center was a vital location that would give rural youths an opportunity to showcase their abilities, provide opportunities for them to pursue agricultural careers and offer educational farming programs to let young adults gain confidence in their abilities.

One year ago, the new center opened with its first event on March 5, 2021 hosting the Alachua County Youth Fair & Livestock Show. The event was sponsored by UF IFAS and the ACYFL Association, a non-profit organization that operates public fairs and expositions related to agricultural matters, particularly to the exhibition of livestock, poultry, crafts, youth projects, and farm products and is an educational platform for the youth in Alachua County who are interested in agriculture. The Youth fair returned this year, for a week starting on March 3 with over 300 youths participating from 4-H and FFA in a week-long event.

On Friday, March 4, during the 2022 Alachua County Youth Fair & Livestock Show, the County and the City of Newberry honored Pinkoson by naming the arena in his honor. Over 100 people gathered to thank him and unveil a plaque renaming the facility for his diligence on behalf of the project. Dignitaries from Alachua County and Newberry spoke about his contribution in establishing the facility.

Chair of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners Marihelen Wheeler said Pinkoson’s last act when he chaired the board was to move the fair to the new site, completing decades of talk. “Lee was here from the start. He made this a priority when we needed a champion,” Wheeler said.

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said, “This is going to keep agriculture as the gateway to our city.” He added that City officials hope the center will be a tourist attraction as well. “Lee’s help in preserving the fairgrounds and bringing the youth fairs out here will help us preserve that legacy.”

UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County Director Cindy Sanders said the majority of participants in agriculture events come from rural areas while 25 percent are from one of the municipalities. “This puts all of the IFAS education and training facilities together, providing a place to help the next generation of farmers continue supplying food for our population,” said Sanders. “When the facilities were completed, Lee was the first visitor out here.”

The first thing Pinkoson did was thank people who helped make this project a reality, saying the facility was a needed upgrade to the previous location and a small way to repay rural Alachua County.

“The rural part of the county deserved this,” Pinkoson said. “This will give our young adults the ability to learn life and career skills in a new facility that far exceeds what we had before.”

A plaque was unveiled renaming the arena in honor of Pinkoson, “Dedicated in honor of Alachua County Commissioner Charles Lee Pinkoson for his support of Agriculture funding 4H and Future Farmers of America.”

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