A proposed multipurpose arena at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds would be capable of hosting indoor sports, including volleyball tournaments, as shown in an architectural rendering. (Photo courtesy of the Ozark Empire Fair)

Springfield’s airport, fairgrounds and largest university all stand to benefit from a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill Congress enacted just before Christmas.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, touted the projects he supported in the U.S. Senate’s fiscal year 2023 spending bill in one of his final acts as a senator. The appropriations bill includes $39.5 million for projects in the Missouri State University system, $5 million to revitalize the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds in Springfield, and $42.2 million in military spending, plus a Springfield airport project in the mix.

“The resources included in this bill reflect several top priorities for our state, from keeping Missouri colleges and universities on the cutting edge of research and innovation to strengthening critical infrastructure and supporting defense installations,” Blunt said. 

“The investments we make today will help ensure we are positioned to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities ahead, especially in areas where Missouri is leading the way like biomedical research, agriculture and food science, advanced manufacturing, geospatial intelligence, and much more,” Blunt said.

Missouri Military Advocate Harry Roberts and Missouri National Guard Brig. Gen. Charlie Hausman toured the 1107th AVCRAD facility in Springfield Nov. 22, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Missouri National Guard)

Crown jewel of the Ozark Empire

A campaign called “Grounded in Tradition, Growing Our Future” is a three-phase plan to raise a total of $25 million for infrastructure projects at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds. The plan includes construction of a multipurpose arena and youth agriculture education center, which “will be a true jewel in the crown of the Queen City,” according to the fair foundation’s website. The arena is to be built to host trade show events, indoor festivals, livestock shows, archery competitions, volleyball matches, rodeo events and other sports.

The arena carries an estimated price tag of somewhere between $12 million to $15 million. It would be 93,000 square feet, including a 20,000-square-foot education center and enough capacity for 6,800 seats, according to the Ozark Empire Fair Foundation’s website.

The city of Springfield owns the land where the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds buildings stand. The Greene County Agricultural Society, doing business as the Ozark Empire Fair Foundation, leases the property from the city on a long-term basis.

86th Annual Ozark Empire Fair (Photo: Ozark Empire Fairgrounds)

Hawley, Long among Missourians who voted ‘Nay’

The U.S. Senate voted 68-29 to approve the spending bill and send it to the House of Representatives on Dec. 22. Blunt cast one of the affirming votes. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, was one of the 29 “Nay” votes.

That’s in spite of the bill including a Hawley-backed provision to ban, by law, the use of the Tik Tok video sharing application on all government-owned devices. Hawley said the social application is used by Chinese government officials to track Americans and their behaviors.

“It’s a fun app to use,” Hawley said. “Here’s what most Americans don’t know, because Tik Tok doesn’t want them to know, is that the app runs continuously in the background on your phone or device, it collects your keystrokes, it has access to your email, access to your calendars, access to the notes and clipboard functions of computer, or iPhone, or tablet or device. It, of course, tracks your geolocation.”

In the House, the bill passed 225-201. The Missouri delegation voted along party lines, with U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, among the group voting “Nay.” In his weekly website column, “Long’s Short Report,” for Dec. 23, Long criticized the bill for not allocating enough money to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Long wrote that the bill is “bloated” and should have included funding mechanisms to ramp up domestic oil production.

“Not only is the bill massive, but it fails to address several key areas of need for our country,” Long wrote. “Overall, this omnibus is another wasteful spending bill, but what the American people need is lower prices. This bill does not address the root causes of inflation, and will worsen the current inflationary crisis.”

When the 117th Congress ends Jan. 3, it will mark the end of the line for Long and for Blunt. Long unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in the GOP primary in August, and will be replaced by Eric Burlison in Missouri’s Seventh Congressional District. Blunt is retiring, having served the last 25 years in Congress, 12 of them in the U.S. Senate.

Springfield projects included in House Resolution 2617

$5.6 million for construction of an aircraft maintenance hangar at the Missouri National Guard Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot (AVCRAD) at the Springfield-Branson National Airport. The project will allow for safer and more efficient work on military helicopters.

$5 million for the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds to be put toward a three-phase redevelopment plan that includes construction of a multipurpose arena and youth agriculture education center.

Missouri State University

$30 million for the Ozarks Health and Life Science Center, to be used for classrooms, labs and office equipment for health and life sciences programs.

$5 million for Cheek Hall, a building that will house mathematics and computer science departments.

$3 million for a permanent endowment fund to recruit and retain health and life sciences faculty.

$1.5 million for Missouri State University-West Plains marked to train paraprofessionals who will work with students with autism.

Fort Leonard Wood

$31.3 million to continue construction of the new General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital on the post at Fort Leonard Wood.

$5.3 million for a warehouse and office building at Fort Leonard Wood, called a central issue facility. The project will consolidate support operations on the base and allow operations to move out of buildings constructed in the World War II era.

The Missouri National Guard Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot (AVCRAD) sits between the runways at the Springfield-Branson National Airport. (GIS mapping photo from the Greene County Assessor’s Office illustrated by Rance Burger)

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger