New fairgrounds livestock facility honors the past, forges the future

Rendering of the DEX from the South Dakota State Fair Website.

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Rendering of the DEX from the South Dakota State Fair Website.

Kennedy Tesch, Reporter

The South Dakota State Fair is the annual end of summer event for many South Dakotans; filled with family, friends and the promotion of agriculture. Perhaps no other building on the fairgrounds celebrates those traditions quite like the Beef Complex, which was destroyed in an early morning fire Oct. 31, 2020.

The loss of a building that held such sentimental value was tough for many beef producers across the state who showcased their cattle there every year at the fair, as well as those who competed in rodeo and equestrian events held there year-round.

“The Beef Complex was a place to see old friends, for families to catch up, renew friendly rivalries and exhibit the product of what was, for many, years of hard work and expectations,” cattle exhibitor and Willow Lake High School senior, Jaycie Forbes, said. “Although it was just a building, it was like losing an old friend.”

Forbes recently traveled to Pierre to help promote Senate Bill 99, which allows for the allocation of state funds to construct a new livestock and equestrian facility on the fairgrounds. This bill comes at the request of Gov. Kristi Noem and other state leaders who saw the building’s replacement as an opportunity for growth in the state.

The new facility, coined the Dakota Events Complex (DEX), was proposed Jan. 7. The DEX will be a 200,000 square-foot, heated facility compared to the previous 96,000 square-foot building, and will be able to hold up to 7,000 spectators as well as 2,000 head of cattle.

This building features two full-sized equestrian arenas, which provides the ability to host two events at one time, as well as hosting larger livestock shows, rodeos, farm shows, concerts and other entertainment.

“The new DEX will be a state-of-the-art facility which will attract regional and national events to Huron,” Noem said.

The DEX also presents the opportunity to house both 4-H and open class cattle under one roof. This will make the fairground barns species-specific, a decision favored by the livestock community because it provides a safer environment on the grounds.

“We have always had safety concerns about youth hauling their show animals across the fairgrounds, and now out of adversity comes opportunity,” South Dakota State Fairgrounds Manager Peggy Besch said.

The new structure is estimated to cost $19 million, with $12 million coming from state funding. The remaining portion of the budget will come from $3 million in insurance payments and $4 million raised in donations by the State Fair Foundation.

While this may seem like a big ask, “Discover the DEX” Fundraising Committee Chair and former Sen. Jim White believes it is worth it in supporting the youth in our state.

“We have between 13,000 and 14,000 4-H and FFA students in the state of South Dakota,” White said. “Throughout our process of promoting the DEX, we’ve tried to make the students of our state and surrounding areas as the focus of what this is about, because we are building for the future.”

According to Besch, the Beef Complex was important from an economic perspective, but the memories made there spanning generations is what has generated the support and made it truly special.

A groundbreaking ceremony is planned to be held at the 2021 State Fair and construction set to be complete in time for the 2022 State Fair.